West Virginia is the most racist state in the nation, with eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania close behind - says a an online columnist writing for the New York Times. And hey, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has credentials. He's a candidate for a doctoral degree in economics at Harvard University.
Wheeling is ground zero for racism in America, Stephens-Davidowitz believes.
Gosh. Where to begin? Let's start by admitting there are bigots in Wheeling, elsewhere in West Virginia and in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
There also are bigots in New York City (my guess is the Big Apple contains more bigots than West Virginia, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if I could come close to proving that). I'll bet there are even bigots at Harvard University.
Stephens-Davidowitz is one of them. He's also incredibly sloppy as a researcher.
Bigotry is the basis for racism. And bigots are those who form opinions about groups of people based on intolerance, sometimes hatred. Elitism and political brainwashing are among the foundations of bigotry, and it's clear by Stephens-Davidowitz's column he suffers from both.
Bigots like him often are so blatant and unyielding in their biases that serious people pay little attention to them. For some reason, the New York Times decided to give him a forum, without worrying whether his opinions have any basis in fact.
Ready to learn how Stephens-Davidowitz came to his conclusions? Google searches. That's right: His gauge of whether a city or region is highly racist is based on how often certain racially charged words are used in Google searches. He used the Google Insight website to check how many times from 2004 through 2007 the "N-word" was used as a search term in various regions of the country.
"Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google?" he asks in his column. "Not perfectly, but remarkably well," he answers himself. If you're expecting any scholarly basis for that conclusion, you'll be waiting for a long time. You're expected to take Stephens-Davidowitz's word for it.
Here's his bottom line: "The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi."
Well, now. Let's look more closely at Stephens-Davidowitz's smear project. He notes in his column he didn't check searches for a variation of the N-word often used in rap music. Could that be because searches using that word were virtually non-existent in the Mountain State but very common in New York City? Or, how about another derogatory word used often by racists to describe blacks, beginning with "j"? Almost non-existent in West Virginia searches - but in the hundreds in NYC.
What about a different kind of bigotry - antisemitism? A slur word employed to describe Jews was used so rarely from 2004-07 in West Virginia that Google Insight couldn't produce numbers. It was used nearly 2,000 times in New York City.
But let's just stick to the original N-word. On Friday, I used Google Insight to check how many times West Virginians used the Google search engine for that word from 2004 through 2007. The total: 994. During the same period, people in the New York City Metropolitan Area did 3,846 N-word searches.
Google "has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns," Stephens-Davidowitz insists. So, by his own reasoning, West Virginians are remarkably tolerant in matters of religion, while New Yorkers are dangerous bigots. Again, it's his reasoning, not mine.
Stephens-Davidowitz's methodology would get him kicked out of any reputable university's post-graduate program. Most newspapers would, if they published his hate-filled diatribe at all, pair it with a story explaining the flaws in his reasoning. Perhaps the most glaring hole in his logic, if his thinking can be dignified by that word, is that he didn't ask why searches for certain words were performed.
But why did he do it? To claim many people in certain regions of the country - including, specifically, Wheeling - voted against Barack Obama because of his race.
Some did, sadly. But Stephens-Davidowitz, in condemning people in this entire tri-state area as racists, assumes folks around here would have no other reason to vote against Obama. We do.
Let's do just one more Google Insight check for the N-word, in the Boston, Mass. metropolitan area, which includes Harvard University. You guessed it: Hundreds more searches from 2004-07 than in West Virginia.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Myer is executive editor of The Intelligencer and the Wheeling News-Register. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org