NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Critique Of Affirmative-Action Study On Doctors

October 15, 1997

A study on affirmative-action admission practices at the University of California distorted data to reach its conclusion that affirmative-action admissions policies are harmless and do not affect the quality of doctors who graduate. Critics say the data actually support the opposite conclusion.

The study was conducted by Robert C. Davidson and Ernest L. Lewis of the University of California - Davis medical school and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Here are some of the criticisms of the study:

  • Beneficiaries of racial preferences were lumped into a much broader category of "special admissions" which included, for example, applicants with high scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) but lower undergraduate grade point averages.
  • This broader category -- 20 percent of all students -- was compared with students who did not receive racial preferences.
  • But since only 42.7 percent of special admissions were "underrepresented minorities," the effects of affirmative action admissions were diluted.
  • Even so, the data -- but not the authors' conclusions -- demonstrate that once in medical school, the special admissions students received much lower grades on average, were three times less likely to be selected for medical honors societies and were three times less likely to graduate.
  • Special admittees were eight times more likely to flunk National Board of Medical Examiners' tests.

Critics note that these results are consistent with a 1994 JAMA study which reported that 51.1 percent of black medical students failed Part I of the Examiners' test on their first attempt, compared to only 12.3 percent of white medical students.

Source: Gail Heriot (University of San Diego), "Doctored Affirmative-Action Data," Wall Street Journal, October 15, 1997.


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