Science Free Science, How Bad Ideas Become Dogma

We are all aware of the bad ideas the left likes to peddle.  They range from gender is a social construct, babies aren’t alive until sometime after birth, paying people not to work will somehow motivate them to industriousness, businesses are evil and and exist to prevent people from employment, or my favorite you can waste money to make yourself wealthy. If you think about these concepts you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder how do they get started and how do they gain traction. I think I have had the  horror of seeing one of these trying to get its start.


Variations in mortality from legal intervention in the United States—1999 to 2013 is the rather bland title of what would seem to be at first glance  a report from the law enforcement community. It isn’t. It’s a paper by three physicians presented not as statistics but as findings about preventative medicine. Here we have start of the dominoes falling. You have authors who have gone completely outside of their realm of expertise and into another field entirely. If you accept the premise, you have accepted deaths due to law enforcement actions are a medical issue, and medical experts are the people qualified to solve the problem. In short the authors start by moving the goal posts to where they want them.

Now lets look at the papers interior


•  About 5,551 US deaths from legal intervention from 1999-2013
•  Net 45% rise in overall US death rates from legal intervention
•  Top rates for men 15-44 – African Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives
•  Extensive geo-racial variation suggests possible local and national solutions
We explored variations in US deaths by legal intervention using the Compressed Mortality File and CDC WONDER.


The two big facts that should leap out are the choice of time period and the method of examination of the data. They chose the time period the CDC had available online. The tool is publicly available online here CDC Wonder  . You can actually use it to produce the same information as used in the paper, it does very simple statistics mostly counting and sorting. You get the following results.

Legal mortality by year legal mortality queery

With the above query terms. The public health problem becomes an upsurge in the last two years of the data.  You can tease more detail into this but it’s not relevant. What is interesting is what you see when you go to a source that has longer term data than the 14 year data base the CDC has. (This is called doing the research something the authors should have). This chart comes from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Rate of police killings

What a difference a little perspective makes. A public health problem becomes a law enforcement success of epic proportion that took many good people working very hard over a very long time.

So far we have a paper that was accepted to a journal, passed peer review, but somehow managed to be in the wrong field, tried to take ownership of a non issue and manages to misconstrue success as failure.


Now lets look at the fun part the papers conclusions.

Conclusions and relevance
Community-based programs, with collaboration from policy makers and community members, may reduce these potentially avoidable premature deaths from legal intervention by targeting high risk sub-populations.

You can write the above and apply it to any locality that has crime and be just as correct. Matter of fact you can reduce it to “Doing things to reduce X may possibly reduce X”

Off the top of my head I can come up with my own “Better training of police in the use of non lethal force may reduce the number of fatalities”

Here’s another “Reducing the dependence of minority communities on welfare and promoting their integration into mainstream society and development of personal responsibility and morals may reduce the number of fatalities in incidents with the police”

Here’s one that will make the people pushing this blow gaskets. “Promoting church attendance, Sunday school participation and development of a wholesome value system may reduce the number of fatalities”

When science intersects a political agenda it often stops being science, so reading these requires a certain enhanced skepticism. Only the authors can explain their motivations. Regardless of intent you now have a purportedly “scientific paper” that is pushing blather as a solution to a problem that is little more than the fluctuation of a random variable. All it takes now is someone in office with an agenda to use the paper, and the next thing you know you have programs and people fighting to keep their program whenever someone points out its basis wasn’t science but nonsense.



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