Recently in Studies Category

The FBI issued this press release yesterday on its Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report.

All of the offenses in the violent crime category--murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape (revised definition), rape (legacy definition), aggravated assault, and robbery--showed increases when data from the first six months of 2016 were compared with data from the first six months of 2015. The number of aggravated assaults increased 6.5 percent, murders increased 5.2 percent, rapes (legacy definition) increased 4.4 percent, rapes (revised definition) rose 3.5 percent, and robbery offenses were up 3.2 percent.
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In the property crime category, offenses dropped 0.6 percent. Burglaries were down 3.4 percent, and larceny-thefts declined 0.8 percent. However, motor vehicle thefts increased 6.6 percent.

We at CJLF will be looking at the data more closely and will report what we find on this blog.
An implicit assumption in the outcry for releasing "nonviolent offenders" is that criminals specialize, and a person in prison for, say, burglary, is no more likely to commit a violent crime than regular law-abiding people are.  Last month, California voters approved an initiative for releasing supposedly "nonviolent" criminals by a landslide even while they rejected an initiative to repeal the death penalty by a greater margin than they did four years ago.  That indicates the extent to which the "nonviolent offender" myth has taken hold.

But it's a bunch of hooey.  Today the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released supplemental data on Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010.

How many prisoners released in 2005 were rearrested by 2010, and for what crimes?

For those committed for violent offenses, 33.1% were rearrested for another violent offense.  For those whose most serious commitment offense was classified as a property offense, 28.5% were rearrested for a violent offense.

Is that a big difference?  No, it is a small, bordering on trivial, difference.  The premise that "nonviolent offenders" can be released without placing law-abiding people at increased risk of violent victimization is just plain wrong.

Study: Racist Police Narrative is False

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For the past eight years, the world has been told that American law enforcement is infected with racism.  The President, the Attorney General, most civil rights leaders, most of academia, seemingly every Democrat politician in the country, and the national media have repeatedly cited the disproportionate number of arrests, convictions and incarceration of young black males as proof that white police officers and prosecutors are literally rounding up blacks and throwing them in prison.  We have been told that the racial bias is so prevalent that white police officers routinely single out black suspects and murder them.  The Black Lives Matter movement was formed specifically to fight this perceived injustice and over the past couple of years more than a few police officers have been assassinated by BLM followers.  John Lott, Jr., of the Crime Prevention Research Center and Carlisle Moody of the College of William and Mary have released a study mentioned below in the News Scan which found that black suspects are more likely to be shot by black police officers and female police officers than by white police officers.

Poll Analysis Kerfuffle

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The things people get angry about ...

Trouble in Poll-Land

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We talk a considerable amount about polls on this blog, enough to devote a category to them.

But polling is getting harder, and the pollsters have done some belly flops in recent years, including the Kentucky Governor election and Brexit.  Ryan Knutson has this article in the WSJ on the challenges and responses.

The problem of the growing number of people who have only cellphones, no landline, and the legal prohibition on robocalling cell phones is well known.  Here is another problem I did not know about.

In 1997, 36% of households sampled agreed to participate in a poll, according to the Pew Research Center. Now it is 9%. This means thousands more calls must be made for a telephone survey to reach a sufficient sample.
Wow.  It's not just more calls.  How do we know the 9% who will talk to pollsters are representative of the 91% who will not?  Pollsters can match on demographics, but demographics are not everything.  Is it possible that willingness to take the poll correlates to views on the questions being asked, even after demographic adjustments are made?  That seems to me to be entirely plausible.

A variety of new polling methods are being used, but until they have a track record we won't know how valid they are.
As noted in a CJLF press release last month, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) reported a 3% increase in violent crime in 2015 over 2014.  Today, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that its National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) showed no statistically significant change.  The lesson here is in the limitations of statistics.
As Bill noted earlier, today's FBI statistics report, Crime in the United States -- 2015, reports an 11% increase in the number of murders.  The murder rate (murders per 100,000 population), rose a slightly lower but still horrific 10%.  See Table 1A.

How unusual is this?  I dove into the historical data to find out.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics online data gives us murder rates back to 1960.  The rates range from 4.4 to 10.2 murders per 100k and are expressed to only one decimal place, so there is some rounding error, but they are good enough for a quick take.

Putting the rates in a spreadsheet and calculating the percent change for each year over the previous year, we see that only twice in over a half century has the rate jumped double digits in one year and once just a tad below that threshold.  Those three years were 1966-1968, when crime was rising at a horrific rate.

We have never had a double-digit drop, but several years come close.

The standard deviation for the changes is 5.9%.  This year's change is not quite two standard deviations from the mean, but it's close.  (The mean is near zero.) 

In plain English, this is a very unusual one-year jump, although not unprecedented.

New Study Shows ...

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The Onion reports:

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.
Thursday I noted a paper by Ernest Goss, et al. with a quotation that was purportedly from me but was completely false. I did not write those words, and the words report my study as finding the opposite of what I actually found.

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.

Just say no to marijuana, kids

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Now this is interesting....finally a scientifically backed article on the realities of marijuana use among adolescents.  

In comments to Bill's post on incarceration rates there is discussion of the issue of whether the higher (although shrinking) incarceration rate for African Americans is due to higher offending rates or discriminatory enforcement.  I did a quick search for research on this subject.
Update:  See follow-up post.

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."

48Kent S. Scheidegger, The DP and Plea Bargaining to Life Sentences, Criminal Justice Legal Foundations, Feb. 2009, p. 10.
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.

Misreporting Science

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Robert Gebelhoff has this article in the WaPo on the misreporting of research.

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.
As Bill noted earlier today, the theme of the opening day of the Republican National Convention is Make America Safe Again.  Is America unsafe?  Is a change of direction needed?  Consider two graphs (click on them for larger views):


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.

Donald Trump said "crime is rising," and PolitiFact rated that statement "Pants on Fire."  Eugene Volokh looks into it.

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.

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