Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Social “Science” Research

with 16 comments

Before I get started on this short note, I want to point out one thing–I don’t moderate this blog.

But although I don’t moderate it, the program does, and what the program seems to especially dislike is links.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t post links. Links can be useful and informative, and the program doesn’t actually hate all of them.

I’m just saying that if you find your comment in “moderation,” what’s happening is the program is refusing to let you post until I check out your links, which I do eventually.  It can just take a little time, especially since we’re not all on the same time schedule, never mind time zone.

That having been said–the scare quotes around the word “science” above are deliberate.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve been burned too many times by social “science” “studies” that turn out to be anything but science–so much so, in fact, that I tend to hold them guilty of fudging until proven innocent.

Too much of what calls itself “social science” consists of  starting with conclusions and picking and choosing the supposed “evidence” to make them look like they’re supported. 

Even the “studies” that are honestly done too often emply inadequate protocols, unrepresentative samples, flawed methodologies (see self-reports), and correlations presented as causation in whatever direction the researcher wants them to go.

This doesn’t mean I won’t read the studies if you post them.  I will, once I’ve got a little time to see if I can look into them and find the research design and other information I need to know if what they’re saying is worth paying attention to.

I’m especially hinky about studies purporting to show the effectives of Idea A in a country other than my own, because countries are very different in a lot of different ways. 

Okay, that was a horrible sentence.

But you know what I mean. Countries and populations have temperaments just like people do, and what will work for largely monocultural Scandanavia may not work so well in very multicultural Brooklyn.

Hell, what works well in one monocultural society may work badly in another monocultural society.

I get especially annoyed at three things:

1) the tendency of lots of these studies to use college students as their research population, as if there is no significant difference between an Art History major at William and Mary and a coal miner in Appalachia.

2) the tendency of lots of these studies to use self reports, which seem to me obviously completely worthless.  People say lots of things.  They may or may not be telling the truth.

3) the tendency to use correlation as causation in the direction the researchers want it to go.  It may be the case that having guns in an area makes that area more violent.  But it may also be the case that in more violent areas, more people want to have guns.

I wish at least one of these gun studies would acknowledge the time factors involved–if you have one school shooting every 15 years, the fact that you don’t have any school shootings in the five years after you passed your gun laws doesn’t mean your gun laws have had any effect on school shootings.

And I would point out something else–if the old assault weapons ban had been in place at the time of the Newtown shooting, it would have done NOTHING to prevent it.  None of the guns Lanza used were covered by that law, and none of them were covered by the far stricter Connecticut gun laws that WERE in place at the time of the massacre. 

Then, of course, we get to the “mental health” thing, which, in a world where virtually everything is labeled a “disorder,” suggests a vast expansion of government power on a par with–well, lots of places you wouldn’t like to live.

But even on “mental health” grounds, nothing Lanza had ever been suspected of having would have predicted his violence, and none of it would have prevented him from buying a gun if he wanted to.

Unless we’re going to start depriving people of their rights and their status as citizens because they’re subject to “anxiety” or “depression”–which I’d fight to my last breath–we’re not getting anywhere in that direction either.

So I’ll stick to my conclusions in the last post, and go check out Michael’s links.


Written by janeh

April 4th, 2014 at 6:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

16 Responses to 'Social “Science” Research'

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  1. here is a url for Michael.

    Its for 2912. 2013 was worse and 2014 looks like beating 2013.

    I agree with everything that Jane said about social “science”. But I don’t even like the term “science” applied to the hard sciences. What do astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics have in common? They all believe in atoms, conservation of energy, and Newton’s laws (at low velocity). But is that enough to lump them together as in “science proves that …”? And I will add that I spent 9 years studying Physics to the PhD level and never heard a reference to “the scientific method”.


    4 Apr 14 at 5:49 pm

  2. I recommend one quick sort: pay attention only to those social “science” studies in which the conclusion is not favorable to the politics of the person who carried out the experiment. You can bet that THAT result was thoroughly checked, and there are so few of them that reading about them will not consume serious time.

    Same rule applies for political “analysis.” If a liberal/”progressive” says “we have an epidemic of [fill in the blank] and only the central government can save us!” don’t even click on the link. When a conservative/libertarian says that about a non-defense issue, pay careful attention. The reverse, of course, about proclamations that government intervention in [your cause here] will be futile or even counter-productive.

    This saves many hours of hearing the same argument, and frees up time for reading things actually informative or entertaining.


    4 Apr 14 at 5:50 pm

  3. “here is a url for Michael.”

    But neither myself nor the two news stories I referenced made any claims about stopping gun violence entirely.

    The point is\was that since stiffer gun control measures in Oz — there have been no more *mass shootings*.

    The thing about mass shooters is that unlike a domestic terrorist such as Timothy Mc Veigh, they don’t plot and plan for months or years before their rampages.

    And for their rampages to be successful in both hoped for body count *and* machismo factor, they need some serious firepower.

    In Sandy Hook Lanza was able to rack up the body count in no little part because, thanks to 30 round banana clips he could 1. keep pulling the trigger with few interruptions and 2. carry THREE HUNDRED rounds of ammunition (including what’s already loaded on the rifle) on his person — with relative ease.

    Jane minimizes the effect of gun control laws by pointing out that under even the more restrictive laws proposed, Lanza would still have had access to the rifle.

    But under some laws that were allowed to lapse — he would NOT have had access to combat sized 30 round clips. If Lanza had been limited to 5 round clips, there’s no way — short of pulling around a wagon behind himself — he could have carried 300 round of ammunition.

    And he would have had to constantly stop and reload.

    I don’t care if you can track down a youtube video of some trick shooter who, after hundreds of hours of practice, can change clips in his pistol in a fraction of a second while live firing. After sufficient practice there are shooters who can literally shoot the center out of a tossed coin – that doesn’t mean Billy wanna be Bad Ass is ever going to be able to it at all, let alone after only coming up with the idea to even try a month or two earlier.

    But loading up 30 rounds into some magazines and taping them together, then simply pulling the trigger over and over, well that takes no talent, hardly any training let alone practice, and is – as sad experience has shown – capable of killing a lot of people.

    No one who is not a soldier/sailor/airman/marine heading toward (or stationed to prevent) danger needs that kind of firepower.

    If you’re a farmer trying to shoot a coyote, you need something with a decent barrel length, probably a telescopic site, and even 5 rounds is actually excessive. If you miss the first shot at a coyote, you’ll be damned lucky to get off a second – and you’re not getting a third shot except, very occasionally, on wide open prairie.

    Pretty much the same thing goes for any kind of hunting.

    30 round clips are for soldiers, ready for a fight, and with good supply lines to keep those magazines full.

    For anyone else, there’s no point. Unless you just want to kill a lot of innocent people.

  4. “here is a url for Michael.

    Per the chart, in Sydney in 2012 56 people were “killed or injured” by guns.

    The Houston metro area is the closest to the same size I could find in a quick search.

    “Houston averaged slightly more than four murders a week during 2012, unofficial figures indicate, inching up from 2011 when the total dropped to the lowest point since 1966.
    Houston police reported 216 murders for the 12 months ending Monday – up from 198 in 2011. Still, said police homicide Capt. David Gott, that figure is “an incredibly low number.” {http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Houston-s-2012-murder-total-incredibly-low-4158736.php}

    2006-2007 numbers in a table at for strictly firearm homicides:

    In summary, in a similar sized metro area, there were approximately twice the number of homicides alone by firearm as the TOTAL number of firearm related incidents of all kinds in Sydney.

    So if JD’s chart was supposed to some kind of proof that Aussie gun control measures don’t make any difference, it failed miserably.

  5. A couple of things.

    First, we were told, by a state government that is OVERWHELMINGLY Democratic and pro-gun control, that nothing in the lapsed Federal assault weapons ban would have prevented Lanza from having anything that he did have at Newtown. I presume this included large capacity ammo clips.

    Second, Mike talks about killing wild animals on the range, but does not even acknowledge my main point, which is that people who live that far away from the institutions of civilization are at risk for CRIME, since it would take local police officers a good hour to get to the scene if they were called for help.

    You may not need multibullet clips to kill a deer, but you may very well need them to fend off the people who are trying to make you dead and steal whatever it is you keep in the safe.

    Third, I have a hard time crediting the idea that Houston is in a similar situation to Sydney. Houston is one of the major focal points for illegal immigrants. It deals daily with an influx of people who have come over the border from Mexico, which will not have our gun control laws any time soon and couldn’t enforce them if it wanted to pass them.

    The homicide rate in Houston has a hell of a lot more to do with illegal immigration and the activities of Mexican drug cartels than it does with the presence or absence of guns in the hands of the population of the state–and those things are not present in Sydney in any way.


    5 Apr 14 at 9:56 am

  6. “… Mexico, which will not have our gun control laws any time soon and couldn’t enforce them if it wanted to pass them.”

    MEXICO CITY – In all of Mexico, there is only one gun store. The shop, known officially as the Directorate of Arms and Munitions Sales, is operated by the Mexican military. The clerks wear pressed green camouflage. They are soldiers.

    The only gun store in Mexico is not very busy.

    To go shopping for a gun in Mexico, customers must come to Mexico City – even if they live 1,300 miles away in Ciudad Juarez. To gain entry to the store, which is on a secure military base, customers must present valid identification, pass through a metal detector, yield to the security wand and surrender cellphones and cameras.

    To buy a gun, clients must submit references and prove that their income is honestly earned, that their record is free of criminal charges and that their military obligations, if any, have been fulfilled with honor. They are fingerprinted and photographed. Finally, if judged worthy of owning a small-caliber weapon to protect home and hearth, they are allowed to buy just one. And a box of bullets.

    Mexico has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world, a matter of pride for the nation’s citizens. Yet Mexico is awash in weapons.

    —Logically, by physical necessity and for all practical purposes, although no one will release any actual numbers, all those guns used by the gangs and other criminals —- come from the U.S.

    Drugs come north, money and guns go south. Some of the guns smuggled precisely to be resold on the black market, to criminals, who obviously have a snow flakes chance in hell of buy a gun legally in Mexico.

  7. No, Michael. I’m sure some of our guns go South, but a fair number of theirs–Russian, quite frequently–come here. It doesn’t matter what laws are on the books but whether or not they’re enforced. And the Mexican government isn’t interested in enforcing them against the drug cartels, only ordinary citizens who might take a mind to revolt.

    But that said, this is completely irrelevant to my point.

    Houston is not comparable in almost any way to Sydney. It’s a major staging ground in a massive drug war and contains BOTH Mexican AND US drug forces duking it out for turf, it is far more multiracial and multicultural.

    The two cities are not comparable, and comparing gun crime in the two will tell you nothing about the efficacy of gun control.

    If you managed to get rid of all the guns in the US tomorrow, the guns would flow North at an increased rate and the drug gangs would still be shooting each other.

    And they’d have all those multibullet magazines you want to ban, too.

    We can’t get rid of the guns. Pretending that we can does nothing to reduce the level of gun violence in the country.


    5 Apr 14 at 3:59 pm

  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATF_gunwalking_scandal

    Ooops, brought to you by your neighbourly US government always here to help you.


    5 Apr 14 at 5:23 pm

  9. Yet another link.


    Deadly mass shootings have resulted in considerable coverage by the media. These shootings have represented 1% of all deaths by gun between 1980 and 2008


    5 Apr 14 at 6:14 pm

  10. This is an outright hijack.


    They responded in a statement that conversations—to be clear, talking—will lead to “further physical and emotional violence enacted against us by the racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, transphobic, xenophobic, and ableist structures at Dartmouth.” They added: “Our bodies are already on the line, in danger, and under attack.”


    5 Apr 14 at 8:40 pm

  11. Mique

    6 Apr 14 at 4:11 pm

  12. From: “http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-07/sydney-shooting-leaves-two-men-in-critical-condition/5370976”

    “Acting Police Inspector John Maricic says both men are known to police. . . .

    “It would appear at this stage it’s a targeted shooting. However, obviously, it’s early stages at this current time.”

    —So not a mass shooting, so not on topic.
    “These shootings have represented 1% of all deaths by gun …”

    —True, but irrelevant. No semiautomatic weapons with high capacity magazines, no mass shootings at all. Witness, Australia.

    Now, if you want to argue that, granting for the sake of the argument that a ban on semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, (with an amnesty period or provision that if they’re turned in voluntarily there’s no penalty), that such a ban isn’t worth the effort because the problem is just too small, well, that’s a rational argument.

    I have my doubt’s it would be a winning argument in the political arena, but it has the virtue of being rational.
    “Mexican government isn’t interested in enforcing them against the drug cartels, …”

    —So you’re saying that if someone walks into the gun shop in Mexico city and identifies themselves as a member of a cartel, they break out the red carpet and champagne and sell him whatever he wants?

    Of course you’re not.

    But then what kind of “enforcement” of the gun laws do you mean? A warrantless house to house search looking for illegal weapons?

    Are you referring to, without being explicit what you’re talking about, to possible army corruption and black market sales from the army to cartels?

    That not a gun law problem, that’s a corruption problem, and the problem exists because the distorting effects of colossal, particularly by Mexican standards, of money brought in by the drug trade.

    “The most ruthless gang of drug-cartel hit men in Mexico are deserters from the army’s elite. But the Zetas, as the ex-soldiers are known, may not be the only troops who abandoned their posts to work for the cartels.”
    * * *
    “High desertion rates from Mexico’s armed forces, usually blamed on poor salaries and harsh living conditions, are nothing new. Until receiving a raise this year, rank-and-file soldiers made $330 a month, less than many police officers.

    Soldiers are also routinely denied access to rights such as family and medical leave while they are forced to work horrendous hours and humiliated by their superiors, said former Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo, a military scholar.” {http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Desertion-rate-plagues-Mexico-s-army-Poor-pay-2584599.php}

    I don’t know what the going black market price is for an assault rifle is on the Mexican black market — but I’ll bet it’s several times a Mexican soldier’s base pay.

    Claiming the resulting ‘leakage’ of military weapons (and or personnel) to the drug cartels is the Mexican government simply not enforcing its gun laws against the cartels is, well, naive at best.

  13. Ahem: social science?Here’s one done right:


    Notice I do not say they ARE right, but testing a hypothesis on freedom and endemic disease, they let other people define and rank both things, greatly limiting their chances to fudge their data. Would that all their fellows did as much!


    7 Apr 14 at 5:09 am

  14. Michael, I’m sorry, but your point remains irrelevant.

    In fact, I’ll stipulate to it–I got Mexican gun laws wrong.

    It doesn’t matter. Houston is still nothing at all like Sydney for all the reasons I mentioned, and telling me what effect Australian drug laws had in Sydney tells me nothing at all about what effect American drug laws would have in Houston.

    The Houston homicide rate is not what it is because of lack of gun control. It is what it is because of the drug war, because of interracial conflict, because of a border so porous it makes Swiss cheese look solid.

    Comparing Houston to Sydney, which has none of those conditions, is invalid.


    7 Apr 14 at 7:56 am

  15. The Houston homicide rate is what it is exactly due to a lack of gun control.

    The stats are broken down, in several sources, by racial demographics. White, black, hispanic, asian.

    The white on white crime alone, which can’t be blamed on illegal immigration, exceeds that of Sydney.

    The black on black crime, which can’t be blamed on illegal immigration, exceeds Sydney.

    White + black crime obviously dwarfs Sydney.

    And that’s without even trying to sort out how much of the reported crimes involving Hispanics involve illegals.

    Further, if you still don’t like Houston, try, oh, Seattle and adjust for population size. Adjusting for population, Sydney would have to hit 126 firearm homicides, nevermind assaults and other gun crimes.

  16. No, Michael. No American city is meaningfully comparable to any city in Australia. The conditions on the ground are just too different. You keep trying to pick one difference and act like it’s the only one there. Give it up. You’re comparing apples and oranges.


    8 Apr 14 at 8:43 am

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