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“Should Prison Sentences Be Based On Crimes That Haven’t Been Committed Yet?”

Andrea Panizza asks me what I think of this post by Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Ben Castleman, and Dana Goldstein, “Should Prison Sentences Be Based On Crimes That Haven’t Been Committed Yet?” The post begins as follows: Criminal sentencing has long been based on the present crime and, sometimes, the defendant’s past criminal record. In Pennsylvania, […]

The Ben Geen case: Did a naive interpretation of a cluster of cases send an innocent nurse to prison until 2035?

In a paper called “Rarity of Respiratory Arrest,” Richard Gill writes: Statistical analysis of monthly rates of events in around 20 hospitals and over a period of about 10 years shows that respiratory arrest, though about five times less frequent than cardio-respiratory arrest, is a common occurrence in the Emergency Department of a typical smaller […]

Prison terms for financial fraud?

My econ dept colleague Joseph Stiglitz suggests that financial fraudsters be sent to prison. He points out that the usual penalty–million-dollar fines–just isn’t enough for crimes whose rewards can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That all makes sense, but why do the options have to be: 1. No punishment 2. A fine […]

Speciation as a prisoner’s dilemma

This by Freeman Dyson was pretty cool. Not the stuff about how open-source biotechnology is going to change the world–maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong, but it comes across to me as generic science writing. The cool stuff was his discussion of the ideas of Carl Woese (whom I’d never previously heard of): [Woese asks] […]

Mental hospital, prison, and homicide rates

Bruce McCullough points me to this note by Bernard Harcourt on the negative correlation between the rates of institutionalization and homicide. Basically, when more people have been in mental hospitals, there have been fewer homicides, and vice-versa.

It makes sense since, presumably, men who are institutionalized are more likely to commit crimes, so I’m surprised that Harcourt descrbes his results as “remarkable–actually astounding. These regressions cover an extremely lengthy time period . . . a large number of observations . . . and the results remain robust and statistically significant . . .” With a large data set, you’re more likely to find statistically significance. Especially when the main result is so plausible in the first place.

Harcourt concludes with some interesting comments about the applicability of his results. (I’d also like to recommend the paper by Donohue and Wolfers on death penalty deterrence as a model example of this sort of analysis.)

P.S. See here for an update by Harcourt, where he explains why he finds his results surprising. I’m not convinced–I believe the results are important, just not that they’re suprising.

Funny stuff

Harcourt’s blog entry had some amusing comments:

Families of prisoners

Ernest Drucker sent along this paper along with this story: I [Drucker] have been speaking about the problem of mass imprisonment for years to anyone who would listen – mostly professional groups and students. Once I spoke to the Urban League national convention in Pittsburgh – to little response. But one such talk was to […]

Wrongly imprisoned man . . .

Linking to an Onion story is really too easy, but I think I’m allowed to do it just this once since it relates to our own research . . .

How many people do you know in prison?”: Using overdispersion in count data to estimate structure in social networks

I’ll be speaking at Harvard next Monday on some joint work with Tian Zheng, Matt Salganik, Tom DiPrete, and Julien Teitler: Networks–sets of objects connected by relationships–are important in a number of fields. The study of networks has long been central to sociology, where researchers have attempted to understand the causes and consequences of the […]

On deck for the first half of 2020

Here goes: Smoothness, or lack thereof, in MRP estimates over time Open forensic science, and some general comments on the problems of legalistic thinking when discussing open science Votes vs. $ Of book reviews and selection bias This graduate student wants to learn statistics to be a better policy analyst How to “cut” using Stan, […]

Psychological Methods Feed

Someone writes: I’m emailing you about an email service I provide for some of the best blogs and podcasts on psychological methods. People can sign up for free and receive daily/real time emails containing the blog post(s). Below is the list. I had no idea there were so many blogs that discussed psychological methods. Oscar […]

Junk science + Legal system = Disaster

Javier Benitez points us to this horrifying story from Liliana Segura: “Junk Arson Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison for Murder 25 Years Ago. Will Tennessee Release him?”

George Orwell meets statistical significance: “Politics and the English Language” applied to science

1. Political writing: imprecision as a tool for obscuring the indefensible In his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the political journalist George Orwell drew a connection between cloudy writing and cloudy content. The basic idea was: if you don’t know what you’re saying, or if you’re trying to say something you don’t really […]

Understanding Chicago’s homicide spike; comparisons to other cities

Michael Masinter writes: As a longtime blog reader sufficiently wise not to post beyond my academic discipline, I hope you might take a look at what seems to me to be a highly controversial attempt to use regression analysis to blame the ACLU for the recent rise in homicides in Chicago. A summary appears here […]

Echo Chamber Incites Online Mob to Attack Math Profs

The story starts as follows: There’s evidence for greater variability in the distribution of men, compared to women, in various domains. Two math professors, Theodore Hill and Sergei Tabachnikov, wrote an article exploring a mathematical model for the evolution of this difference in variation, and send the article to the Mathematical Intelligencer, a magazine that […]

I think they use witchcraft

The following came in the email today: On Jul 7, 2018, at 12:58 PM, Submissions <submissions@**> wrote: Hello Dr. Andrew Gelman, I am Dr. ** [American-sounding name], Research Assistant for the ** Publishing Company contacting you with reference from our Editorial Board. Are you tired of publishing your Manuscript in useless journals and get no […]

Alternatives to jail for scientific fraud

Mark Tuttle pointed me to this article by Amy Ellis Nutt, who writes: Since 2000, the number of U.S. academic fraud cases in science has risen dramatically. Five years ago, the journal Nature tallied the number of retractions in the previous decade and revealed they had shot up 10-fold. About half of the retractions were […]

OK, sometimes the concept of “false positive” makes sense.

Paul Alper writes: I know by searching your blog that you hold the position, “I’m negative on the expression ‘false positives.’” Nevertheless, I came across this. In the medical/police/judicial world, false positive is a very serious issue: $2 Cost of a typical roadside drug test kit used by police departments. Namely, is that white powder […]

No, I don’t think the Super Bowl is lowering birth weights

In a news article entitled, “Inequality might start before we’re even born,” Carolyn Johnson reports: Another study, forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources, analyzed birth outcomes in counties where the home team goes to the Super Bowl. . . . The researchers found that women in their first trimester whose home team played in […]

“The Prose Factory: Literary Life in England Since 1918” and “The Windsor Faction”

It’s been D. J. Taylor week here. I expect that something like 0% of you (rounding to the nearest percentage point) have heard of D. J. Taylor, and that’s ok. He’s an English literary critic. Several years ago I picked up a copy of his book, A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s, and […]

Retro 1990s post

I have one more for you on the topic of jail time for fraud . . . Paul Alper points us to a news article entitled, “Michael Hubbard, Former Alabama Speaker, Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison.” From the headline this doesn’t seem like such a big deal, just run-of-the-mill corruption that we see all […]