Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Volokh's unintentional LSAT question

Eugene Volokh reports on the demographics of folks who graduated from law school in 2000, noting that "Jews are 2% of the full-time working population, but 7% of the survey respondents said they were Jewish (p. 20). Some stereotypes are indeed accurate. The survey also reported that 30% self-reported as Protestant, 27% as Catholic, and 23% as having no religious identity, which suggests that the irreligious are also overrepresented, though of course "no religious identity" can be defined very differently in different contexts, and it's thus hard to compare these numbers across surveys. (Note also that some of the 23% might be secular Jews, so the Jewish numbers might be higher than 7%.)"

Volokh has written a clever LSAT logical analysis question. You've got to find the flaw in his argument. The answer is: C) fails to distinguish between two different uses of a key term.

If religion is what's being measured, then who cares about "secular Jews"? Isn't it possible that the 23% with no religious identity is made up of secular people with all kinds of backgrounds? Or is it that Judaism is a race and thus Jews, unlike all other people, have "religious identity" whether they believe in anything or not? Had it been "cultural identity" or "community affiliation" being measured, then the secular Jews, lapsed Catholics, no-longer-born-again Baptists and others could come out in full force. Judaism can mean either the Jewish faith or some combination of cultural and ethnic traits that lead to formation of a Jewish identity, or a combination of all of the above. But if what's being looked at is Judaism as a religion, along with various other religions, then "secular Jews" should be lumped, with no special identification, in the 23% of irreligious people.

That said, I find the counting of people by group affiliation creepy. And going around counting Jews, then naming others who might be Jews...that strikes me as a waste of an afternoon, not to mention one with pretty sinister associations.


Will Murray said...

His claim is less flawed than you think. People who worry about “Jews controlling the media” or “all the lawyers being Jewish” almost universally tend to worry about some concept of “racial” Jewishness. There are (to my knowledge) not many studies that ask people “would a typical racist consider you Jewish?” So a study on religion is used as a proxy for race on the theory that most people who are religiously Jewish would also be “racially” Jewish. However, this proxy is flawed because it doesn’t count secular Jews. Hence Volokh isn’t really making an error when it examines if the study confirms the stereotype.

Phoebe said...

So would an Irish or Italian atheist still count as Catholic?

Will Murray said...

The point is that its not about “count as” its about being a reliable proxy for. Suppose for example that you wanted to know what percentage of people in law school for Italians. You could make the assumption that 50% of Catholics are Italian and X% of atheists are Italian. Then you could make a guess as to the % of Italians that’s accuracy would be determined by your choice of X and by how good your 50% number. Volokh makes an implicit guess that that people who are religiously Jewish are somewhere close to 100% “racially” Jewish. And by using the word “some” he admits ignorance as to the correct number for X but acknowledges that its non zero.

Phoebe said...

But then why does Volokh choose to mention only the secular Jews who might be part of the 23%, and not secular folks of other backgrounds?

Myles Culhane said...

This blurb seems a little short on details as well as insight.

While 7% of all JD's identify themselves as jewish, perhaps 7% of all persons obtaining any professional degrees identify themselves as jewish (after all, aren't all doctors jewish too?). If such was true, then the implication is not that all lawyers are jewish but that persons identifying themselves are jewish are more likely than the rest of the population to obtain a professional degree.