In the second installment of the Korbel Speaker Series, Dr. Tukufu Zuberi spoke to Korbel students and faculty about the problems with racial statistics, highlighting
the use of this methodology as among one of the dangerous areas of ignorance for social
Part of the ongoing theme of the “Specter of Ignorance,” Zuberi’s lecture touched
on the implications of racial statistics as a justification for racial stratification.
The main problem, offered Zuberi, was the assumption of race as a biological marker
rather than as socially constructed. Because race is a descriptive characteristic,
it is not able to cause statistical differences, but rather can only correlate to
“Our view towards the world guides how we interpret data,” said Zuberi. If social
scientists view their data with an eye for racial causes, they will most likely be
able to manipulate it to prove themselves right.
Wading through a sordid history of eugenics, including the sterilization practices
in California in the 1920s, and the scientific justifications used by the Nazi party
in WWII, Zuberi cited ultimate fault with Francis Galton and his development of statistical
methods to justify inherited intelligence in the early 20th century.
The ideology of the time affected how Galton interpreted his data. Zuberi cautioned
today’s social scientist from the same manipulative analysis. “Sometimes the data
seems like it’s talking to you in a God like voice. That is not real; you are tired,”
The change has to come from within the academic community by writing about how the
methodology is wrong, said Zuberi. A semantic change may make all the difference,
he noted, distinguishing between race as socially constructed and genetic markers.
-Sarah Crozier, MA Candidate, International Development