Can statistics tell us what we do not want to hear? The case of complex salary structures
It often appears that the most, indeed perhaps the only, effective role of statistics is to bolster decisions policymakers were prepared to take on other grounds. The secondary effects of smoking, the sex differential in SAT scores, the census undercount controversy, the validity of DNA evidence and the evidence of the relation of the race of the victim to the imposition of the death penalty all provide examples of the intertwining of political and statistical considerations. Although the court in Alabama v. United States (1962) attributed to statistics the power to speak, if courts do not want to hear what the statistics are saying they just do not listen. Moreover, it sometimes appears that statistics are less likely to be relied upon if they challenge one's own interest. Confronted at their own institutions with an analysis of faculty salaries showing evidence of discrimination, often the very faculty whose stock-in-trade is to persuade others of the efficacy of statistics refuse to believe what is presented to them. Courts share this skepticism; this paper examines the courts' treatment of the statistical issues involved in studying possible discrimination in faculty salaries.