Posted tagged ‘bad behavior’

“A Tradition Of Service”

February 7, 2013

That would be the motto for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And it contains your full USDA recommended level of irony for the day.

Via BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, we learn that the murder (so far) of three people by an ex-cop, which sparked a remarkable outbreak of shooting of folks accused of DWDBT (Driving While Driving A Blue Truck) is not the only news to come out of LA law enforcement this week. Get your heads around this:

Seven Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been notified that the department intends to fire them for belonging to a secret law enforcement clique that allegedly celebrated shootings and branded its members with matching tattoos, officials said.

The Times reported last year about the existence of the clique, dubbed the Jump Out Boys, and the discovery of a pamphlet that described the group’s creed, which required aggressive policing and awarded tattoo modifications for police shootings.

Investigators did not find that the seven had actually, you know, killed anyone with their arquebuses whilst on night patrol…

The_Nightwatch_by_Rembrandt

…but I can’t say anyone who might be on the receiving end of “aggressive policing” would feel much comfort on that:

One member, who spoke to The Times and requested anonymity, said the group promoted only hard work and bravery. He dismissed concerns about the group’s tattoo, noting that deputies throughout the department get matching tattoos. He said there was nothing sinister about their creed or conduct. The deputy, who was notified of the department’s intent to terminate him, read The Times several passages from the pamphlet, which he said supported proactive policing.

“We are alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf,” one passage stated, comparing criminals to wolves. Another passage stated, “We are not afraid to get our hands dirty without any disgrace, dishonor or hesitation… sometimes (members) need to do the things they don’t want to in order to get where they want to be.”

…”We do not glorify shootings,” he continued. “What we do is commend and honor the shootings. I have to remember them because it can happen any time, any day. I don’t want to forget them because I’m glad I’m alive.”

The only good news out of this is that the Sherrif’s department does seem serious enough to actually fire these guys. I suppose you could file that impulse under “damage control,” but hell, I’ll take it.

I’ll add one more thing: being a cop is a terrifically hard job. It’s made harder by the unbelievable availability of firearms for any bad guy (or gal) to wield — which is why so many in law enforcement favor gun control.

But that job becomes harder, IMHO, not easier, the more you militarize the civilian act of policing. Such militarization doesn’t merely include weaponization, tactics and all that; it’s a culture too. And cultures can go very bad.

So I’m not calling down snark and thunder on everyone who does law enforcement. I am saying that as in so much else humans undertake, being a good cop, or department is a matter of eternal vigilance and all that.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’, 1642

It’s not that McArdle can’t read…it’s that she can’t (won’t) think: part two.

October 7, 2009

So:  on to the bill of particulars on McArdle’s recent attempt to claim the intellectual high ground in her ongoing attempt to convince us that we live in the best of all possible drug markets. [Part one is here]

I’m not going to fisk the entire piece in question.  Instead, I’m going to focus on one passage in which she invokes the research community to defend her assertion that artificially high US drug prices for big pharma are essential to the future of drug innovation.  You can read in the way she treats this literature that she either doesn’t or willfully won’t engage her subject up to the level that would allow her to make believable arguments.

She introduces her bravura display of rigor this way:

…we could go to the academic literature.  Not the literature from advocacy groups which too often fills the pages of political magazines on the left and right, but something from someplace like Rand.  And fortuitously, Rand happens to have published a paper on this very topic!

McArdle goes on to quote at length a passage about what would happen to longevity if the US imposed price controls on pharmaceuticals to bring US costs down to those paid by Europeans (about 20% less than current prices, according to the paper).

McArdle then seeks to emphasize the urgency, even the moral quality of her concern for maintaining the status quo in pricing by citing this conclusion from the Rand group:

…. the introduction of price controls would reduce life expectancy by two-tenths of a year for Americans ages 55-59 alive in 2010 and by one-tenth for Europeans ages 55-59 alive in the same year. In percentage terms, these correspond to 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent declines from the status quo.


And, just to finish laying the groundwork, she adds one more cite from the professional literature to affirm the authority of the quite striking claim above:

If you’re wondering how much levels of spending matter, you could go to Acemoglu and Linn, who estimate that a 1% increase in market size (aka revenue) for pharmaceuticals results in a 3-4% increase in the number of drugs being approved.

Sounds pretty devastating, right?


Well, yes…and that ought to be the clue.  In science, and in common experience too, of course, the rule of thumb is that the more striking the claim the greater the appropriate level of skepticism.   So before you endorse or adopt such positions, you need to test the inference.


There are a number of ways to do so, of course.  Step one is to consider the source.


Did McArdle?  Not really.  A first reality check comes from an inquiry into the background of the Rand study.


Go to what the Rand paper actually says:  It analyzes two cases:   either reduce payments to drug companies, or increase subsidies to consumers to get an effect on consumer pocketbooks (absent the tax consquences of the latter policy) that would be the same.  Reducing drug expenditures though it saves consumers money but, according to this analysis, costs them life expectancy.  Subsidies leave consumer finances unchanged, but do not impose the cost in months of life lost.  As the value of life in the model exceeds that of the saving on drug costs, the conclusion is obvious:  No attempt to reduce drug company receipts should be made, with policy makers concerned about the effects of the cost of health care instead told to focus on further subsidizing the purchase of drugs.


That is:  pay the man, or we will kill grandpa before his time.*


But then, if you go on to read to the end of the study, you find something interesting.  The study was not a piece of social science research undertaken by a body of disinterested researchers. Rather, you are reminded that Rand is a private, nonprofit research shop, available to perform academic-level, but not academic-housed studies for those willing to pay.  The lead funder for this study?


Pfizer.


Which, if you’re interested, is, by a wide margin, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.


McArdle does not point this out.  I’m not sure if she noticed it in her first reading of the piece.  She does respond in the comment thread to a reader who pointed this out, writing”If you can find articles on the subject that are not funded by an institution with a clear dog in this fight, please send them. Rand is a widely respected institution.”


This is…how to put it…seriously weak sauce.


Juxtapose it with her snark about “the literature from advocacy groups which too often fills the pages of political magazines on the left and right.”


In other words, she’s relying on the argument from authority, again:  Rand is respectable…a member of the village.  The fact that it is an intellectual gun-for-hire does not seem to matter to her, and of course her defense — that everybody does it —  is wrong, a false statement.


You don’t have to go far to find the confounding counter-example.  The other paper she cites, (on which more later), was written by two economists both then at MIT.  The work, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, lists its outside funders:  first the National Science Foundation, and then the Russell Sage Foundation, a one hundred year old philanthropic institution with a focus on “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.”


Oh well…


Now of course, the fact that Rand was hired by the world’s largest drug company, and then produced a paper which argued that the pharmaceutical industry’s revenue should under no circumstances be cut unless you are willing to accept death and lamentations, is not in itself prima facie evidence that this paper is a put-up job, astroturf research with Rand serving as the cut-out for big Pharma.


But it does, or it should, compel you to interrogate the paper with great care.


And for that:  look to part three of this series.


*Or perhaps, if  you follow the learned doctor M. Python, pay the man and we’ll kill grandpa before his time…;)



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