According to Vice News, Supreme Court Justice Scalia repeated a claim from one of the briefs:

"Most of the black scientists in this country do not come from the most advanced schools," Scalia said, referencing information from a friend-of-the-court or amicus curiae brief filed in connection with the case. "They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them."

Is there empiric data that backs up this claim?

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    If elite schools have (overtly or unintentionally) discriminatory admission policies, this would lead to a similar result, so even if the premise/claim is true, the conclusion is invalid.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 14:22
  • 17
    Remove the adjective "black" from the claim and the truth becomes obvious..
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:51
  • @Oddthinking Sure. If a very high percentage of black scientist candidates come from "lesser" schools, you would expect a high percentage of black scientists to come from "lesser" schools. Surely the percentage of blacks from advanced schools that become scientists vs the percentage of blacks from lesser schools that become scientists is highly relevant. If 90% of blacks from Harvard sciences become scientists, but only 5% of blacks in Generic U science programs become scientists, Scalia's point is largely falsified.
    – KAI
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 18:19
  • 17
    @BenVoigt Exactly. Most scientists in general don't come from elite programs. Otherwise, they wouldn't really be elite; they'd be average.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 20:24
  • 1
    @reirab: Precisely. The claim is being presented in a racist light, when the dominant underlying dynamics are completely unrelated to race. There might be some racial correlation, but it's almost certainly too insignificant to influence the overall truth of the statement.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


According to the 1990-1995 National Science Foundation study on the origins of bachelor degrees in PhD-holding scientists and engineers, black scientists and engineers (PhD holders) have a significantly lower percentage that graduated from research-oriented, elite universities. The disparity is larger for scientists than for engineers.

In the study, the classifications of universities were defined as follows:

Research Universities are the 125 leading universities in terms of Federal financial support of research and development; they awarded at least 50 Ph.D.’s each year. Examples include University of California at Berkeley (CA), University of Texas at Austin (TX), Duke University (NC), and University of Chicago (IL).

Doctoral Universities are the major doctoral-granting institutions. The established doctoral programs of these institutions have awarded at least 20 Ph.D.’s in any field, or 10 Ph.D.’s in three or more fields. Examples include Iowa State University (IA), University of South Florida (FL), Howard University (DC), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY).

Master’s Colleges and Universities offered a full range of baccalaureate programs and are committed to graduate education through the master’s degree. They award 20 or more master’s degrees annually in one or more disciplines. Examples include Glassboro State College (NJ), Old Dominion University (VA), Creighton University (NE), and Aquinas College (MI).

Baccalaureate Colleges are predominantly bachelor’s-degree granting institutions that award 40 or more of their degrees in liberal arts fields. Institutions such as Oberlin College are included, even though they have master’s degree programs. This category also includes a group of colleges that awarded less than half their degrees in liberal arts fields, but were too small (i.e., less than 1,500 students) to be considered “master’s.” Examples of colleges in this category include Reed (OR), Bryn Mawr (PA), College of Charleston (SC), and Fisk University (TN).

Specialized Institutions focused primarily on technical, professional, or corporate programs in a range of areas such as theology, medicine, engineering, business, art, music, law, and teaching. Examples of specialized institutions include New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton Theological Seminary (NJ), University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, and Teacher’s College of Columbia (NY).

This table from the appendices lists the number and percentage of PhD holders separated by ethnicity and undergraduate instutition. The first table combines scientists and engineers, the second table lists only scientists, and the third table lists only engineers.

enter image description here

It can be seen that both scientist and engineer PhD holders had a lower percentage of blacks who received their undergraduate degrees from research universities, as compared to whites, Hispanics and Asians. For both categories, black PhD holders had the lowest percentages of graduates from research universities.

  • @nomenagentis Could you post a link to the transcript? The article did not seem to link it.
    – March Ho
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:05
  • @nomenagentis Thanks for the link. However, Scalia's line I'm just not impressed by the fact that ­­ that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer. seems to suggest that the "quote", which is not made directly by him, is sufficiently reflective of his own position.
    – March Ho
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:13
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    @nomenagentis I edited the answer to remove that paragraph, since it now answers the question directly and completely.
    – March Ho
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:30

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