October 21, 2011

Is the cost of living really rising?

Filed under: Economics, History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:55

Incentives matter, police edition

Jonathan Blanks explains that the incentives provided to police officers clearly do influence their behaviour:

Last week, former undercover police officer Stephen Anderson told the New York State Supreme Court that planting drugs on innocent people was so common that it didn’t even register emotionally to him. The story is starting to get traction in the media as an egregious example of police corruption, but it’s notable only because of the admission to the practice in open court. Each year, there are hundreds of cases in which police officers are caught stealing, using, selling, or planting drugs or pocketing the proceeds from drug busts. Despite the obligatory PR protestations that any given instance of corruption is an isolated case, the systemic, legal, social, and economic incentives in every law enforcement agency in America combine to make police corruption virtually inevitable. And with no other category of crimes are these incentives stronger than with drug crimes.

Anderson testified that drugs would be seized from suspects at a given bust, divided, and then used again as evidence against other people on site (or at a time later) who had nothing to do with the initial arrest. This was, in part, due to established drug arrest quotas the officers needed to meet. As public servants, police departments face the same budgetary pressures as any other government entity and thus their officers are required to meet certain benchmarks set by the powers that be. Added to the normal budgetary justification, however, many police officers are in the position to confiscate cash and property that can be sold at auction thanks to civil asset forfeiture laws. Many departments across the country keep a percentage or the entirety of forfeiture proceeds, so pressure to maintain a certain level of drug arrests is something straight out of Public Choice: 101.

New study shows Tasers often misused by police

Filed under: Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:36

Robert Farago lists some of the findings from a recent New York Civil Liberties Union study on the use and mis-use of TASERs:

  • Nearly 60 percent of reported Taser incidents did not meet expert-recommended criteria that limit the weapon’s use to situations where officers can document active aggression or a risk of physical injury.
  • Fifteen percent of incident reports indicated clearly inappropriate Taser use, such as officers shocking people who were already handcuffed or restrained.
  • Only 15 percent of documented Taser incidents involved people who were armed or who were thought to be armed, belying the myth that Tasers are most frequently used as an alternative to deadly force.
  • More than one-third of Taser incidents involved multiple or prolonged shocks, which experts link to an increased risk of injury and death.
  • More than a quarter of Taser incidents involved shocks directly to subjects’ chest area, despite explicit warnings by the weapon’s manufacturer that targeting the chest can cause cardiac arrest.
  • In 75 percent of incidents, no verbal warnings were reported, despite expert recommendations that verbal warnings precede Taser firings.
  • 40 percent of the Taser incidents analyzed involved at-risk subjects, such as children, the elderly, the visibly infirm and individuals who are seriously intoxicated or mentally ill.

    Neuroscientists and neurononsense

    Filed under: Books, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:11

    Stuart Derbyshire and Nina Powell review Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender:

    Given that objective measures show gender differences are in decline, it is surprising that there has been such an increase in books and reports describing hard-wired differences in male and female brains and that so many people are using them to explain why men and women live different lives. The most famous British example is Simon Baron-Cohen who has extrapolated from his research on autism (a predominantly male disorder) the more general conclusion that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy while the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.

    Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender brilliantly demolishes these overly simplistic and, essentially, wrong conclusions about male and female brains. She does this in two different ways. First, she points out that supposedly fixed differences between men and women are quite plastic. For example, merely asking men to consider the social value and benefits of empathising will lead them to be more empathic. And when men are paid to detect and correctly identify emotional states they perform as well as women. Similarly, when women are told that women perform better on a spatial rotation task their performance matches those of men. It appears that male and female differences in task performance can be fairly easily overcome by changing the motivation to do well or by changing the way the task is framed. That doesn’t sound like something hard-wired or fixed in the brain.

    [. . .]

    Fine also points to a problem that is, perhaps, more important. The brain is a complicated organ that we barely understand in anything but the most basic detail. Furthermore, brain imaging is a technology that is in its infancy and the data generated by imaging is also highly complicated. A typical brain imaging study will generate a matrix involving hundreds of thousands of numbers replicated across time and people. Analysis of these kinds of data sets is difficult, tedious and complicated, often requiring many years of experience and containing a surprising element of subjectivity and argument about what is the right and wrong thing to do. It is perhaps understandable that brain imaging throws up contradictory results and that brain researchers reach contradictory conclusions. Fine notes that this can lead to theories about brain function being untouched by the collection of brain activation data:

    ‘As the contradictory data come in, researchers can draw on both the hypothesis that men are better at mental rotation because they use just one hemisphere, as well as the completely contrary hypothesis that men are better at mental rotation because they use both hemispheres. So flexible is the theoretical arrangement that researchers can even present these opposing hypotheses, quite without embarrassment, within the very same article.’

    It is a strange science where exactly opposite data support the same interpretation. Fine’s conclusion is scathing. She suggests that neuroscientists are merely projecting cultural assumptions about the sexes on to the vast unknown that is the brain. This process she dismisses as ‘neurosexism’, which is part of a larger discipline called ‘neurononsense’. It is hard to argue.

    Pakistan’s conspiracy theories inhibit real world action

    Filed under: Asia, Government, India, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:34

    Strategy Page looks at one of the big problems in getting Pakistan’s co-operation on security issues:

    American leaders are dismayed as they keep encountering Pakistani politicians and military officials who believe all their troubles are caused by Indian, American and Israeli conspiracies. Pakistan is full of this stuff, and those who believe it are not eager to consider alternatives. While the Pakistani fears are largely based on fiction, the growing number of Indians killed by Pakistani sponsored (and based) terrorism is very real. There are Pakistanis who understand the reality of all this and some of them are diplomats. But as long as most Pakistani leaders, and most of the Pakistani media, embrace the conspiracy theories, real peace is not likely. But at least the diplomats from each nation can discuss possibilities.

    The U.S. constantly points to the continuing presence of Islamic terror groups in Pakistani sanctuaries. That is difficult for the Pakistanis to deny. The major danger here is that if a big attack is made in the United States, and tracked back to a Pakistani sanctuary, this could trigger a public call for war with Pakistan. Even many senior Pakistanis recognize this danger and try to control the terrorists they host. This precarious situation won’t go away as long as the terrorist sanctuaries (mainly North Waziristan and Quetta) are openly protected by Pakistani leaders. But without admitting anything to the Americans, Pakistan has apparently ordered some Haqqani personnel and bases out of North Waziristan. This might just be Haqqani fleeing an area that American intelligence knew too well, and that might have been under the advice of Pakistani intelligence. The movement of Haqqani personnel, to Afghanistan or elsewhere in the tribal territories, is making life difficult for the many foreign terrorists who find sanctuary (and work) with Haqqani. The desire to impose greater security on the new Haqqani bases means foreign recruits will take a lot longer to be led in.

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