A Reader Denounces Robert Putnam`s Intellectual Dishonesty

Re: James Fulford`s blog item Quote Of The Day:”To Putnam’s Horror, Hundreds Of `Racists And Anti-Immigrant Activists` Sent Him” CONGRATULATORY E-Mails

From: Jerome Blondell [Email him]

In reference to James Fulford`s “Quote of Day . . .” I, like others, have been disappointed at the intellectual dishonesty of Robert Putnam, PhD, Harvard Professor.

After retiring from the federal government as an epidemiologist, I attempted to summarize his work based on the paper he presented in Scandinavia; apparently he was unwilling to even publish these important results in the USA.  Because of my background with statistics and use of factor analysis, I have published on similar types of analyses involving large data sets and cancer deaths, and therefore, am more qualified than most to review his work.

Below is an edited excerpt of my review of Putnam`s work, published as part of my article “Adverse Impacts of Massive and Illegal Immigration in the United States”, The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, 33(3):328-350, 2008.  [PDF]

I believe many of your readers might appreciate a scholarly review such as mine.

Jerome Blondell, PhD, MPH (Masters in Public Health)

Breakdown of Social Networks and Trust

Harvard Professor Putnam surveyed 41 selected communities in the United States to determine what factors influence social capital (Putnam, 2007).  Social capital is defined as “social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness.”  His basic finding is that trust, altruism, and community cooperation is lower in ethnically diverse neighborhoods.  Where social capital is higher, children grow up healthier, safer and better educated; people live longer, healthier lives; and democracy and the economy work better.  . . .  In support of his findings, Putnam cited a study performed at the county level that found counties with greater ethnic diversity were less socially connected (Rupasingha, 2006).

Putnam’s “Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey,” conducted in 2000, surveyed nearly 30,000 respondents representative of the 41 communities and contained a sample of 3,000 representatives of the nation as a whole (Putnam, 2007).  Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the most ethnically diverse “human habitations in history,” but had interracial trust measures that were relatively low, only half those found in New Hampshire and Montana.  People in areas of greater diversity have lower confidence in local government and the news media, vote less often, are less likely to work on community projects, give to charity and volunteer less often, have fewer friends, have less perceived happiness and quality of life, and spend more time watching television.  In short, members of diverse communities tend to withdraw more.  The educated, well-off homeowners tended to be more trusting and young people, Blacks, and Hispanics, less so.  Fundamental to this review, a high level of “immigration seems to have a somewhat more consistent and powerful effect” in terms of the negative influence on social capital than does ethnic diversity even after correcting for confounders.

Putnam found that social capital did not improve in communities that had diverse populations in 1980 and 1990 compared with communities that became diverse more recently in 2000 (Putnam, 2007).  . . .

In 2007, New America Media conducted a telephone poll of 1,105 African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic adults.  The poll supported Putnam’s findings. The sample was designed to be representative of the adult population of the three major racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. The poll was conducted in areas of the country that have significant (10 percent or more) African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic populations.  The three groups seem more trusting of whites than of each other. The poll found that 61 percent of Hispanics, 54 percent of Asians and 47 percent of African-Americans would rather do business with whites than with members of the other two groups.

In addition, 44 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of Asians are “generally afraid of African-Americans because they are responsible for most of the crime.” Meanwhile, 46 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of African-Americans believe “most Asian business owners do not treat them with respect.” And half of African Americans feel threatened by Latin American immigrants because “they are taking jobs, housing and political power away from the Black community.”  The margin of error for the Asian-American sample (400 interviews), the Hispanic sample (355 interviews) and the African-American sample (350 interviews) is approximately 5 percentage points.

New American Media. 

2007    “Deep Divisions, Shared Destiny – A Poll of African Americans, Hispanic, and Asian Americans on Race Relations.”  December 12, 2007. PDF

Putnam, R. D. 

2007    “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the twenty-first century: The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.”  Scandinavian Political Studies 30(2):137-174.

Rupasingha, A., Goetz, S. J., and D. Freshwater. 

2006    “The production of social capital in US counties.” Journal of Socio-Economics 35:83-    101. [PDF]

The full article is available at:  here (accessed May 10, 2012).