Statistics can be very hard!


Locking up rookies is easy:
Earlier today, we linked to a recent post by New York magazine's Eric Levitz.

Levitz began his post with an inaccurate statement. Overall, he made a good point about the absurdity of a narrative which quickly emerged in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

Where looting occurred, so did this peculiar story line. Plainly, the looting was being done by people from out of state:
LEVITZ (6/1/20): The account was first articulated by officials in the Twin Cities. “The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents,” Mayor Jacob Frey said of the violence in his city Friday night. “They are coming in largely from outside of this city, outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades.”

Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul echoed this assessment,
announcing that “every single person” who’d been arrested on his city’s streets Friday night had been “from out of state.”
In Minnesota, both major mayors made the charge. In fairly ridiculous fashion, so did Governor Walz, who somehow escaped being named by Levitz.

Levitz went on from there. But the claim traveled far and wide, possibly seeming to defy several points of logic.

There is some truth to the claim, Levitz said. But when he offered his overview of the matter, a statistical claim was observed:
LEVITZ: Fundamentally, the very concept of the “outside agitator” is incoherent in the context of nationwide protests over a nationwide problem. America saw 1,004 of its people killed by police officers last year, a higher tally than any nation besides Brazil, Venezuela, the Philippines, or Syria. A majority of those killed had light skin. There is no one in the United States who lacks standing to protest this state of affairs. Police departments may be local, but their capacity to use force is expanded or constrained by federal policy. If one wishes to see one’s representatives in D.C. pursue police reforms, traveling to the Twin Cities to join in its protests—and thus amplify its message of discontent with the status quo—is a reasonable thing to do.
Police killings are indeed a problem in this country. We base that claim on the assumption that we'd rather not have any such killings in a given year, as opposed to 1,004.

Is it true that "a majority of those killed had light skin?" Since we don't quite know what the statement means, we aren't sure how to answer. We assume this is away to say, without saying that police kill many more "white" people as opposed to people who are "black."

Within the next week, we may review the data on police killings compiled by the Washington Post. Earlier this year, the Post abandoned its multiyear effort, perhaps acknowledging an obvious fact:

No one cares about this topic. At least, no one cares about it enough to ever discuss such data, or to attempt to say what such data might mean.

Indifference to suffering, disadvantage and death is part of the modern condition. Our guess? In Minnesota, politicians were leaping to blame outsiders, sometimes to an absurd degree, as a way of dodging the role they themselves may have played in the Twin Cities' ongoing problems.

Unflattering reports about the Minneapolis police department have continued to emerge. What did Walz or Frey do, over the years, to address these ongoing problems? To address the state's widely-discussed public school "achievement gaps," the largest in the nation?

So too perhaps with Amy Klobuchar and with Keith Ellison. What have those two ever done? Or were they merely standing around all these years, perhaps a bit like the rookie police officers they now want to send off to prison?

For all we know, Ellison may be the world's nicest person. On Sunday's Meet the Press, he made the remark we've liked the least of all the remarks we've seen this past week:
ELLISON (5/31/20): Well, Minnesota is a kind of a tale of two cities. It really is a beautiful, wonderful place. I love it here. I've raised all four of my kids here. There's so many great things about it. So many great people. And yet we have very stark disparities when it comes to African-Americans. Health disparities in health care, health disparities in housing, health disparities when it comes to employment. And disparities all around.

I'll give you a quick example, about 70 some percent of Minnesotans own their own homes. But only about 27% of African Americans do. African Americans are in a fragile economic position in this state. And we need massive investment. And what I say to people is, "Look, if we can have some of the highest SAT scores in the country, if we can have some of the highest voting participation in the country, highest voter—home-ownership in the country for whites, we can do it for everyone. We just have to have the will to do it for everybody. And I think that this sad, tragic situation might give us the energy to really, really make those kind of commitments because they are absolutely needed.
It's what he says to people! If Minnesota can have some of the highest SAT scores in the country, Minnesota can do it for everyone!

We've seen people making jive remarks of that type since the 1960s. Such jive remarks convey the sense that the speaker just really believes and cares.

Out in cable land, we liberals are dumb enough to buy it. It doesn't occur to us to wonder what Ellison has ever done to achieve this nirvana over the past many years.

Or has he just been standing around? To us, his comment seemed very familiar and very faux. To us, his comment was the standard remark of the fake and the uncaring.

Meanwhile, statistics can be hard! According to Levitz, Amerika "saw 1,004 of its people killed by police officers last year, a higher tally than any nation besides Brazil, Venezuela, the Philippines, or Syria" (our italics).

Here we go again! That italicized claim is only true because of the fact that Amerika has the world's third largest population. If you adjust for population size, Amerika falls behind a much longer list of nations when it comes to the rate of police killings.

We also rank at the very top among fully developed, first-world nations. At that point, you might want to starting adjusting for the number of guns in circulation. But also perhaps for the overall rate of violent crime.

We'll have more on this in the week ahead. Meanwhile, statistics and caring can be hard. Locking up scapegoats is easy.


  1. "It doesn't occur to us to wonder what Ellison has ever done to achieve this nirvana over the past many years."

    Precisely, dear Bob. And not just Ellison, but the whole zombie elite running the place. Running all the places your zombie elite runs. Which is to say: American cities.

    Well, from where we sit, it looks like all you liberals do is endless Orange Man Bad hate-mongering, and spewing your standard race-war propaganda.

    Tsk. Oh, well.

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  2. Klobuchar and Ellison should have joined Bob Somerby’s fight for economic justice in America’s comedy clubs.

  3. “If you adjust for population size, Amerika falls behind a much longer list of nations when it comes to the rate of police killings.”

    It’s nice (?) that we are lower than Syria and Afghanistan. Meanwhile “We also rank at the very top among fully developed, first-world nations.”

    That seems...not good. What’s the point of this criticism then?

    “At that point, you might want to starting adjusting for the number of guns in circulation. But also perhaps for the overall rate of violent crime.”

    Yes. By all means, adjust away to render a completely meaningless statistic that no longer reflects reality.

    Meanwhile, our rate is 30 times that of Germany. But, hey, if you disappeared all of our guns and our high rate of crime, maybe our police killing rate wouldn’t look so bad!

  4. “At that point, you might want to starting adjusting for the number of guns in circulation. But also perhaps for the overall rate of violent crime.”

    By “high rate of violent crime”, Somerby means “large number of black and brown people.”

    1. Whoa. Sounds like formerly 'reasonable' dembot has been promoted to 'psycho'. Mouth-foaming and capitalizing random words can't be too far away now.

    2. It’s what he did with Naep statistics. Eliminate the scores for blacks and Hispanics, and, voila, the scores don’t look so bad. Nice sleight of hand.

    3. Somerby didn’t obscure test score he championed accurate reporting, rather than using them to advance inaccurate tropes or to buttress dubious reform policies.

    4. I didn’t say he obscured them. He claimed our schools stacked up really well internationally especially if you eliminate black and Hispanic scores.

    5. How is that inaccurate as a response to frequent comparisons of the U.S. with more homogenous nations?

    6. Because our public schools are approaching majority black/Hispanic. That is what they look like. You don’t get a “gimme” because other countries are more racially homogeneous.

    7. Generally, in statistical comparisons, the criteria of “apples to apples” is not considered an unfair allowance toward any side.

    8. You want to compare schools to schools, not some racial subset of our students with their entire school system. That is fatuous and disingenuous. Our school system is what it is; it is not simply the white/Asian subset. If we want a majority of the students in our public school system to do as well as the students in other countries, we are not even close to that. Sad, but true.

    9. "Eliminate the scores for blacks and Hispanics, and, voila, the scores don’t look so bad"

      What the hell are you talking about?

      He says that the number of people killed by cops in the US - adjusted by population size - is not very high among all nations.

      Then he says that it is indeed the highest among the so-called "first-world nations", but that could be explained by the high number of guns in circulation, and the overall rate of violent crime.

      All he says on this occasion, it makes perfect sense, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your "black and brown people", whoever they are.

      If you're getting mad at people for not bring up your hobby-horse stuff often enough, that's not a good sign.

    10. His point wasn’t that we are identical to schools in Europe. His point is that for a variety of reasons, it’s a problematic comparison to bandy about in the first place.

    11. So, should we only compare US crime rates for whites when comparing to less diverse ( white ) European countries?

    12. No, because crime isn’t an institution in the same way that school systems are a collective national enterprise.

    13. When you’re getting more minute in your analysis- culture,etc, then you do that compare and contrast.

      And you make it clear that is what you are doing.

    14. Do you see the words “in the same way”?

      Are you able to make realistic distinctions?

    15. You want to compare schools to schools, not some racial subset of our students with their entire school system. That is fatuous and disingenuous.

      Yeah, comparing schools to schools is fatuous and disingenuous, which is TDH’s whole point.

      Oh, sorry. Not what you meant?

      TDH’s point is that after people bemoan our overall scores on standardized tests, they tend to ask, “What can we do to fix our failing school systems?” But when you disaggregate the scores by race, you find that our schools are working just fine for white and Asian kids. (At least as far as test results are concerned.) Not so much for black and Hispanic kids. Searching for an overall solution is looking in the wrong place. Kinda like losing your keys in a dark alley but looking for them under a nearby streetlamp because the light’s better there.

      We need to focus on the lower-scoring students in segregated inner-city schools which as you point out are often majority black and Hispanic. This has proved to be an intractable problem and has the added component of our terrible racial legacy. It’s not just a school problem; it’s a school problem of some and not others. If we pretend it’s the former, easier case, we’ll never address, let alone solve the harder, latter situation.

      I fear you’re channeling Corby.

      Are you feeling OK? I’m beginning to worry about you.

  5. Four of my family members, (both parents, a brother and sister-in-law) have changed their voting intentions from Biden to Trump.

    Brother and SIL would never admit it to the idiots at the academic institution they work in but they feel free to discuss it within the family, as do my parents.

    They all overdo their news viewing and are now burning with every new image. It's a stunning thing to witness them falling like dominoes toward Trump. Should be studied one day but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know why this reaction would happen. It's happening everywhere I suspect.

    1. 5:52,
      Your imaginary family members are a trend.
      Democrats defending the human rights of black people is a clarion call for Conservatives, and will probably lead to Trump's re-election.

      Das vadanya.

    2. These are the professors that are giving the rest of us a bad name. Anyone who thinks voting for Trump is a good idea hasn't got the brains to work at a university, which is how we know @5:52 is lying.

    3. If demonstrations don't get the point across some of these entitled whites will need better forms of persuasion. And I'm white.

    4. Sounds like you may not be getting the point, dear dembot, but most do:
      Gun sales surge 80% in May, says research firm.

    5. Exactly Mao. The police can embrace reform, or not. It's really their choice what happens next.

    6. All whites are born with original sin in the form of their white complexion.

      There is nothing you can do to erase your stain. If someone asks you to take the knee, I suggest you do it.

  6. Why does Somerby lump Klobuchar in with Ellison? Ellison was a major supporter of Bernie Sanders; Klobuchar is more moderate.

    Does he truly believe they have just been standing around? One can look up their voting records and life stories to see if that is a correct description.

    Somerby accuses Ellison essentially of insincerity, faux concern; others might call it virtue signaling. Why? Because the situation he wishes to address doesn’t yet match his desired state of affairs? Surely Somerby is aware of something called “voters.” Many of them are conservative, even in Minnesota. As a matter of fact, when Ellison was elected to the Minnesota House, “his party was the smallest House minority in Minnesota history.” That constrains what a party/person can do.

    Sanders, who was perhaps a more transformative candidate than others, was rejected by Democratic voters. America’s institutions are conservative, meaning resistant to change. This makes transformative or radical politics difficult.

    But Somerby avoids any such nuance. He seems to be functioning merely as a troll.

  7. "Where looting occurred, so did this peculiar story line. "

    Actually, blaming outside agitators for looting is not a "peculiar story line". It is what officials say after every single riot.

    Of course, there are outside people coming in, but there are also local looters and the looting is an expression of discontent as much as the protests are. People are out of work, economically stressed, and there is a massive imbalance between rich and poor. Of course some of them are looting. The question should perhaps be why more people don't loot.

    1. “The question should perhaps be why more people don't loot.”

      A dearth of slovenly amorality?

    2. "The question should perhaps be why more people don't loot."

      Hmm. Judging by the news, it seems that enough people do loot and destroy, to worry about that.

    3. Cecelia, yours is the best comment I've ever seen here.

  8. We have a lot of people with guns, but we don't have organized killing of police...yet.

    In the late 1960's discontent over the slow pace of civil rights improvement for black people, especially prison and justice system reform, caused a core group of the SDS to become the Weathermen. There were bombings of public buildings (mostly carefully timed to avoid harming people, or targeting buildings with time to evacuate), but there were also some deliberate killings of police officers. We don't have that kind of organized, systematic violence aimed at police during these times. So, it is fair to attribute the violence we are seeing to random gun owners involved in civil unrest (e.g., riots) instead of a terrorist movement calling for change. If there is any such movement, it arises on the right, among the militia remnants and gun nuts, and that's why it is fair to look at gun ownership as a cause. Boogaloo Bois are not a figment of anyone's imagination, whereas Antifa is (there is no such organization, just random actors).

  9. If Somerby had ever actually taken a statistics class, he wouldn't say so many ignorant things about statistics. For one thing, statistics is the easiest math class at the college level, because it doesn't require anything more than basic high school math to learn statistics, and not even algebra at that, beyond the idea that letters can stand for numbers (be variables). Statistics is easy.

    1. Dunning–Kruger much, dear dembot?

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