Revisiting the Robinson Fallacy: Perils of individualistic and ecological fallacy

Subramanian, S, V and Jones, Kelvyn and Kaddour, A and Kreiger, N. (2009) Revisiting the Robinson Fallacy: Perils of individualistic and ecological fallacy. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38. pp. 342-360.

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To reanalyse and historically situate WS Robinson’s highly
influential study that laid the foundation for conceptualizing and
analysing data at the individual level by ignoring other levels.
Methods We applied a binomial multilevel logistic model to analyse variation in
illiteracy as enumerated by the 1930 US. Census (the same data as
10 used by Robinson). The outcome was log odds of being illiterate, while
predictors were race/nativity (‘native whites’, ‘foreign-born whites’
and ‘negroes’) at the individual-level, and presence of Jim Crow
segregation laws for education at the state-level. We conducted
historical research to identify the social and scientific context within
15 which Robinson’s study was produced and favourably received.

Empirically, the substantial state variations in illiteracy could not be
accounted by the states’ race/nativity composition. Different approaches
to modelling state-effects yielded considerably attenuated
associations at the individual-level between illiteracy and race/
20 nativity. Furthermore, state variation in illiteracy was different
across the race/nativity groups, with state variation being largest for
whites and least for foreign-born whites. Strong effects of Jim Crow
education laws on illiteracy were observed with the effect being strongest
for blacks. Historically, Robinson’s study was consonant with the
25 post-World War II ascendancy of methodological individualism.

Applying a historically informed multilevel perspective to Robinson’s
profoundly influential study, we demonstrate that meaningful
analysis of individual-level relationships requires attention to
substantial heterogeneity in state characteristics. The implication is
30 that perils are posed by not only ecological fallacy but also
individualistic fallacy. Multilevel thinking, grounded in historical
and spatiotemporal context, is thus a necessity, not an option.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Black, ecologic fallacy, epidemiologic methods, history of science, illiteracy, Jim Crow, methodological individualism, multilevel, race, 35 social production of science, WS Robinson, United States
Subjects: 5. Quantitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 5.6 Multilevel Modelling
Depositing User: LEMMA user
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2009 14:22
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 13:50

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