Meet Bennie!

We got our new dog today.  This was my favorite photo, so I’m going with it even though Alex managed to get his arm in there:

IMG_1343 (2) (800x450)

 

And if you’re in the Triangle area and need a rescue dog, Saving Grace is awesome.

The evidence-based asymmetry

Great Krugman today.  From social science, to health care, to climate, to guns, to taxes, too many Republicans just aren’t interested in learning about facts that may contradict their worldview.  Naturally, I love his conclusion which takes on the always-ready, facile, “but Democrats do it too” knee-jerk response:

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

Yep.  And, yes, Democrats absolutely can be guilty of these cognitive biases as well, but it is fair to say it is quite simply categorically different than what we see from Republican elites.

 

 

Photo of the day

Big Picture brings us “The Sky.”  Pretty hard to go wrong with a gallery based on this theme.  Lots of great shots:

The full moon rising over the Chugach Mountains behind Anchorage, Alaska, is reflected in the waters of Cook Inlet on January 26, 2012. (Dan Joling/Associated Press)

 

13 questions on guns

Nice piece in the Atlantic looking at 13 questions on guns and providing nice concise answers.  Very handy for the current debate.  I think this question is really the key:

What has worked to reduce gun violence?

This is not an easy question to answer, because crime rates can decline for a wide range of reasons. For example, violent crime rates declined sharply all across the country in the mid-1990s, regardless of whether a given area had tightened its gun laws. So based on a naive interpretation of the numbers, any attempt at reducing gun violence in 1995 would have appeared successful by 1998. Then there is the problem of comparing different states or cities: Circumstances differ, and what works in Memphis may fail in Detroit.

Nonetheless, there are some plausible methods for isolating the different factors, using comparison groups or other controls. The most thorough summary is a 2008 meta-analysis where the authors reviewed every prior American gun violence reduction study, examining both the reported effectiveness and the strength of the statistical evidence. Here are some approaches that don’t seem to work, at least not by themselves, or in the ways they’ve been tried so far:

  • Stiffer prison sentences for gun crimes.
  • Gun buy-backs: In a country with one gun per person, getting a few thousand guns off the street in each city may not mean very much.
  • Safe storage laws and public safety campaigns.

We don’t really have good enough evidence to evaluate these strategies:

  • Background checks, such as the Brady Act requires.
  • Bans on specific weapons types, such as the expired 1994 assault weapons ban or the handgun bans in various cities.

These policies do actually seem to reduce gun violence, at least somewhat or in some cases:

  • More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.
  • Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots.
  • Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

There is no obvious solution here, and there’s a huge amount we still don’t know. But it’s possible that combinations of these policies, or variations in a different context, might work better. For example, background checks would probably be more effective if they were also applied to private sales. Also, of course, this list does not include policies that have not yet been tried.

There’s also the question of international comparisons.  I’ve cut this one down a little since the last excerpt was long:

How does the U.S. compare to other countries?

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of violent crime and homicide, per capita, of any developed country. According to 2008 figures compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. homicide rate for 2010 is 5.1 per 100,000 people. Only Estonia’s is higher, at 6.3. The next most violent country is Finland, which has a homicide rate of 2.5, half that of the U.S. The remaining 28 developed countries are even lower, with an average of 1.1 homicides per 100,000 people…

The U.S. also has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world, by far. The best data is from the 2007 Small Arms Survey, which notes:

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison…

U.S. gun violence has had several decades-long cycles over the past three centuries, but shows a long-term downward trend. Overall homicide rates were similar to Western Europe until the 1850s, but since then violence has declined more slowly in the U.S.

It’s tempting to plot the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence across countries, but recent research suggests that gun violence is shaped by “socio-historical and cultural context,”which varies regionally, meaning that it’s not always possible to make direct comparisons. However, it’s still reasonable to compare places with similar histories, and more guns still correlate with more homicides in Western nations. Meanwhile, in developing countries, cities with more guns have more homicides.

Short version: we’re not going to get down to Western European levels, but we absolutely, positively can cut down on gun deaths while in no way doing true violence to the 2nd amendment as an individual right (not that I agree with that, but that is current Supreme Court interpretation).

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