Crime is always up

So, interestingly Americans pretty much always believe that crime is going up.  Of course, in reality we know that crime has mostly been trending downward for about two decades.  The good news, according to the latest Gallup report, is that at least fewer Americans are wrong about this.

Perceptions of Crime in the U.S., 1989-2014

Next time somebody says something like “a majority of American’s can’t be wrong,” you might want to point out something like this.  Anyway, I especially like this graph that puts into context of the actual crime rate:

U.S. Violent Crime Rate vs. Americans' Perception of Crime Rate vs. Year Ago

The American public– can’t trust ‘em.  Of course, there is an interesting research question in here as to why the American public continues to be so consistently wrong on this issue (my strong suspicion is that the nature of news reporting has a lot to do with it).

Convicted by junk forensic science? Tough luck

We now know that a lot of forensic “science” that has been relied upon for years to send people to prison is no more science than is phrenology or astrology.  Okay, good, we’ve learned and we don’t use it anymore.  What almost defies comprehension though, is that when it comes to people still in prison who were convicted on the basis of this junk science, many people just prefer to pretend their convictions are valid and they don’t deserve a chance for an actual fair trial.  It’s incredibly disturbing.  It is amazing the degree to which some people insist on believing that somebody is guilty of a crime simply because they were convicted for it, despite strong evidence suggesting otherwise.  In some ways, it seems we haven’t really come all that far from throwing a “witch” in the water to see if she floats (if she sank, she wasn’t a witch, just dead).

Why bring this all up?  Just a sad, sad case of all-too-typical American injustice via Radley Balko:

In a short opinion issued last week, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld a federal district judge’s ruling against Louisiana prisoner James Koon, who in 1996 was convicted of killing an infant and sentenced to life in prison.

The medical examiner who testified against Koon was Steven Hayne, a controversial figure about whom I’ve written at length over the last eight or so years. The panel rejected Koon’s petition for a new trial based on what Koon claimed was newly discovered evidence that calls Hayne’s credibility into question.

The rejection itself was nothing new. Despite Hayne’s impossible workload (over about 20 years he performed on average 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year, by his own admission), his lack of board certification, and the fact that he has on multiple occasions given testimony that other medical examiners have said ranged from implausible to malpractice, to date no court has rejected Hayne as an expert witness.While some courts have overturned a handful of convictions that were based on his testimony, they’ve only done so in the most egregious instances. Where Hayne has given plausible testimony, or even implausible-but-not-completely-nutty testimony, the courts have generally refused to intervene.

But if Hayne isn’t a credible witness, he isn’t a credible witness. If he has shown that he’s willing to say outrageous things in a few cases, has lied about his certification, and has been shown to be sloppy and unprofessional in his work, the cases in which he gave plausible but debatable testimony (and was opposed by a more competent medical examiner) should be seen just as tainted as those in which his testimony was transparently ridiculous. [emphasis mine]

As Balko explains, the whole system is simply legally unable to properly and fairly cope with situations like this:

And while the criminal justice system can’t seem to keep bad science out of its courtrooms during trial, once someone has been convicted, the same system then puts a premium on the “finality” of a guilty verdict. It’s a point Congress and past presidents have hammered home over the years by revising the federal criminal code to limit habeas appeals in federal court. In order to get relief from a federal court in post-conviction, a convicted person today not only needs overwhelming evidence of innocence, they must also show that this evidence is either new or was undiscoverable at the time of trial, and they must file their petition for within a year of the new evidence becoming available.

The problem with these laws with respect to bad scientific evidence is that science doesn’t operate on deadlines. Science is a process.

Balko’s whole piece is long and completely infuriating. Balko has example of example of heinous injustice and completely discredited forensic science upheld and even worse, actively supported by many in the legal community who are supposed to be seeking “justice.”   The amount of utter irrationality in a supposedly rational system is an affront to any meaningful conception of justice.  And we all idly stand by and let this be how our criminal justice system works.  Really, we’ve not come all that far from carrying hot iron bars or swallowing or putting your arms into boiling war.

More guns, more crime

The research of John Lott that argues “more guns, less crime” has already been largely debunked not to mention plenty of evidence Lott is a fraud.  That said, it’s not been clear that the opposite is true– more guns, more crime.  What we have been able to say is more guns, not less crime.  Now, there’s enough new research in that we can fairly safely conclude (and, really, not all that surprisingly) more guns means more crime.  From Wonkblog:

Now, Stanford law professor John Donohue and his colleagues have added another full decade to the analysis, extending it through 2010, and have concluded that the opposite of Lott and Mustard’s original conclusion is true: more guns equal more crime.

“The totality of the evidence based on educated judgments about the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates” of aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder, Donohue said in an interview with the Stanford Report. The evidence suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with an 8 percent increase in the incidence of aggravated assault, according to Donohue. He says this number is likely a floor, and that some statistical methods show an increase of 33 percent in aggravated assaults involving a firearm after the passage of right-to-carry laws.

Of course, this is social science estimates, so we cannot know with certainty, but safe to say this is the best evidence at this point.  The post concludes:

But for this very reason it’s important for policymakers on both sides of the gun control debate to exercise caution in interpreting the findings of any one study. Gun rights advocates have undoubtedly placed too much stock in Lott and Mustard’s original study, which is now going on 20 years old. The best policy is often informed by good research. And as researchers revisit their data and assumptions, it makes sense for policymakers to do the same.

You show me solid social science research (which Lott’s never was) that more guns means less crime and I’ll be in favor of more guns.  Show me anybody from the pro-gun crowd who feels the opposite.  Lott’s research was never about a well-reasoned social-science basis for gun laws.  “Gun rights” is a theology and not about evidence.  Lott’s research was always about just being able to throw some “research” back at all those egghead liberals.  The fact that the best research clearly suggests more guns leads to more crime, I suspect will persuade exactly zero member of the pro-gun crowd to change their mind on gun laws.

Mega Quick hits (part I)

iLots and lots of good stuff this week.

1) Paul Krugman on how you (or at least the Republican Party) never gets punished for being obviously and provably wrong on economic policy.  (“Look, people who don’t look like you are getting your hard-earned money!”)

2) Hooray for Obama for forcefully advocating net neutrality.  Boo to Republicans for opposing it… because Obama favors it?  What politicians purposefully take the side of Time Warner and Comcast over small businesses and American consumers?!  Great Oatmeal illustrated piece on net neutrality.  And a really nice Wired explanation of the key points (from earlier this year):

The real issue is that the Comcasts and Verizons are becoming too big and too powerful. Because every web company has no choice but to go through these ISPs, the Comcasts and the Verizons may eventually have too much freedom to decide how much companies must pay for fast speeds.

And, of course, you can’t beat John Oliver on net neutrality.

3) Amazingly, a FIFA investigation of FIFA has concluded that FIFA has done nothing wrong.  I’m shocked.  Shocked.

4) Hanna Rosin catches up with famed fabulist Stephen Glass 15 years after his crimes.  Great stuff.

5) Chait eviscerates the absurdity of the new legal challenge to Obamacare like no other.  Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman say maybe we don’t actually have to worry all that much.  I hope they are right.

6) Pope Francis demotes far-right, Communion-denying Cardinal.  I love this guy more every week.

7) Seth Masket argues that big money does not threaten party control, but rather enhances it.

8) Well now that Kansas has re-elected Sam Brownback, their state budget looks worse than ever.

9) If you are a podcast listener and not listening to Serial, get with it already.  Here’s 10 theories on what really happened.

10) Kevin Drum identifies long-term trends shaping American politics.  (It’s from two years ago, but it’s good stuff).

11) Jeffrey Toobin writes that being a lawyer is still great if you come from an elite law school.  Otherwise, not so much.

12) I love the ego depletion model of willpower.  And all the research seemed pretty damn convincing in Willpower.   But new research says not so fast.   

13) Vox on the best way to lose weight.

The one thing you need to know from science about dieting is rather straightforward. What works is cutting calories in a way that you like and can sustain. That’s it. Fewer calories means more weight loss. It’s really that simple. You can stop reading here if you want….

“It’s the wrong question,” he added. “The better question now should be ‘what is the best diet for different individuals, and how can we match them to those diets?’” To understand this, Gardner said researchers would need to look at people’s behaviors, microbiomes and genetic makeup, and how they respond to particular diets. Until science reveals this more refined picture, remember Caulfield: simplicity is the revelation.

14) Charter schools can be great for truly at-risk kids, but those based on a model of working teachers to the bone, really don’t seem scalable.  It’s good to see some of the intensive charter schools figuring out that maybe they can do this and still let their teachers have a life.

15) Why do obese women earn less money.  Shockingly, the answer is discrimination.

16) When people don’t like the solution to a problem, they will just deny the problem exists.  So says new social science research.

17) Great column from Charles Blow summarizing the history of race and party politics in America.  A very effective and succinct summary of the key development in the last 50 years of American politics.

18) 18 Common words you should replace in your writing.  Yeah, a pretty good list.

19) Enjoyed UNC grad Jason Zengerle on the athletic/academic scandal and Roy Williams:

Except that Williams didn’t actually table his suspicions (however vague he maintains those suspicions were). He acted on them and, although he didn’t bring an end to the “paper classes” scam, he at least ended his team’s participation in it. In the cesspool that is big-time college sports, that’s a commendable course of action. As an athletic department official at one college sports powerhouse put it to me, “Out of the 300 Division One basketball coaches, 290 of them would have looked the other way and perpetuated the fraud, 8 of them would have stopped participating in it, and maybe 1 or 2 would have actually blown the whistle on the whole thing.” Looking at the situation that way, what Williams did isn’t just defensible. It might actually be admirable.

The problem for UNC and Williams, of course, is that, were they to embrace such an argument, they’d be admitting just how debased big-time college sports have become. And, despite acknowledging that their university perpetuated an academic fraud for 18 years, they’re still not willing to admit to that general level of debasement


Quick hits (part II)

1) My mysterious illness?  Pretty sure I’ve got the chicken pox.  So itchy!

2) Jerome Groopman on what we don’t know about Ebola and on how learning more could really help.

3) Why Republicans keep telling everyone “I’m not a scientist

“It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who has advised House Republicans and conservative political advocacy groups on energy and climate change messaging. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything. Most politicians aren’t scientists, but they vote on science policy. They have opinions on Ebola, but they’re not epidemiologists. They shape highway and infrastructure laws, but they’re not engineers.”

4) How Princess Bride won the internet.

5) A good piece on the Political Science Montana mailer mess.

6) Nice TNR piece on the fact that we always want politicians to “do something!” means we under-appreciate Obama’s crisis management.

7) Did NBC News cut live to a reporter in the midst of peeing?  Why yes they did.

8) Yet more stories of how it is not easy to get ID to vote for many voters.  So wrong.

9) Daniel Radcliffe is one hell of a rapper.  Seriously, you need to watch this.

10) It is a great time to be listening to podcasts!

11) A little old, but new to me.  Mississipi conservatives explain why they hate Obama.

12) After watching lots of ads for juridical races, Gary Pearce figures out what judges spend their time doing:

Don’t ever say campaign ads aren’t educational. We’ve learned a lot this year, for example, about what judges do.
Judging (so to speak) from their ads, judges spend a lot of time reading things out of big books and copying them down on paper. They apparently must do this by hand, which seems laborious and time-consuming and may explain why it takes the courts so long to do anything.
This work may sound easy, but try doing it while sitting down in your choir robe.
Also, judges apparently spend a lot of time conducting serious conversations with serious-looking people who pay close attention to what they say. That makes sense, as the judge can throw them in the pokey for looking at His or Her Honor wrong. Many of these conversations occur when the judge is sitting at a bench, and some happen as they walk along marble-lined corridors.

13) Is it so wrong to judge somebody by their political party?

Quick hits

Sorry for the tardiness.  I’ve got some weird virus with no symptoms beyond the fact that I’m so tired it takes all my energy to walk across the room.  Anyway…

1) How tech companies may be the key to expanding renewable energy in NC.

2) I try to be carefull when choosing my photo of the day and never knowingly select a photo where it would be violating copyright for me to paste, but it’s not always clear on-line.  That said, it is pretty clear one should not be using other people’s images uncompensated in any sort of commercial manner.

3) Nice NYT interactive feature on all the ways the ACA is working.

4) Courts keep giving police more powers to conduct illegal searches.  That’s not good.  And if that’s not enough, the FBI will shut off your cable so they can go in without a warrant as phony cable repair guys.  What is this– the Soviet Union?!

5) You know I’m a firm believer in legalizing marijuana.  But we really do need to pay careful attention to how it may impact young brains.

6) Why the blood test for Ebola doesn’t offer all that much value– Ebola only shows up in your blood at the point from your symptoms where it is pretty clear you have Ebola.

7) I’m always happy to read articles that confirm all the bad stuff I think about fraternities and sororities.   In this case a NYT article on all the ways sororities waste time and money.

8) So, the universe will end when some tiny bubble appears, expands, and then consumes the whole universe.  Or something like that.

9) Bill Maher suggests that Sheldon Adelson should cure Ebola.

10) What your favorite websites would have looked like in the 80′s.

11) How public opinion polls can be self-fulfilling.

12) Is the fact that the vast majority of social-psychologists are liberals creating a problem for the discipline.  Maybe.

13) Holy Cognitive Dissonance Batman, U2 sort-of-disses Neutral Milk Hotel:

Some of the more strange hippie stuff wasn’t that great. Neutral Milk Hotel, you know them? If you were sort of one of the faithful, you could sort of get excited about it. It didn’t really have a universal appeal at all. And that might be its appeal.”

14) I so cannot wait to see Interstellar.  The most excited I’ve been about a movie in a while.

15) On a related note, Europa Report is streaming on Netflix and it’s quite good.



The missing crosstab

So, the latest from Gallup on the death penalty:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans who favor the death penalty most often cite “an eye for an eye” as the reason they hold their position, with 35% mentioning it. “Save taxpayers money” and “they deserve it” tie as the second-most-popular reasons Americans volunteer in this open-ended measure, at 14% each.

And the cross-tab I so want to see?  What portion of these 35% are avowed Christians.  I suspect a solid majority.  Might as well ignore the words of a fellow named Jesus:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.



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