No This Water Cooler Is Not About The Study Of How Government Functions.
It used to be said that while figures don’t lie, liars sure can figure, and that old saying only seems to become more and more true with the world we live in. The misuse of science has been magnified by the willingness of a public to accept the results without question and a political class that realizes it can get the figures it wants whether or not they have any relationship to reality. Needless to say this gets to be a real problem.
Case 1: The U.S. Gun Violence Epidemic That Wasn’t
Have you heard how the U.S. has had a majority of the worlds mass shootings ? Not only having more on an absolute basis but far more on a per capita basis as well ?
Perhaps you remember the New York Times Article wailing and moaning about how violent we were compared to other countries
What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer
Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.
Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.
Maybe Newsweek was where you heard this ?
Study: Mass Shootings ‘Exceptionally American Problem’
The incidents seem to accumulate at a staggering pace: Mass shootings in schools, movie theaters and other public places have left scores of victims in their wake. And an overwhelming number of them have occurred in the United States.
Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, looks at the “dark side of American exceptionalism” in a new study to be presented Sunday at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago. In “Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem,” Lankford uses a quantitative analysis of mass shootings around the world between 1966 and 2012 to attempt to understand their prevalence in the U.S., and he consults previous research to try to understand the factors behind this unmatched frequency.
Other sites touted the same study, think progress, real clear science, more or less any news outlet happy to see bad news about the right to keep and bear arms.
There was of course one problem, Lankford’s study was garbage and it turns out the U.S. has a lower than average gun violence rate amongst nations.
A paper on mass public shootings by Adam Lankford (2016) has received massive national and international media attention, getting coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, plus hundreds of other news outlets spanning at least 35 different countries. Lankford’s claim was that over the 47 years from 1966 to 2012, an enormous amount of the world’s mass public shooters — 31% — occurred in the United States. Lankford attributed this to America’s gun ownership.
Lankford claims to have “complete” data on such shooters in 171 countries. However, because he has neither identified the cases nor their location nor even a complete description on how he put the cases together, it is impossible to replicate his findings.
It is particularly important that Lankford share his data because of the extreme difficulty in finding mass shooting cases in remote parts of the world going back to 1966. Lack of media coverage could easily lead to under-counting of foreign mass shootings, which would falsely lead to the conclusion that the U.S. has such a large share.
Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years.
Even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, his 31 percent estimate of the US’s share of world mass public shooters is cut by over 95 percent. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.43% of the mass public shooters, 2.11% of their murders, and 2.88% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than in other countries, they are also much less deadly on average.
I’d say this paper shows that Lankford was completely wrong but it goes deeper than that. The failure to present data is a common feature of bad science. We saw it with Michael Mann and the hockey stick, where it turned out just about any data set from global temperature to baseball batting averages would produce the infamous hockey stick. Here we see data being hidden and a result that is something a subset of the population really wants to believe, and a smaller subset wants believed so they can fund raise and gain the ability to control new government initiatives to crack down on gun ownership.
Thankfully the gun grabbers got nowhere with their fake science, but it doesn’t take fake science for the government to overreach. All it takes is the perception that government is protecting us from some evil because most people can’t help themselves. (I call this the “They can’t tie their shoes without us” theory of government policy). So when you think of the FDA you think of an agency valiantly protecting us from rotted meat, bad drugs, poor medicine ? Well the reality is they slow up as much good medicines as they prevent bad, the meat is kind of questionable and they really do manage to throw a spanner in public health every now and then.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced “historic action” against e-cigarette manufacturers for what it sees as an “epidemic” of vaping among teenagers. E-cigarette makers have 60 days to come up with plans to mitigate teenage use of their products or face civil or criminal prosecution as well as new regulations such as sales bans on some of their products.
Such a move could reverse recent stop-smoking achievements. While smoking rates have been declining steadily over the last half century, the pace has dramatically picked up in recent years as e-cigarettes have gained popularity.
If regulators don’t get in the way, e-cigarettes can continue to chip away at the one-in-six Americans who still smoke. This would be a major victory for public health. Smoking is still responsible for one in every five deaths. That is nearly three times more than the combined number of suicide, overdose, and alcohol-related deaths, whose rise has been attributed to the decline in U.S. life expectancy.
E-cigarettes are a comparably safe alternative that help people quit smoking because they deliver nicotine through water vapor — without the tar, smoke, carbon monoxide, and countless carcinogens in cigarettes.
This is how good science the studies of the carcinogenic nature of tobacco smoking, empowers the government to control anything related whether there is science behind it or not. It’s just evidence of what we already know, with bureaucracies always wind up working to further their own power, the reason they are initially started seldom if ever matters.
Drink up That’s it for the Watercooler today. As always it’s an open thread