And in major books: In the current New Yorker, Adam Gopnik—a long-time major mainstream journalist—reviews a major new book.
The major new book is by Professor Patrick Sharkey, chair of the sociology department at NYU. The professor's book carries this long-running title:
“Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence”
Basically, the professor's book attempts to explain the large decline in crime since the 1990s. Gopnik's review represents a major journalist's attempt to assess a professor's major book.
In this post, Kevin Drum assesses the review and the book itself. In his view, the review is just lazy, lousy old journalism, while the book represents malpractice:
DRUM (2/12/18): In some sense I don’t blame Gopnik for this. He’s primarily an essayist and critic, not a social scientist or a reporter who specializes in urban policing. At the same time, reviewing a book in an unfamiliar field and then shrugging his shoulders and saying the book’s guess about crime “seems about as good as any”—well, even an essayist might think about spending an hour or two googling to get up to speed on alternate theories.According to Drum, Gopnik has lazily failed to conduct an overview of the field under review. By way of contrast, the professor has committed "journalistic malpractice."
Sharkey, of course, is a different matter. For some reason he doesn’t explain, he dismisses the effect of lead as “vastly overstated” and says he finds it “difficult to believe” that the crime decline was caused by either lead or any other exogenous shock. Ten years ago that would have been fine. Today it’s journalistic malpractice.
Drum's critique concerns the professor's offhand rejection of the theory that lead abatement has played a major role in the reduction in crime. We'll recommend that you read Drum's post to see what he says about this.
We'll also recommend Drum's recent updated overview of All Things Lead Abatement. We meant to link to it in real time. We'll suggest that you check it out now.
In our view, Drum's work on this topic is one of the top journalistic achievements by someone who's mainly seen as a blogger. Not that his work ever broke through to the clowning cable clowns of Flint.
We aren't experts on lead abatement, nor have we read Sharkey's book. That said, we'd recommend two takeaways from Drum's highly plausible assessment:
First, it's virtually impossible to get information into play within our journalistic culture. Drum has tried to popularize information about crime and lead abatement. Given the way our successor to journalism works, this sort of thing can't be done.
Second, subscribers to The New Yorker think they're reading the smartest journalism this side on the New York Times' reimagined page A3. It's easy to understand why people might believe a thing, but such thoughts may often turn out to be wrong.
Meawhile, the rolling confession of sheer inanity continues apace on A3. Yesterday, one of the page's eight (8) "Noteworthy Facts" for the day was this:
"The couture figure skating costumes seen in competition can cost thousands of dollars."
Lower down on the page, in Here to Help, the Times was offering expert advice on this timely topic:
Here to HelpOn the other hand, and in total fairness, the Times is the absolute place to go if you seek full-pages photo of highly suspect movie stars with the term "Goddess" printed in large letters next to their famous faces.
HOW TO BE MINDFUL WHEN FALLING IN LOVE
Our journalism tends to be fatuous all the way down, and we don't mean just on cable. This is a basic fact about our culture, one which will often prove to be hard to conceive and accept.
Especially amusing: We especially recommend this part of Drum's post:
DRUM: I don’t understand why this is so, but for some reason New Yorkers seem to be especially resistant to recognizing lead as a prime cause of crime. Part of this, I suppose, is that New York was ground zero of the great crime wave and New Yorkers have been bombarded with theories about crime for decades now: Bill Bratton, CompStat, Rudy Giuliani, broken windows, community policing, stop-and-frisk, the breakdown of the black family, etc. etc. More than any other city, they’ve been told over and over and over that the great crime decline is due to various interventions by the great and good. But the truth is that although New York’s crime rate fell faster than the national average, it didn’t fall any faster than it did in other big cities, all of which have seen violent crime rates drop by 70-80 percent since 1991.This is an outstanding example of the clownish way our attempts at reasoning work. To wit:
There were sharp declines in crime pretty much everywhere. But also, in every city, the local mayor and/or police chief came up with a theory about the way their brilliant local behaviors had caused the local drop.
Might a general drop in crime possibly result from some general cause? Not in our system it can't! As a general matter, Rudy had the microphone; our pundits sang his song.
Our "journalism" works that way. Nothing has worked in our public schools even as test scores have soared. Our major journalists all know that because the reformers have said.