Archive for the ‘Who thought that was a good idea?’ category

Oklahoma, Jake

March 13, 2014

I have to confess.  Can’t claim I’m terribly surprised by this:*

There’s not been a lot of discussion of evolution in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos so far, and yet a very slight reference to it was so upsetting to Fox’s Oklahoma City affiliate that they just “happened” to run a promo for the nightly news over the show’s sole mention it, as you can see in the above video.

Hit the link (to the delightful io9) to see what so spooked the delicate sensibilities of the good folks at Fox25 Oklahoma City.

quot+God+is+an+ever+receding+pocket+of+scientific+ignorance+quot+_a3dcb3c771a4785a3e2fa249e2b4633e

On the one hand, I’m glad:  the competitive advantage of the science-friendly states can only grow in the face of willed ignorance elsewhere.  On the other, I’m terribly sad.  I don’t live only on my block; I’m a citizen of a commonwealth, a country and a member of  a global commons.  The more such idiocy persists, the more we all lose.

*Back when I was working w. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the NOVA series Origins, I made the film on the evolution of the universe to the chemical conditions compatible with earth-like life.  I wanted to call it “In the beginning,” for obvious reasons.  My elders and betters morphed that to “Back to the Beginning” – which manages to offend those who would be offended anyway while losing all the force of original.  So it ain’t just Fox, ya know.

Image via.

Annals Of The Military Industrial Complex

February 4, 2014

Via exceptionally sharp young journalist Taylor Dobbs, this story of the efficiency and national security value of military procurement:

The Dayton Daily News reports that the Air Force has spent some $567 million to acquire 21 new Spartans since 2007, but has found that the Air Force does not have missions for many of the aircraft.

The planes had originally been acquired because of their ability to operate from unimproved runways. But sequestration forced the Air Force to re-think the airplane’s mission, and it determined that they were not a necessity, according to an analyst with the Project for Government Oversight.

…An Air Force spokesman said the program was “too near completion” to be able to terminate the program in a way that does not cost the taxpayers more than building the airplanes and sending them immediately to the boneyard.

Jan_van_Kessel_(I)_-_Birds_on_a_Riverbank_-_WGA12131

An alternate headline would  — should, in fact — go something like this: “Legislators Find Alternatives To Food Stamp Cuts”

Yeah…I’m dreaming.

One more thought: the fetishization of (genuinely brave and self-sacrificing) members of the military is cover for sh*t like this.

Image: Jan van Kessel, Birds on a Riverbank,  1655.

A Lesson In Compassion (From Within A “Family Values” State)

January 30, 2014

Nothing says the dignity of humanity; nothing says kindness; nothing says how a high level of public religiosity makes for a better society than literally ripping  food out of hungry kids hands, and, in front of them, throwing it away:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.

Max_Liebermann_Kindervolksküche

“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South.

Eleven years old!

I’m a dad, as y’all probably know.  My kid is 13 now.  He’s a total pain in the ass about food right now — won’t touch most stuff, including his school’s cafeteria fare.  He takes food from home and we top him up when he gets home.  But he used to get some stuff there.  I remember topping up his account once or twice when I dropped him off — we’d either crossed over into the red or come too close to it.  No one at his school would have dreamed of grabbing his bagel; we’d get a note asking for another five bucks for the system.  That’s how you do it.

If anyone had stopped my son in the middle of the cafeteria line, grabbed his tray and dumped his lunch?

I can’t imagine what I’d have done and said.  I can imagine what that experience would do to my child — to any kid.  Public poor-shaming –turning some little kid, with no power, no agency, no ability to defend or deflect or do anything, into nothing more than your prop in some twisted morality play about the undeserving proles.  I’m sorry about the run-on there. The rage and refracted sorrow/sympathy for the chidren some asshole(s) decided it was OK to hurt just overwhelms my ability to calm down my syntax.  But you get the point:  this  is no way to teach an 11 year old anything.  Or rather it’s just the right way to learn both that child and all her or his peers how to be the worst we can be.

One more thing:  I’m slamming on Utah in the headline, because I’m sick of sitting here in godless Massachusetts listening to folks from the religiousist corners of our country tell us how we all need to emulate the values in which such places are alledgedly rich.

But I take this personally too.  This isn’t just Utah.  An action like this is the logical endpoint of a culture that frames all things as the battle of the individual against society.  I like living in a social setting.  I think the genius of American democracy in the abstract is that it provides a once-novel way of mediating between levels of association from village on up and the individual.  So when  I hear the words “American exceptionalism,  I’d like them to have some other meaning than that we are exceptional in our capacity to be cruel to hungry children.

Image: Max Liebermann, Kindervolksküche, 1915

Armageddon REALLY Sick of the Bush Family

November 7, 2013

Our accidental president, unfettered by office or responsibility, can now let his fundy freak flag fly:

According to a report from Sarah Posner in Mother Jones, George W. Bush is scheduled to give the keynote address at an upcoming fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organization devoted to converting Jews to Christianity in order to bring about the second coming of Christ.

Piero_della_Francesca_-_6._Torture_of_the_Jew_-_WGA17528

Speaking as an aging Bar-Mitzvah-boy-card-carrying-atheist-Jew, I am not going to indulge in profanity, hyperbolic insult, or the ridicule and public shaming that should attend any such gob-smackingly  awesome arrogance and ignorance.  I’ll simply invite the man who is currently to be found in position one, two, or three on the Worst President Ever tables to kindly self-copulate with an oxidized farm implement.

I’ll add just this.  You can tell a great deal about someone from the company he keeps:

Bush will follow last year’s keynote speaker, Glenn Beck.

Well — one more thing.  Glenn Beck?  F**k him too.  Or rather — when the need arises, may he be attended by urologists who failed mohel class.

And (“Our weapons are…Three!) really the last one. I can’t leave this story without noting that the grift is strong on this one.  Hearing the man Charles Pierce has forever dubbed our C+ Augustus speak will set the rubes back from a C-note to $100,000.  That’s a lot of simoleons, enough so that I am inevitably reminded of my co-religionist Jesus’s almost Elizabeth-Warren-like view of the banksters.  But I suppose I just lack that necessary faith that would turn handing over that kind of cash to those kinds of people.

(PS — our weapons are 4! — how’s that “why don’t Jews vote Republican” inquiry going, guys?)

Image:  Piero della Francesca, The Torture of the Jew between 1452 and 1466

Republican Health Care Plan (Die Sooner) Implemented Via Shutdown — Salmonella Outbreak edition

October 9, 2013

Ok.  That title is a bit of hyperbole (you think?–ed.).  No deaths have yet been reported from this:

This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.

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The news and its context (and lots of links, now updated) comes from the invaluable Superbug blog written by the equally prized Maryn McKenna (known to her friends as the internet’s Scary Germ Girl, perhaps for books like this one.)*

That’s not the punch line, though.  Something else makes this latest demonstration of the risks inhering to the US food supply system so infuriating and so scary — something with a distinctly GOP reek wafting through it:

 [The Food Safety and Inspection Service] is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”

This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week.

As Maryn emphasizes:  we are confronting a potentially deadly public health crisis with legally enforced ignorance:

 At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)

To mix metaphors — when you have a political party determined to spin the cartridge on the whole country, eventually the hammer will find a loaded chamber.

Go read the whole of Maryn’s reporting.  This isn’t skittles. It’s illness and misery, the possibility of life-long diminishment…and maybe deaths too, as always with the most vulnerable, kids and the elderly, squarely in the cross hairs.

Even if, as I deeply hope, the current outbreak passes with minimal harm to our fellow citizens, that just means we got lucky.  As long as Republicans see the shut down as a game in which they must put “points on the board” we’re on the hook for the news we know will come.

To take it one step further:  the dominant view within the modern Republican party is one that in essence denies the existence of society.  In the Tea Party view — the one shaping the entire party’s vision — the US is and must be a nation of individuals, atoms; there is no concept that we might act in concert to ends other than those we can address one by one.

From that perspective deciding we don’t need food safety inspectors makes sense.  It’s my job or yours to make sure we cook that chicken breast all the way through, that we sterilize our cutting boards, that we never forget to soap off our knives between cuts, that we never eat with friends less cautious than ourselves. (I’m following Maryn’s argument here, btw.)

One could choose to live that way.  Kids would die, from time to time, and maybe grandpa too, before he needed to go.  Such deaths would be the price of my freedom, a definition of liberty renders every other person around me a kind of ghost: there, but not so much so that I need act as if they are just as real as me.

That’s what’s at stake in the current impasse in Washington.  I don’t want to live with ghosts. I want friends, I want colleagues, I want a society — civilization.  Hell!  I want chicken inspectors, and it’s a privilege, not a burden, to live within a system that’s figured out how to  have them.  That the Republicans don’t seem to get that is why the current version of the party (no longer) of Lincoln must be ground into the dust.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Update:  Per Mike the Mad Biologist, this news:

A sweeping salmonella outbreak has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called back 10 furloughed staff members to monitor this and other outbreaks.

Progress.

*You can get the word directly from Maryn via my conversation with her on the Virtually Speaking Science podcast.

Image:  Vincenzo Campi, Chicken Vendors1580.

Please Proceed, GOP

October 6, 2013

Josh Marshall over at TPM picked this up, but I can’t stop myself from echoing his thoughts here.

The only actual pleasure I’m taking out of our current circumstances — in which one major political party has decided to refight 1861-5 via the legislative process* — is the degree to which or Republican friends are exposing their political id ever more unmistakably.  Instance(n)** for your delectation:

Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 8.52.35 AM

Like my grandmum would have said, if she said such things:  should the FSM feel moved to give you enemies, oh, please, dear Noodly one, make them stupid.

R’amen.

*Really, this is more like the late stages of the 1840-ish to 1860 maneuvering of the Southern rebels, attempting to achieve their aims by procedure as the gateway drug to armed treason.

**where (n) is an arbitrarily large number.

Somalia On The Rio Grande

May 10, 2013

If it were just a matter of Texans killing Texans — with the victims embracing their fates — then I might be willing to let it all go with an “everyone to hell in their own handbasket”  reaction.  But, of course, the generalized Gresham’s Law tells us what follows from this kind of thinking:

Five days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant leveled a wide swath of this town, Gov. Rick Perry tried to woo Illinois business officials by trumpeting his state’s low taxes and limited regulations. Asked about the disaster, Mr. Perry responded that more government intervention and increased spending on safety inspections would not have prevented what has become one of the nation’s worst industrial accidents in decades…
Alfred_Rethel_001

This antipathy toward regulations is shared by many residents here. Politicians and economists credit the stance with helping attract jobs and investment to Texas, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, and with winning the state a year-after-year ranking as the nation’s most business friendly.

Even in West, last month’s devastating blast did little to shake local skepticism of government regulations. Tommy Muska, the mayor, echoed Governor Perry in the view that tougher zoning or fire safety rules would not have saved his town. “Monday morning quarterbacking,” he said.

Raymond J. Snokhous, a retired lawyer in West who lost two cousins — brothers who were volunteer firefighters — in the explosion, said, “There has been nobody saying anything about more regulations.”

I’d be surprised, except for the fact that there’s nothing out of the ordinary here, if you look at matters like a (certain kind of) Texan:

Texas …is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

Hold on a moment there, buckaroo!  No fire codes? That’s a reason to locate in Texas?

I guess the goal here is to reduce the incovenience of contracting with Bangladesh.

Seriously — if you think it an act of social responsibility to demand clothing retailers to demonstrate proper work place safety for their imports, shouldn’t we demand the same of, say every oil and gas company, refiners and all, that deliver products from Texas to the rest of these United States?

Anyway — guess the inevitable consequence of such “pro-business” concern. No prize for correct answers:

But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs.

As I said at the top…if this were a problem for Texans alone then there is a part of me that says that they voted for this government (and regulatory regime), and they should enjoy what they’ve gotten — good and hard.  But (a) this ignores the fact that those most at risk are those with the least access to the levers of power, and even in a deep red state like this one, there are lots of folks who don’t want to be blown up in their back yards.  Some solidarity seems in order.

More broadly there’s (b):  Texas’s drive to hold harmless private businesses for any consequences of their decisions puts pressure on every other state.  There are alternatives, and lots of non-feral players recognize that there’s more to a positive business climate than crap schools, an immiserating approach to health care, a failure to provide worker and public safety, and an incentive structure that rewards environmental malice.  But to the extent that Texas is successful in attracting enterprises to its let-any-harm-happen frontier, the downward pressure on other states exists.  Bad laws, bad regulatory frameworks drive out good, just like Gresham could have said.

National Republicans are, of course, complicit in this drive to put ever more Americans at risk.  In the context of weak state protection for its citizenry, the onus falls on the federal government, through agencies like but not limited to OSHA and EPA.  But they aren’t meeting that task, and won’t.  There are lots of reasons why not, including some an Obama administration could address (and that we should push for), but a big part of the reason lies with the long-running effort by the GOP to hollow out government from within.

So, yeah, Texas remains too small for a country and too big as an asylum.  I know it’s a near impossible task to imagine dragging it, kicking and screaming, into the Century of the Anchovy.  But for our own sake, if not for theirs, we gotta try.

The first step is to remember:  Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Image:  Alfred Rethel, The factory Mechanische Werkstätten Harkort & Co, c. 1834

The Land Of Broken Links

February 6, 2013

Copyright is broken. Intellectual property in general has become a troll’s playground. Jump to that link to see how easy it is for extortionists to invert every rationale for a patent/copyright regime, transforming the support of innovation into simple theft.

But we knew that.

Still:  the latest outrage to hit my twitter feed gave me real pause.  It’s an example of the ease with which private censorship can manipulate the IP legal regime to disappear uncomfortable speech.  I don’t know how many of you know of the excellent site Retraction Watch, founded and run by Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (full disclosure — Ivan’s a friend of mine).

The site monitors the scientific and medical press to identify and discuss withdrawn research papers — its motto is “Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.”  The fact of retraction is occasionally a sign of genuine error, but as Ivan and Adam have documented, betting on misconduct is never a foolish option.

Georges_de_La_Tour_-_Cheater_with_the_Ace_of_Diamonds_-_WGA12334

Yesterday Ivan put up a post that differed from the usual fare of discredited research and queries about peer review or the editorial processes involved. Titled “WordPress removes Anil Potti posts from Retraction Watch in error after false DMCA copyright claim”*, the piece documents how an obscure Indian website managed to persuade Word Press to remove ten posts about former Duke University researcher Anil Potti.  As described in an Ars Technica article,

Potti first fell under scrutiny for embellishing his resume, but the investigation quickly expanded as broader questions were raised about his research. As the investigation continued, a number of Potti’s papers ended up being retracted as accusations of falsified data were raised. Eventually, three clinical trials that were started based on Potti’s data were stopped entirely. Although federal investigations of Potti’s conduct are still in progress, he eventually resigned from Duke.

By Ars Technica’s count, Retraction Watch has so far published 22 posts on the Potti case.  Ten of those have now gone missing.  Here’s Ivan:

If you went looking for ten of our posts about Anil Potti today, you would have seen error messages instead. That’s because someone claiming to be from a news site in India alleged we violated their copyright with those ten posts about the former Duke University cancer researcher who has had 19 papers retracted, corrected, or partially retracted.

The claim, as Ivan documents, is bullshit (a term of art, of course, but mine, not deployed by Retraction Watch):

If you click on any of the NewsBulet.In URLs provided in the takedown notice, you will indeed find the text — and images — from ten of our posts about Anil Potti. But as will be abundantly clear to anyone who does so that our text was placed on NewsBulet.In, not the other way around.

In other words, NewsBulet.In is violating our copyright; we are not violating theirs. That’s driven home by the fact that the site did not exist until October 2012, according to a WhoIs search. All but one of the Retraction Watch posts they cite appeared before they even existed.

Retraction Watch is on the case — neither of its two authors fell off a turnip truck recently.  But even if — when — the material gets restored to the site, the chilling power available to those who would use copyright for evil is obvious.  The assertion of bluntly false claims is hassle enough — and if it distorts or simply constrains folks’ ability to cover controversy, then the damage is obvious.

Of course, the problems with copyright (and the patent system) extend far beyond overt nonsense like that which Retraction Watch confronts today.  For a historically grounded insight into our troubles, I highly recommend Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air, in which Hyde examins what our founding fathers actually meant by the intellectual property system they advanced at the birth of the American republic. In the here and now, the problem — or at least one big one — is that it is just too damn easy to disrupt the free exchange of ideas with spurious claims, acts for which there are no consequences sufficient to offer an incentive to play nice.

I have no good idea how to dig out from this mess (though any solution that makes Mickey Mouse cry would be a move in the right direction, I think).  You?

*OK.  I’ll admit that the headline isn’t quite in the “Headless Body Found In Topless Bar” league

Image:  Georges de la Tour, Cheater with the Ace of Diamonds, 1635.

Some Days, It’s Enough That I Don’t Have To Cop To Having Gone To Yale…

December 19, 2012

…because if I had, I’d have to pull up my hoodie and duck my head low to avoid association with this:

this “spring,” Brooks will be bringing his famed self and his less-well-known teaching credentials (?) to our very own campus.

And what’s he teaching? It would only make sense for this course to be called “Humility.” Brooks is not only a real big name in general but also kind of an expert on the topic—a quick Google search reveals that he’s written on it in the NYT and discussed it at the Aspen Ideas Festival—so we can pretty much agree that this is fitting. As if the irony weren’t already enough, this class is also a Global Affairs seminar, so, like, humility, guys. Perfect. Especially recommended if you were tempted by Grand Strategy but really just don’t have the ego for it.

That was in the Yale Bullblog.  The story then was picked up by New York Magazine’s Joe Coscarelli, who noted that the course promises to explore:

“The premise that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness,” as demonstrated by men such as Moses, Homer, and others,” like maybe Paul Krugman.

It would, perhaps, be unkind for me to note that Mr. Brooks is in fact more qualified to teach this course than it might at first seem. After all, he does have much to be humble about.

Trophime_Bigot_Allegory_Vanity

(Apologies to the apocryphal Winston Churchill, and, I suppose, even more to the real Clement Atlee, who deserves better than to have Brooks mentioned in the same breath.)

But I should surrender pride of place to the invaluable Mr. Charles Pierce, who first led me to this little gem, and to whom I’ll give the last word:

I swear I’d almost pay someone to audit this mess.

Hell, Charlie! Pass the hat.   I’d chip in.

That’s all I got tonight.  The sun is over the yardarm somewhere, so raise a glass to the vision of Yale’s latest adjunct holding forth with all due (overdue) humility.

Image: Trophime Bigot, Allegory of Vanity, before 1650

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie…

July 23, 2012

Within less than a day of the Aurora shootings, a BJ reader sent me word of the absolutely predictable gun-nut push to claim that guns prevent more crime/save more lives than gun-use takes.

We’ve seen plenty of that in the days since, with the blame-the-victim, where-are-our-John-Waynes trope getting its usual airing, as it always does after such tragedies.

I wrote on this topic after the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy referencing some of the actual research that shows, over and over again that more guns = more gun tragedy.  Go check it out if you want to be further depressed by the American gun-fetish eternal return of the same pathology.

Here I just want to deal with one zombie lie — the one my BJ correspondent passed on to me:

Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year — or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.

That’s from a “factsheet” produced by Gun Owners of America.  GOA helpfully footnotes the two sentences above, claiming independent scholarly support for the claim, which, they assert, is backed up by official federal government research:

Even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found there were as many as 1.5 million defensive users of firearms every year. See National Institute of Justice, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” Research in Brief (May 1997).

And your guns shall set you free, I guess.

But wait just a minute.

One of the things we do at the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing in which I have the honor to teach is to make sure that our students develop a nose for funny numbers.  Your olfactory neurons should be firing pretty hard right now.  2.5 million instances of gun defense? 1 for every 12 120 or so US citizens, infants at the breast, gaffers spooning their soup and all and sundry in between?Almost 7,000 a day, and nary a mention on the nightly news? No blog of “Real American Heroes” or some such?

But what the hell.  It’s documented, right?

Right – by a study from 1994, confirmed, allegedly, by a US government-sponsored analysis in 1997.  So let’s do something radical. Let’s read the referenced material.  Here’s the relevant passage from “Guns in America…[pdf]:”

Private citizens sometimes use their guns to scare off trespassers and fend off assaults. Such defensive gun uses (DGUs) are sometimes invoked as a measure of the public benefits of private gun ownership. On the basis of National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data, one would conclude that defensive uses are rare indeed, about 108,000 per year. But other surveys yield far higher estimates of the number of DGUs. Most notable has been a much publicized estimate of 2.5 million DGUs, based on data from a 1994 telephone survey conducted by Florida State University professors Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz. [the study the GOA "factsheet" references in its claim]  The 2.5 million figure has been picked up by the press and now appears regularly in newspaper articles, letters to the editor, editorials, and even Congressional Research Service briefs for public policymakers.

The NSPOF survey is quite similar to the Kleck and Gertz instrument and provides a basis for replicating their estimate. Each of the respondents in the NSPOF was asked the question, “Within the past 12 months, have you yourself used a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or someone else, or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere?” Answers in the affirmative were followed with “How many different times did you use a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or property in the past 12 months?” Negative answers to the first DGU question were followed by “Have you ever used a gun to defend yourself or someone else?” (emphasis in original). Each respondent who answered yes to either of these DGU questions was asked a sequence of 30 additional questions concerning the most recent defensive gun use in which the respondent was involved, including the respondent’s actions with the gun, the location and other circumstances of the incident, and the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator.

Forty-five respondents reported a defensive gun use in 1994 against a person (exhibit 7). Given the sampling weights, these respondents constitute 1.6 percent of the sample and represent 3.1 million adults. Almost half of these respondents reported multiple DGUs during 1994, which provides the basis for estimating the 1994 DGU incidence at 23 million. This surprising figure is caused in part by a few respondents reporting large numbers of defensive gun uses during the year; for example, one woman reported 52! [That's once a week, for those of you keeping score at  home. Even if you're living in a truly bad neighborhood, that's impressively bad luck as far as being targetted by crime goes.--ed.]

A somewhat more conservative NSPOF estimate is shown in the column of exhibit 7 that reflects the application of the criteria used by Kleck and Gertz to identify “genuine” defensive gun uses. Respondents were excluded on the basis of the most recent DGU description for any of the following reasons: the respondent did not see a perpetrator; the respondent could not state a specific crime that was involved in the incident; or the respondent did not actually display the gun or mention it to the perpetrator.

Applying those restrictions leaves 19 NSPOF respondents (0.8 percent of the sample), representing 1.5 million defensive users. This estimate is directly comparable to the well-known estimate of Kleck and Gertz, shown in the last column of exhibit 7. While the NSPOF estimate is smaller, it is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error. Inclusion of multiple DGUs reported by half of the 19 NSPOF respondents increases the estimate to 4.7 million DGUs.

Some troubling comparisons. If the DGU numbers are in the right ballpark, millions of attempted assaults, thefts, and break-ins were foiled by armed citizens during the 12- month period. According to these results, guns are used far more often to defend against crime than to perpetrate crime. (Firearms were used by perpetrators in 1.07 million incidents of violent crime in 1994, according to NCVS data.)

Thus, it is of considerable interest and importance to check the reasonableness of the NSPOF estimates before embracing them. Because respondents were asked to describe only their most recent defensive gun use, our comparisons are conservative, as they assume only one defensive gun use per defender. The results still suggest that DGU estimates are far too high.

For example, in only a small fraction of rape and robbery attempts do victims use guns in self-defense. It does not make sense, then, that the NSPOF estimate of the number of rapes in which a woman defended herself with a gun was more than the total number of rapes estimated from NCVS (exhibit 8). For other crimes listed in exhibit 8, the results are almost as absurd: the NSPOF estimate of DGU robberies is 36 percent of all NCVS-estimated robberies, while the NSPOF estimate of DGU assaults is 19 percent of all aggravated assaults. If those percentages were close to accurate, crime would be a risky business indeed!

NSPOF estimates also suggest that 130,000 criminals are wounded or killed by civilian gun defenders. That number also appears completely out of line with other, more reliable statistics on the number of gunshot cases.

The evidence of bias in the DGU estimates is even stronger when one recalls that the DGU estimates are calculated using only the most recently reported DGU incidents of NSPOF respondents; as noted, about half of the respondents who reported a DGU indicated two or more in the preceding year. Although there are no details on the circumstances of those additional DGUs, presumably they are similar to the most recent case and provide evidence for additional millions of violent crimes foiled and perpetrators shot.

…..

The key explanation for the difference between the 108,000 NCVS estimate for the annual number of DGUs and the several million from the surveys discussed earlier is that NCVS avoids the false-positive problem by limiting DGU questions to persons who first reported that they were crime victims. Most NCVS respondents never have a chance to answer the DGU question, falsely or otherwise.

[All bold emphases added by yours truly.]

Sorry for such a long block quote, but there is method to my tl;dr madness.  There is a figure out there that has been enshrined as “fact.” Guns prevent crimes — and in such great numbers as to outweigh any tragedy.  13 dead and 48 wounded?  Sad, but merely sacrifices to the greater good of an armed society…

Except, of course, it isn’t true.  The lie persists because the liars rely (soundly, it appears) on the certainty that almost no one will go back through the literature and see if anything they say is actually, you know, true.  The very piece of government research GOA cites as support explicitly and at length debunks the core claim.  But no matter. Who reads fifteen year old reports anyway?

You do, if you’ve stuck it this far.  Lots of other folks — including media makers — have not, at least as suggested by the persistence of this zombie lit.

And so we permit zombies to continue to suck our brains out, as such lies become public policy fact.  Such failure — the failure of folks within the gun community to speak honestly, and the disastrous failure of the media to report the story clearly and accurately — costs lives.  People die.  Kids die, old folks die, time and again real people, not mere tallies on a false record of those lost against those saved…ripped from their families, their loved ones, their own selves.  We can do better, but we choose not to.

Just to drive that last claim home  let me point you to one study from those cited in my Giffords post referenced above:

PHILADELPHIA – In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

I’m not a gun-ownership absolutist.  I don’t think we could (politically) or should remove guns from every hand and every home.  But, as Bernard wrote this morning, there’s a lot of room between such a ban and where we are now — and I’d move a long way through that space of possibility.

Which we can’t, as long as the media permit the gun nuts to lie with impunity. I’ve written before about imposing a strict insurance scheme on gun ownership, and I still think that’s a step that could be made possible over time.  But not that nor any other useful idea while we permit the argument to be hijacked by stuff its partisans know to be so, but isn’t.

Images:  Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Francisco de Goya, Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off, 1806


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