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Studies and Coding

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In almost every debate about policy, someone asserts confidently that "studies show" whatever supports their position.  However, what "studies show" is not necessarily so.  Occasionally on this blog we highlight why the neat little bottom line result that makes the newspaper may not be true.  Sometimes, the reason involves inherent difficulties in studying a particular area, fully disclosed by the researcher, but deemed too complicated for a newspaper article.  Sometimes it is simple sloppiness on the part of the researcher.  In the worst case, it represents intentional manipulation by an agenda-driven researcher intent on producing "evidence" for a predetermined position.

Eugene Volokh has this comment at VC on a study that purports to show that Supreme Court Justices are more likely to vote for protection of a speaker in First Amendment cases if they are ideologically aligned with that speaker.

Before studiers can crunch numbers, they have to reduce real-world realities to simple numbers.  This is called coding and there is a lot of opportunity for either error or distortion in this process.
Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland (Australia) Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research has a monograph with the above title in the journal Addiction.  Here is the abstract:

Aims:  To examine changes in the evidence on the adverse health effects of cannabis since 1993. Methods:  A comparison of the evidence in 1993 with the evidence and interpretation of the same health outcomes in 2013. Results:  Research in the past 20 years has shown that driving while cannabis-impaired approximately doubles car crash risk and that around one in 10 regular cannabis users develop dependence. Regular cannabis use in adolescence approximately doubles the risks of early school-leaving and of cognitive impairment and psychoses in adulthood. Regular cannabis use in adolescence is also associated strongly with the use of other illicit drugs. These associations persist after controlling for plausible confounding variables in longitudinal studies. This suggests that cannabis use is a contributory cause of these outcomes but some researchers still argue that these relationships are explained by shared causes or risk factors. Cannabis smoking probably increases cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged adults but its effects on respiratory function and respiratory cancer remain unclear, because most cannabis smokers have smoked or still smoke tobacco. Conclusions: The epidemiological literature in the past 20 years shows that cannabis use increases the risk of accidents and can produce dependence, and that there are consistent associations between regular cannabis use and poor psychosocial outcomes and mental health in adulthood.
In olden times, proponents of marijuana prohibition ridiculously exaggerated its harmful effects, a campaign reaching its unintentionally hilarious peak in the film Reefer Madness.  Today, proponents of legalization engage in equal and opposite propaganda, trying to convince us that marijuana is completely harmless.  I call this campaign Reverse Reefer Madness.  CJLF takes no position on the legalization issue, but we should be basing our decisions on science, not propaganda.  Hall says:

Our best estimate is that the risk of developing a psychosis doubles from approximately 7 in 1000 in nonusers [102] to 14 in 1000 among regular cannabis users.
Schizophrenia is a terrible disease.  It wrecks people's lives.  It has a profound impact on the lives of people close to them.  Doubling the risk is no trivial matter.

Hat tip to Michael Tremoglie, who has this article at Main Street.
The Heritage Foundation is no longer the devil it once was on the Left. Recently, Heritage has come out strongly for reforming mandatory sentences, and against over-criminalization and over-federalization of law.  

I am sympathetic to the latter and skeptical to the former, though I know sentencing reform is backed by very good people and friends like John Malcolm and Paul Larkin at Heritage and Sen. Ted Cruz.  Of course it also has the backing of George Soros, the NACDL and the SEIU, which you'd think would scare off anyone to the right of Valerie Jarrett.

This prelude is necessary to equip my friends at Heritage to duck the brickbats headed their way to the effect that, "I always knew you were fascists after all"  -- brickbats sure to blacken the sky when Heritage reports that its scholar's extensive study shows: 

Based on data from all 50 states from 1978 to 1997, each state execution deters...

Of course deterring the murder of innocent people by executing stone cold guilty ones has never been a big priority with the Left, which has preoccupied itself instead peddling the flabbergastingly false story that blacks are in mortal danger from rampaging whites.  They might want to try again, though self-correction  -- or any other kind for that matter  --  doesn't wear well with the pious (when not snarky) Mark Oslers of the world.  

Still, for those who haven't had their brains fried on critical legal studies and other forms of Amerika Stinks theory, the Heritage Study results showing the death penalty's deterrent value will be of more than a little interest.

Good News on California Crime Rates

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California property crimes per 100k population totaled 2,665.5 in 2013, a 3% drop from the 2012 figure although still above the rate before the realignment law went into effect.  Even better, the rate of violent crimes, less affected by that law, is down to a level not seen since 1967.  The California Attorney General released the annual Crime in California report September 26.

Comparison with national figures would be very interesting to help illuminate how much of this is local and how much reflects national trends, but the FBI still hasn't published the 2013 Crime in the United States.

Mass Shootings

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The FBI has released a report titled A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013.  Devlin Barrett has this story for the WSJ. 

How were the incidents "resolved"?

The National Crime Victimization Survey, which showed a bump up for 2012, showed a reversion back for 2013. The graph to the left is from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, Criminal Victimization, 2013.

Update:  BJS issued a correction September 19.  There was a problem with the scale on the original figure.  I have pasted in the corrected figure.

The title of this post is the headline of a story by Geoffrey Mohan in the Los Angeles Times.  He reports on "a 10-year study that [was designed to] compare how children would fare under prolonged therapy and tutoring aimed at improving social and cognitive skills, and whether their adult fates would differ from similar children who did not participate."
Phillip Reese has this post at the Sacramento Bee, noting a disturbingly sharp disparity in the arrest rate for one group in California, a rate nearly triple the state average.

It's the Culture, Continued

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Persons of sense have known for a long time that the primary "root cause" of crime is culture.  Kids growing up are subject to influence from parents, peers, schools, and popular media.  These influences instill in the growing kids either an attitude that (1) they should "do the right thing" in obeying rules (in all but extreme circumstances) and respecting the rights of others or (2) it's every person for himself and they should take whatever they can get away with.

Empirical validation of theories is difficult in social sciences because we generally cannot do controlled experiments.  That is why, for example, much of the "evidence" touted for rehabilitation programs is tainted by selection bias, as noted in posts last February here and here

Every once in a while, though, we get a "natural experiment" where a comparison becomes available between two groups that do or do not receive some "treatment" or "intervention" selected in a way that gives us increased confidence that the "treatment" and not the selection of the groups is the reason for the difference in outcomes.

One such "natural experiment" is forthcoming in the next issue of Pediatrics.  It is titled, "Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents."  The abstract is here and is copied at the end of this post.  The AAP press release is here.  AP has this story.

The thrust of the story is that kids randomly selected to go to better schools have a variety of better outcomes, including reduced gang membership.

More on Corrupt Peer Review

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Mary Kissel of the WSJ has a video interview with James Taranto on the peer review corruption scandal, similar to Taranto's column noted earlier
Last week, I had a post about the malleability of computer models and the problem of models done by advocates with no effective check in our Politically Correct academia.  Bill had a post on the scandal of peer-review corruption.

Today in the WSJ, Hank Campbell has an op-ed titled The Corruption of Peer Review Is Harming Scientific Credibility, subtitled Dubious studies on the danger of hurricane names may be laughable. But bad science can cause bad policy.  See also James Taranto's Best of the Web column today, also in the WSJ.

Campbell notes, "in biomedicine faulty research and a dubious peer-review process can have life-or-death consequences."  That is also true in criminal justice.  There is now a concerted effort to affect public policy with studies and papers downplaying the public-safety effect of punishment and touting alternatives.  Can we trust any of this?  Can we trust it with our lives?
Here's a bit of old news.  On May 28, Neelabh Chaturvedi reported for the WSJ MoneyBlog that the very smart folks at Goldman Sachs "crunched lots of numbers. Lots and lots of numbers," to make the prediction that host Brazil would win the grand prize in the world soccer tournament.

Um, that didn't exactly work out.  Phillipa Leighton-Jones and Jon Sindreu have this follow-up on the same blog.

In December 2011, I wrote a post titled Models Behaving Badly about a book with the same title on the shortcomings of computer modeling of human behavior.  The post noted the implications for criminal justice.  (See also the noteworthy comment by federale86.)

All of these cautions apply when the modeler is actually trying to get to the truth.  An additional heaping scoop of skepticism is called for when the modeler is or is retained by an advocate trying to convince people of a position he would believe for other reasons.  On Tuesday, Robert Caprara had this op-ed in the WSJ titled Confessions of a Computer Modeler.  While working for the EPA, Caprara was told to go back and do his model over repeatedly until he got the "right" answer, the answer predetermined by the agenda of the official in charge:
Investors Business Daily has this editorial:

As the attorney general again warns schools that even race-neutral discipline policies discriminate against black students, a study finds serial misbehavior "completely" explains the racial gap in suspensions.

The first-of-its-kind longitudinal study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice tracks black and white students from kindergarten through eighth grade, with the data set spanning the years 1998 to 2007.

It confirms the obvious: Differences in behavior -- namely, repeat classroom offenses -- explain differences in discipline, not racism by school officials or worse treatment of black offenders compared with similarly situated white offenders, as this race-obsessed administration has so recklessly alleged.
Citation and abstract follow the break.
The Onion reports on important new research on a "root cause" of violent crime:

A study published Thursday in The American Journal Of Criminal Psychology has found a nearly perfect statistical correlation between children who were denied a toy they wanted when visiting a store with their parents and the later development of homicidal...
Curious to see if we get a Swift's Law effect on this one.
Garry Rayno reports for the New Hampshire Union Leader:

CONCORD -- The Senate took little time Thursday to reject repealing the death penalty, not wanting to debate the issue a second time this session.

On a voice vote, the Senate refused to go along with the House and killed Senate Bill 202, which contained the death penalty repeal language from House Bill 1170, which remains on the table in the Senate after members deadlocked 12-12.
Repeal supporters continue with their disinformation campaign:

"There is not an ounce of evidence the death penalty keeps anyone safe," said Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover. "One of government's jobs is to reduce crime. The death penalty does not reduce crime."
Reasonable people can and do disagree about how convincing the studies showing deterrence are, who has the burden of proof, and by what measure.  To say "there is not an ounce of evidence" of deterrent effect, though, is just a bald-faced lie. 

Deterrence studies published in peer-reviewed journals from 1996 to 2010 are tallied here, and the abstracts and citations are provided here.

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