BREAKING: What you're handed in The New Yorker!

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2018

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.

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.
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."

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 Help
HOW TO BE MINDFUL WHEN FALLING IN LOVE
On 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.

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.

33 comments:

  1. "We aren't experts on lead abatement, nor have we read Sharkey's book."

    Not sure why there's a reason to read the Howler about this, when I have already read Kevin Drum's interesting and informative posts about this topic.

    We did find out about the Times' articles on skating costumes and falling in love. I'm shocked! Shocked! to find such things in a newspaper. And after 20 years, so is Somerby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Obviously, Somerby is not taking up the argument about lead abatement, though references to Drum's work by anyone, anywhere are useful in disseminating it. Media critic Somerby is pointing out a Main Stream Media failure when it comes to presenting Drum's highly credible theory. Somerby adds in that the progress being made by public schools, also, is ignored by the MSM which, in my opinion, is an example of that Establishment's institution's bias in ever advocating for neo-liberal solutions to everything- whether they need fixing or not.

      That said, I'm with you. I don't know why you ever read the Howler. Do yourself and everyone else who reads the comments here a favor and stop reading this blog all together.

      Delete
    2. Appreciate the kind words and your "defense" of Somerby. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't take your suggestion, as well-meaning as I'm sure it was.

      I found plenty of stories about lead and lead abatement, by the way. But whatever.

      I'm glad Somerby loves Drum again. But...
      Here's Somerby's love for Drum in evidence previously:

      'Relentless bad faith from the "liberal" elite!
      FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2017


      Junior wanted to collude, the pathetic Drum says, but the Russkie lawyer didn't provide any dirt.

      Does the childish Drum "have that right?" We're going to say that he doesn't.'

      Delete
    3. Has it occurred to you, CMike, that I actually enjoy reading Somerby and find him thought-provoking, even if I frequently disagree with his opinion or his tone? And that I am grateful for the opportunity to voice my opinions? I'm sorry my criticism of Somerby bothers you. I just don't know why it bothers you. How does it diminish your appreciation of him? On the other hand, I don't see a lot of commenters rushing to agree with Somerby. And I am not the only anonymous who comments here...not by a long shot.

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. 4:34 PM,

      A lot of us think Drum has done a great job with his work on lead. What does that have to do with whether his characterization of the Don Jr. Trump tower meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya was reasonable?

      5:05 PM: Has it occurred to you, CMike, that I actually enjoy reading Somerby and find him thought-provoking, even if I frequently disagree with his opinion or his tone?

      CMike: No.

      5:05 PM: How does it diminish your appreciation of him?

      CMike: It doesn't but your incessant dancing on the head of a pin complaints do diminish my appreciation of the comment threads here.

      5:05 PM: And I am not the only anonymous who comments here...not by a long shot.

      CMike: Creating confusion by posting as one of the many who go by "Anonymous" around here is just one more way you make these threads worse than they otherwise would be if you didn't post at all.

      Delete
    6. 5:05 There are though many that rush to disagree with you and your idiotic misreadings. You're free to voice whatever you want, it's just sad how stupid you are and how little you contribute. You're a fucking dunce. You prove his point "daily" about liberals and humans being dumb as rocks.

      Delete
    7. Drum didn’t invent the theory about lead.

      Delete
    8. 7:09 PM,

      The next thing you'll be peddling is that Boswell didn't compile the 1755 A Dictionary of the English Language.

      Delete
    9. Grump @ 7:09- go change your diapers.

      Delete
    10. Credit should be given where due. Academics are trained to cite sources because it gives credit. Journalists rarely do. Drum is a journalist popularizing someone else’s idea. Like Daniel Goleman and Emotional Intelligence or Gladwell & Blink.

      Delete
    11. 8:44 PM maybe you ought to actually read Drum before suggesting he failed to credit the academics who developed the theory about the correlation between environmental lead and crime.

      Too much trouble to follow a link? Here's Drum right here in this comment thread:


      [QUOTE] Throughout the campaign, Giuliani embraced a theory of crime fighting called “broken windows,” popularized a decade earlier by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an influential article in The Atlantic. “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired,” they observed, “all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.”

      ...[P]olice chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD’s new commissioner... made his reputation as head of the New York City Transit Police aggressively applied broken-windows policing to turnstile jumpers and vagrants in subway stations. With Giuliani’s eager support, he began applying the same lessons to the entire city, going after panhandlers, drunks, drug pushers, and the city’s hated squeegee men....

      The results were dramatic. In 1996, the New York Times reported that crime had plunged for the third straight year, the sharpest drop since the end of Prohibition.Since 1993, rape rates had dropped 17 percent, assault 27 percent, robbery 42 percent, and murder an astonishing 49 percent....

      [P]olitical scientist John DiIulio warned that the echo of the baby boom would soon produce a demographic bulge of millions of young males that he famously dubbed “juvenile super-predators.” Other criminologists nodded along. But even though the demographic bulge came right on schedule, crime continued to drop....

      All in all, it seemed to be a story with a happy ending, a triumph for Wilson and Kelling’s theory and Giuliani and Bratton’s practice. And yet, doubts remained. For one thing, violent crime actually peaked in New York City in 1990, four years before the Giuliani-Bratton era. By the time they took office, it had already dropped 12 percent....

      Second, and far more puzzling, it’s not just New York that has seen a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early ’90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn’t have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate has dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas’ has fallen 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent....

      continued...

      Delete
    12. [QUOTE] There are, it turns out, plenty of theories. When I started research for this story, I worked my way through a pair of thick criminology tomes....

      But there’s a problem common to all of these theories: It’s hard to tease out actual proof. Maybe the end of the crack epidemic contributed to a decline in inner-city crime, but then again, maybe it was really the effect of increased incarceration, more cops on the beat, broken-windows policing, and a rise in abortion rates 20 years earlier. After all, they all happened at the same time....

      Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it’s everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and the fall of crime in the ’90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.

      A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?

      Well, here’s one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4....

      In 1994, Rick Nevin was a consultant working for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on the costs and benefits of removing lead paint from old houses. This has been a topic of intense study because of the growing body of research linking lead exposure in small children with a whole raft of complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities....

      A recent study had suggested a link between childhood lead exposure and juvenile delinquency later on. Maybe reducing lead exposure had an effect on violent crime too?...

      That tip took Nevin in a different direction. The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn’t paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early ’40s through the early ’70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted....

      As it turns out, however, a few hundred miles north someone was doing just that. In the late ’90s, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes was a graduate student at Harvard casting around for a dissertation topic that eventually became a study she published in 2007 as a public health policy professor at Amherst. “I learned about lead because I was pregnant and living in old housing in Harvard Square,” she told me, and after attending a talk where future Freakonomics star Levitt outlined his abortion/crime theory, she started thinking about lead and crime. Although the association seemed plausible, she wanted to find out whether increased lead exposure caused increases in crime. But how?

      In states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Where it declined quickly, crime declined quickly.
      The answer, it turned out, involved “several months of cold calling” to find lead emissions data at the state level. During the ’70s and ’80s, the introduction of the catalytic converter, combined with increasingly stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules, steadily reduced the amount of leaded gasoline used in America, but Reyes discovered that this reduction wasn’t uniform. In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed.....

      Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world.....

      continued...

      Delete
    13. [QUOTE] Just this year, Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke published a paper with demographer Sammy Zahran on the correlation of lead and crime at the city level. They studied six US cities that had both good crime data and good lead data going back to the ’50s, and they found a good fit in every single one. In fact, Mielke has even studied lead concentrations at the neighborhood level in New Orleans and shared his maps with the local police. “When they overlay them with crime maps,” he told me, “they realize they match up.”

      Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level.... [END QUOTE]

      LINK

      Delete
    14. You’re on my case when it was others here who objected, to the point of name calling, when I said Drum didn’t originate the theory. You have proven my point.

      Delete
    15. 12:40 AM I was on 8:44 PM's case, not yours. Here's what 8:44 PM wrote:

      Credit should be given where due. Academics are trained to cite sources because it gives credit. Journalists rarely do. Drum is a journalist popularizing someone else’s idea....

      Now if the point being made was that the journalist Drum did cite his sources that commenter stated his case in a way that confused things. (As to what 7:09 PM offered, I thought it sounded like what you, 12:40 AM, would say. If only there was some way to keep which commenter said what straight- maybe if one of you adopted Greenwich Mean Time as your own, another Eastern Standard Time, another MST, that would leave PST, Hawaii-Aleutian Time and so on for the rest of you revolutionaries going by "Anonymous." )

      Delete
    16. Your virtue clumsily signaled? Check. Today’s snarky comment about Bob made? Check. Mission accomplished, yet again, Anonymous DH poster # 9876443, aka 2:52! Yet another in a long line of “revolutionaries going by ‘Anonymous,’” to borrow CMike’s apt phrase.

      Delete
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  2. Drum's an obnoxious hack, and his lead mania is akin to medieval sorcery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lead is a known toxin, and is particularly harmful to children:

      http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/

      Delete
    2. What I meant was lead as the explanation for crime rates.

      Delete
    3. There is debate about that, but it's at least plausible, since lead is known to cause developmental and neurological issues in children. The connection to crime is just a theory, at the moment, though.

      Delete
    4. "just a theory"

      Well, not as far as Kevin Drum is concerned, apparently. Did you read the post?

      Delete
    5. You are correct. Drum, although he does call his view a "theory", is fairly convinced of its truth, even though I don't know how the link can be unequivocally established, especially now that lead is banned from gasoline, paint, etc.

      Delete
    6. All kinds of "links" can be "established".

      It is, however, too stupid, even for a mouth-breathing liberal, to insist on explaining social phenomena by chemicals "introduced into our precious bodily fluids", a-la general Jack Ripper from Dr Strangelove.

      Social phenomena are determined by socioeconomic conditions.

      Delete
    7. Dave the Guitar PlayerFebruary 14, 2018 at 12:47 PM

      Mao: Are you suggesting that alcohol has no effect on social phenomena? I have personally observed bizarre behavior from people exposed to high levels of alcohol. Lean has no effect? Maybe.

      Delete
    8. Alcohol has effect on individuals. That's a physiological phenomenon.

      What people under the influence typically do -- their socio-cultural norms and practices -- is a different story.

      Delete
  3. I'm afraid Mao has a point here. How is Drum's theory that links lead to crime rates not a "pleasing tale", the kind Somerby wants us to stay away from? As plausible as the theory seems, how can it really be proven? Can you design an experiment that validates the link? Is it even really plausible? I, like Somerby, don't follow this issue, but, unless and until some scientific consensus emerges, isn't Drum's view just a theory, a "pleasing tale?"

    ReplyDelete
  4. My theory for the big decline in crime?

    -- Abortion rights post 1972 = fewer unwanted and screwed up children

    -- More insular-type recreations, such as computers and cell phones.

    -- A general "Martha Stewart-ization" of the land. People are more upscale-seeking. More examples of "finer living" that are actually accessible to more people than before. More credit cards.

    You walk around Harlem now and instead of seeing used needles on the streets you see broken charging cords. For real.




    You go around Harlem now

    ReplyDelete
  5. Amazing link to Drum. I'd only vaguely heard of this theory, until now. I should re-subscribe to MJ because of it, but jeebus, I have a long reading list, and I'm a slow reader. Thanks Bob, and Kevin.

    Leroy

    ReplyDelete
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