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Racial Bias In NBA Refereeing?

I’ve blogged before about my friend Justin Wolfers’ research on point shaving in college basketball and the death penalty.

Now Justin is back stirring up more controversy with a paper that claims that there is racial bias on the part of NBA referees, written up in the New York Times by Allen Schwarz. The claim of the paper is that Black officials call more fouls on White players and vice-versa.

I’ve read through the paper and could not find any mistakes. It appears to be carefully done. It mirrors findings John Donohue and I have in a different context. We found that when police departments hire more White officers, arrests of minorities rise, but not arrests of Whites. The opposite is true when more minority officers are hired.

One other thing worth noting. I have never seen a reporter (other than Dubner, of course) take more care to try to get the facts and interpretation right than Allen Schwarz did on this piece. He was in contact with me a number of times and even arranged to have the NBA’s counter-analysis evaluated by independent experts. Hats off to him for his reporting.