The application of probability and statistics to an ever-widening number of life-decisions serves to reproduce, reinforce, and widen disparities in the quality of life that different groups of people can enjoy. As a critical technology assessment, the ways in which bad luck early in life increase the probability that hardship and loss will accumulate across the life course are illustrated. Analysis shows the ways in which individual decisions, informed by statistical models, shape the opportunities people face in both market and non-market environments. Ultimately, this book challenges the actuarial logic and instrumental rationalism that drives public policy and emphasizes the role that the mass media play in justifying its expanded use. Although its arguments and examples take as their primary emphasis the ways in which these decision systems affect the life chances of African-Americans, the findings are also applicable to a broad range of groups burdened by discrimination.
'Few scholars have thought so deeply and read so widely on the intertwined problems of race and information. In this broad-ranging book, Professor Gandy provides a thoughtful, fair, but ultimately impassioned analysis of how "rational" discrimination helps subordinate entire groups of people, including African Americans. The questions asked are hard, the research is systematic, and, as always, the intellectual payoff is substantial.' Jerry Kang, UCLA School of Law, USA 'With relentless clarity Oscar Gandy shows how so-called rational discrimination contributes to systematic cumulative disadvantage. Statistical and computing techniques, filtered through education, mass media, social policy and marketing subtly shape the social world by sorting us all into consequential categories. A groundbreaking challenge both to older theories of gender, race and class, and to practical policy and politics.' David Lyon, Queen's University, Canada