Highlighting the gaping security holes that continue to persist 15 years after the attacks, an encouraging report released Thursday by radical extremist think tank the Caliphate Institute determined that the United States is no safer than it was before 9/11. "Despite efforts to expand digital surveillance and coordinate information-sharing among intelligence agencies, we discovered that the ability of the U.S. government to assess and eliminate potential terrorist threats has not substantively improved since September 11, 2001, which came as a shocking and welcome finding," said Selim Amir, chairman of the fundamentalist K Street research institute, which is staffed by prominent jihadist thinkers, visiting Sharia law scholars, and retired senior members of al-Qaeda.The Onion is, of course, a satire publication. The kernel of truth beneath the satire is how studies by organizations with agendas are so often uncritically reported as if they were done by neutral seekers of truth and as if they are the definitive word on the subject.
Recently in Studies Category
If I received notice that a paper with my name on it contained a gross error, I would make the correction with scrupulous care and go over the correction with a fine tooth comb -- myself, not delegated -- to be very certain that the corrected paper was unimpeachably correct. Evidently, Professor Goss does not share this view. The "corrected" version remains a serious misrepresentation, either deliberately deceptive or with reckless disregard of the truth, which are morally about the same thing.
I have been battling the opponents of the death penalty for a very long time. In that time, I have found that the intentionally misleading half-truth is their weapon of choice, and I spend a lot of time correcting the mistaken impressions they intentionally create.
However, the opponents are not above outright lying when they think they can get away with it. A whopper has just come to my attention from the state of Nebraska, where the people are going to vote on whether to abolish or retain the death penalty.
Ernest Goss, Scott Strain, and Jackson Blalock have released a paper titled The Economic Impact of the Death Penalty on the State of Nebraska: a Taxpayer Burden? The paper is sponsored by the anti-death-penalty campaign. On page 23 we find this:
According to Scheidegger,48 "There is no credible evidence that replacing the DP with LWOP will result in significant added trial costs to the state due to defendants refusing to plead guilty and forcing prosecutors to meet their burdens at trial. The few studies that have been completed support the proposition that the threat of the DP does not increase plea bargain rates."Note the quotation marks. The authors are not saying that this is their interpretation of my results. They are saying that these are my exact words and my interpretation. This is a bald-faced lie.
48Kent S. Scheidegger, The DP and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences, Criminal Justice Legal Foundations, Feb. 2009, p. 10.
One of the main problems is an effect that I have called "big story bias." Journalists have an incentive to shade their reports in the direction of making the event more newsworthy. This effect is not limited to stories about research. We see it across the board.
Researchers and their institutions, also, have an incentive to produce research that makes news. Gebelhoff notes, "At the same time, researchers have become very good at playing with data -- such as shifting the length of their experiments or picking and choosing which variables to control for -- in order to come out with the results they want."
Once more, with feeling, what "studies show" ain't necessarily so, and no, that is not an "anti-science" position.
Biased fact-checkers have assailed Donald Trump's emphasis on law and order, quoting experts citing the data in the first graph, as noted in this post. Yes, crime has fallen since 1993. It is half what it was at the peak, although still far above the golden years of the Ozzie and Harriet era. You don't see an uptick at the end of the graph, do you?
But look at the scale. The official numbers are notoriously slow in coming out. The scale ends at 2014. What about the last year and a half?
The graph on the right represents crime in the first quarters of 2015 and 2016. It shows violent crime up in every category and a nearly seven percent jump in a single year. These numbers are from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a recent entrant in the crime statistics business. Their only prior numbers are for 2014 v. 2015, which also showed an increase in all categories except robbery. The major cities included cannot be assumed to be representative of the country, but they include the places where a large portion of our people live and work.
Seven percent in one year is a dramatic jump, and combined with a broad increase, although smaller, in 2015, it is likely not a fluke. The major increase in California, noted here, a state that gone full bore in softening its approach to crime, further supports the idea that a general softening is a significant contributing cause.
While I might quibble with the wording of the theme, the renewed attention to law and order is appropriate and welcome. We must not forget and repeat the errors of the past.
It seems that PolitiFact based its rating on the fact that crime has been on a long downward trend overall for the last 25 years. Volokh writes,
I don't find this a persuasive defense. If the original PolitiFact post had said something like, "The violent crime rate has plummeted in the past 25 years, and while it may have been increasing in the last year and a quarter, that could easily be an anomaly, and our data on that are just preliminary and may not be sound," I would have thought it a sensible criticism of Trump's assertion. We should indeed be cautious about data that are limited to one year, or (as with the 2016 first-quarter data) to a subset of jurisdictions. There is some degree of short-term variation within any long-term trend; data from a year and change aren't really enough to tell whether 1) the long-term violent crime decline has been reversed, or 2) the year was just an anomaly and the decline will continue, or at worst, the violent crime rate will remain flat. For instance, the violent crime rate increased in 2005 and 2006, but those proved to be just small blips in an otherwise substantial decline.
The number for rape is also up sharply, but the extent to which that is an increase in crime versus a broadened definition of which sexual assaults are counted in the category is uncertain.
None of this should surprise anyone who has been paying attention. After Realignment, we had numbers in the next few years that fluctuated but overall were considerably worse than the national numbers. See this post. Auto theft in particular spiked after Realignment made it a never-prison offense. See here and here. After Proposition 47, anecdotal information from law enforcement has been steadily rolling in. Now we see confirmation in statewide numbers.
These soft-on-crime changes are disasters, and people are paying for them in blood and hard-earned property.
"'Elephant in the room' or 'Elephant in the living room' is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.
"It is based on the idea/thought that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook."
Lisa Marie Pane and Don Babwin have this story for Associated Press.
CHICAGO -- Violent crimes - from homicides and rapes to robberies - have been on the rise in many major U.S. cities, yet experts can't point to a single reason why and the jump isn't enough to suggest there's a trend.
Still, it is stumping law enforcement officials, who are seeking a way to combat the problem.
"It's being reported on at local levels, but in my view, it's not getting the attention at the national level it deserves," FBI Director James Comey said recently. "I don't know what the answer is, but holy cow, do we have a problem."
You have to get down to the 15th paragraph before the Ferguson Effect is even mentioned, and it is immediately followed by a dismissive comment by the lacking-a-better-explanation expert. The ongoing efforts to dismantle the highly successful tough-on-crime movement of the past several decades -- ignoring history in order to repeat it -- is not mentioned at all.
The anti-punishment and anti-police crowds (overlapping but not equal sets) have been on a roll for several years now. When the results that persons of sense warned would follow do follow, the likely causal connection must be ignored or dismissed.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Development Economics, researchers Professor Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner (University of Leicester) focused on evidence from the exposure of day-to-day violence in Brazil by analysing the birth outcomes of children whose mothers were exposed to local violence, as measured by homicide rates in small Brazilian municipalities and the neighbourhoods of the city of Fortaleza.
The team estimated the effect of violence on birth outcomes by comparing mothers who were exposed to a homicide during pregnancy to otherwise similar mothers residing in the same area, who happened not to be exposed to homicides.
The study found that birthweight falls significantly among newborns exposed to a homicide during pregnancy and the number of children classified as being low birthweight increases -- and that the effects are concentrated on the first trimester of pregnancy, which is consistent with claims that stress-induced events matter most when occurring early in pregnancy.
In Chicago, the local variant of the Ferguson Effect might be called the McDonald Effect. The number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight (who definitely do not lean conservative) have concluded that the numbers have reached the threshold that they can't be brushed off like that any more. Rob Arthur and Jeff Asher have this post.
The problem with longitudinal studies, of course, is that they necessarily take a very long time to do. Some of the best work has come out of New Zealand. Magdalena Cerda, Terrie Moffitt, et al. have this article in Clinical Psychological Science on results from the Dunedin Longitudinal Study on the long-term effects of persistent marijuana use. Here is the abstract:
With the increasing legalization of cannabis, understanding the consequences of cannabis use is particularly timely. We examined the association between cannabis use and dependence, prospectively assessed between ages 18 and 38, and economic and social problems at age 38. We studied participants in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, a cohort (N = 1,037) followed from birth to age 38. Study members with regular cannabis use and persistent dependence experienced downward socioeconomic mobility, more financial difficulties, workplace problems, and relationship conflict in early midlife. Cannabis dependence was not linked to traffic-related convictions. Associations were not explained by socioeconomic adversity, childhood psychopathology, achievement orientation, or family structure; cannabis-related criminal convictions; early onset of cannabis dependence; or comorbid substance dependence. Cannabis dependence was associated with more financial difficulties than was alcohol dependence; no difference was found in risks for other economic or social problems. Cannabis dependence is not associated with fewer harmful economic and social problems than alcohol dependence.
By some estimates, around a third of law enforcement agencies in the United States now use the sequential format, says John Wixted, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. But, he says, that switch might have been a mistake.
Wixted is one of several scientists, along with Clark and Scott Gronlund, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Oklahoma, who have championed a statistical method called receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis, a method widely used in other fields to measure the accuracy of diagnostic systems.
Using that analysis, sequential lineups don't appear to be beneficial -- and might lead to slightly more misidentifications than simultaneous lineups, Gronlund and Wixted have reported (Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2014). The problem, they say, is that previous analytical methods confounded accuracy with a witness's willingness to choose a suspect. In other words, sequential lineups seem to make people less likely to make a choice at all. But when they do pick a suspect, they might be at greater risk of making the wrong choice. "It turns out sequential lineups are inferior," says Wixted.
And what about eyewitness confidence?
For many years, researchers didn't think an eyewitness's confidence revealed much about his or her accuracy in identifying a suspect, says Wixted. A confident eyewitness could be just as likely to get the ID right -- or wrong -- as a less confident witness. But in the last two decades, numerous analyses have converged on the fact that eyewitness confidence is actually a strong indicator of accuracy.