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Darrell Huff wrote a classic book in 1954: How to Lie With Statistics. Heather MacDonald’s argumentative column in the Wall Street Journal (May 29, 2015) predicting a new crime wave in our country would have been prime fodder for a chapter in Huff’s book.

Huff’s chapters offered object lessons in ways that journalists use statistics to confuse and deceive readers. MacDonald overstated the strength of the evidence she cited to support the purported crime wave. Worse, however, was her deliberate and systematic withholding of data, the erroneous conclusions based upon them, and the failure to note that researchers have not yet validated the effectiveness of the broken window theory (Kelling & Wilson, 1982).

Broken window theory assumes that crime and disorder, like ham and eggs, are inextricably linked. If a window in a house is broken and not fixed, it is assumed that more windows will be broken, whether the house is located in Watts or in West Palm Beach. The broken window represents a lack of caring, an invitation to break more windows. Thus, the failure of the police to arrest lawbreakers, regardless of the crime, invites committing more crimes. The strict enforcement of the law, however, subsequently results in fewer crimes. Similarly, the “Ferguson effect” refers to police officers “disengaging from discretionary law enforcement.”

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