Last month, two Princeton professors released a groundbreaking new studydocumenting the rise in white mortality rates, largely from suicide and substance abuse. Now, the duo is under fire for focusing their research on white people, they told the Washington Post.

Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate, said his wife and research partner, Anne Case, presented their findings recently “and was told, in no uncertain terms: How dare you work on whites.

“I was really beaten up,” Case said. Both said those criticizing them were “senior people” in the field.

Their critics were outraged that Case and Deaton had devoted their time to looking at white mortality, noting that black Americans suffer from higher mortality rates and lower happiness levels than their white counterparts.

“We weren’t trying to insult anyone,” Deaton told the Post. “We just found something we thought people didn’t know.”

Case and Deaton’s findings showed how “an accumulation of pain, distress and social dysfunction in the lives of working class whites” has resulted in “deaths of despair.”

American blacks and Hispanics, as well as Europeans, experienced a decline in death rates in recent decades. But white Americans—particularly those with a high school education or less—were losing ground, dying from drugs, alcohol or suicide.

The team defended the validity of their work in the Washington Post interview.

“In this one group, we might be able to isolate why this is happening, and that’s probably going to be relevant for all of us,” Case said. “The other part is that if some groups are more resilient in some ways, what can we learn from that?”

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.