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Racial Profiling – a data mining perspective (WARNING: WONKY)

Sam Harris posted a piece called “In Defense of Profiling.”  PZ Myers posted a response explaining why that’s a terrible idea.

In general it should go without saying that I agree with PZ, unless stated otherwise.  I just want to add a little something from the perspective of a computer science nerd whose been around a bit with the notion of data mining.  I also want to prove that I didn’t go to grad school for nothing.  (It cost me thousands!  <drum fill>)

In data mining, we have the twin problems of “false positives” and “false negatives.”  For example, suppose there is a certain disease that is very rare in the population, but very deadly if not detected.  Let’s say that one person in a million has this disease, which is 0.0001%.  If we devise a screening procedure for this disease, we would like to be very sure that we catch almost all people who are at risk.

So let’s say we apply this screening test to somebody, and they (unbeknownst to you) have the disease, but your test says they do not.  That is a false negative, and it can kill the person, since they won’t be treated.

Let’s say we apply the screening test to somebody who does not have the disease, and the test says that they have it.  That is a false positive.  But the consequences of a false positive are not as dire.  If the screen says you have the disease, you follow up with another test that is more rigorous, and more expensive, to prove for certain that you need treatment.

As I said, we would like to prevent false negatives as much as we can, so we set the sensitivity of the screen to be very high.  Even so, the test will give a positive result for only one person for every thousand who takes the test, and those few people who have the disease are almost certain to get a positive.

Okay, now let’s say I go to the doctor and I get a positive result.  How worried should I be that I have the disease?  As it turns out, not very worried at all.

See, the screening test says I have the disease, but I almost certainly don’t. One in a thousand people gets a positive. One in a million people actually has the disease. Therefore, only one in a thousand positive tests are of people who actually have the disease.

Is that clear? Good. Now let’s consider terrorists…


Anders Breivik, currently on trial for the murder of 77 people, mostly teenagers.
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani, wanted for slaying thousands of audiences with his hilarious wit.  
Pop quiz: which of these two guys is the terrorist? Answers at the bottom of the post, or you can mouse over the pictures for more information.

How many terrorists are there in the US?  I don’t know, but let’s look at it this way.  Statistics show that about five people per hundred thousand are the victim of a homicide each year.  The vast majority of murderers aren’t actually terrorists as such, but let’s be generous and assume that one in ten is.  That means that at any given time, 5 in a million are likely to be terrorists, or 0.0005%.

Suppose we start profiling people who simply look Middle Eastern, like mug shot number two up there.  There are about 1.5 million Arab Americans living in the US, which is 0.5% of all people here.  Similarly, there are 2.5 million people who are practicing Muslims, which accounts for 0.8% of all people living here.

That means — even if we assume that only Muslims and people who “look Muslim” are terrorists (which is clearly not true; see quiz answers) and even if we use the fairly high number I guesstimated as terrorists — if you round up all the people who “fit the profile” then, similar to the disease, fewer than one in a thousand are likely to be actual terrorists.

But unlike performing a screen for a disease that might return a false positive, the cost of falsely accusing a guy of terrorism is not negligible.  We’re saying that these people deserve to be harassed, frisked, searched, delayed, pegged as a security threat.  Not just once, but every time they dare to travel.  We’re also saying that we need to maintain a staff of thousands of paranoid security officials to do a job which is, in the long run, not as effective as assigning detectives to follow up on reports of actual, credible threats that go beyond “He don’t look American enough.”  There is such a thing as civil liberties, and it’s not a pointless question to ask whether this is a good place for us to be going.


Pop Quiz answers

  • Left: Anders Breivik, currently on trial for the murder of 69 77 people, mostly teenagers.
  • Right: Comedian Kumail Nanjiani, wanted for slaying thousands of audiences with his hilarious wit.

Update: Greg Laden also has an excellent response, which I almost dismissed by mistake due to his cleverly satirical introduction.

Comments

  1. says

    Sam has posted a dismissive reply to his critics as an addendum to his original post. I wonder if he will find your analysis to be an example of the kind of “interesting argument” he claims he’s not hearing.

  2. says

    Hah, I just posted a reply to Sam Harris on my own blog just a minute ago. As a Norwegian I also made the ABB point. Incidentally, he’s on trial for killing 77 people not 69. The 69 was on the island, the rest in the government building.

  3. says

    It seems that you would be better arguing against the use of things like stop and search altogether, as I’m not sure the discussion of false positives stands up to scrutiny.

    Surely if you don’t focus on groups with a higher likelihood of radicalism, then the proportion of false positives is even higher?

  4. Aedan says

    Would you apply the same argument for local crime and not international/terrorist?

    Probably not. You’ve data mined your own data. This applies in the strictest sense of terrorism but it doesn’t apply when dealing with much larger statistics such as local crime including property and violent crime.

  5. Kazim says

    Would you apply the same argument for local crime and not international/terrorist?

    Meaning, for instance, would I support indiscriminately arresting and searching black people, on the grounds that black people are more likely to be convicted of crimes?

    No, I would not.

  6. Kazim says

    Actually what I’m saying is something more or less akin to the following: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  7. Zengaze says

    Wouldn’t it just be simpler to round up all the brown skinned people and gas them? That’s a solution to the terrorist problem.

    Please please read heavy sarcasim

  8. Aedan says

    I didn’t ask you if you would “support” doing it I asked you if you would support the logic you used for terrorism but locally. When you’re dealing with insignificant figures such as terrorism it’s evident that the probability of actually finding a terrorist is so slim that false positives will occur constantly. This is not the case when you’re dealing with larger numbers such as local crime.

    It also isn’t the case when you consider that racial profiling is usually used in conjunction with other stereotypes such as socioeconomic status (what car are they driving, clothes are they wearing) the neighourhood (does this area have a lot of drug activity) etc. When combined stereotyping creates much more powerful statistical significance than just race on its own.

  9. Zengaze says

    Sam Harris can say stupid shit, and i argue at times needs to sit down with other smart individuals and say “hey guys ive been thinking, what’s your view?” before publishing, but he’s generally a very smart and considered individual, who recognises flags and cultural/national identities ar part of what cripple us as a species.

  10. says

    Aye, and that seems perfectly reasonable. Just saying that the false positive thing doesn’t really work.

  11. Kazim says

    You’re being a little too vague for me to follow, I’m afraid. Can you give a specific example of what action you are talking about in what situation?

  12. Kazim says

    I agree with Zengaze. I don’t want to make it the case that every time I post something critical of a public figure (Neil DeGrasse Tyson included) everybody jumps to the conclusion that I must now hate this person and all he stands for.

  13. Aedan says

    Not really, seems pretty obvious what I’m getting at. Hopefully others who read this will see it too.

  14. Kazim says

    If they do, then I hope they can help you express your point more clearly.

  15. Zengaze says

    By presupposing anything about an individual based on their skin colour, their socio economic status or any other pigeon whole that we can conceive, I not only degrade that person, and myself but humanity, each and every individual deserves to be treated as such, and I have no right to project my fears and prejudice onto them.

  16. George From NY says

    I’d suggest that the utility and propriety of profiling would depend on the profile.

    When the FBI goes hunting for Klan church burners, they don’t spend a lot of time on Chinese-American grandmothers.

    Harris’ point is that acting as if everyone is equally likely to be in al-Qaeda or what have you is insane. Airport security (ha!) procedures are hag-ridden by dogmatic PC foolishness which is nothing but the “magical thinking” we Skeptics are supposedly foes of.

    I agree that focusing exclusively on people of Arabic ethnicity or Muslim religion(s) can be silly and counter-productive… but we would not be amiss to take these things into account when seeking to catch or foil agents of an avowedly Islamic terrorist group which mainly recruits among Arab populations.

    As uncomfortable as it makes some of us, the cold fact is that al-Q’s operatives are overwhelmingly younger, Arab Muslim men. Are their exceptions? Sure, but vanishingly rare.

    Literally vanishing, in the case of suicide bombers. ;)

  17. MichaelD says

    Umm I read that as would you also be against randomly searching and interrogating poor people in poor neighborhoods wearing hoodies and jeans and the like. On the grounds that poor people in poor neighborhoods who where cheap cloths on the grounds that poor people are more likely to engage in crime.

    And (this is me extrapolating) because these people are more likely to have committed a crime and such random searches are more likely to yield results in catching criminals then such random searches of potential terrorists at airports?

  18. George From NY says

    A Jewish zionist shill, you say?

    Thanks for showing us your cards, Teemu.

  19. Zengaze says

    Ona purely practical note, Sam misses the self fulfilling prophecy aspect of his proposal. As someone who grew up in N.Ireland during the conflict, and who would have been tagged due to birth as someone from the nationalist/republican community, I know first hand the consequence of profiling.

    The British state and security forces viewed all people born into the catholic community as potential threats, during the seventies the state conducted large scale internment, where they effectively rounded up any young catholic man of fighting age who they thought had revolutionary sympthies and threw them in jail. This radicalised many young men who would not otherwise have became involved in the conflict, and provided evidence to the assertion that being catholic was enough in N.Ireland to deprive you of any form of a normal civil life.

    Profile at your peril, you may create the monster that exists under your bed.

  20. MichaelD says

    I don’t know why it doesn’t work in your mind. While you might be right that profiling only Muslims say might help you catch Muslim terrorists. It does not necessarily mean that the false positive rate is low enough for it to be worth while.

    Say that if screened at random everyone and you got 20 false positives for every terrorist and then you screen specifically Muslims and you get 7 false positives for every terrorist. While that is better then before that’s still not a very good result and not worth going forward with. Better isn’t always good.

    I think there’s also a problem with some of the focus on Muslim terrorists as there’s lots of other potential security issues. The worst Canadian airplane bombing was by Sikhs for example or a whole bunch of other potential terrorist groups. Not to mention other non bombing things entirely like smuggling.

  21. George From NY says

    “In general it should go without saying that I agree with PZ, unless stated otherwise.”

    I’m sorry to hear that, Kaz.

    Myers is certainly a powerful and valuable advocate for secularism, atheism, science, etc. – esp when he can bring his academic bio-science expertise to bear against things like Creationism.

    Alas, when he leaves the reservation to write and opine on general politics, he’s all too often a dogmatic, sloganeering, partisan Leftist hack.

    Honestly, though we disagree on so many things, I have a higher opinion of YOU, Kaz, than of Myers despite his acclaim and influence in our circles.

  22. MichaelD says

    Double post minor addition oops oh well.

    According to wikipedia for example the false positive rate for mammograms is 7% of patients and there is some controversy as to weather this is an acceptable rate.

  23. Kevin says

    Isn’t his point whether or not we should be screening in the first place? If we are okay with random screening, then we should be okay with profiling. The point is that profiling is not okay since it has so many false positives, but so does random screening. In this case profiling makes the screening process more effective (if only marginally). The issue about the fourth amendment doesn’t really come into play since we (well, the administration) have decided that it is reasonable to search everyone regardless of how likely you are to be a terrorist. It seems like the only way to be consistent is to either profile people or to decrease security to a level fitting of the 4th amendment.

  24. says

    What’s being overlooked in all this, I think, is that whatever the next big scary Act of Terror al Qaeda might be planning, it is highly unlikely to involve hijacking airplanes. Not only have they shot their bolt with that one, they hit a bullseye. They won that one. Security at American airports is now a clusterfuck so preposterous it’s impossible to condemn it enough. We have to take off our shoes, our belts, and children as young as four are having their genitals groped, the level of fear is so great. If the goal of terrorism is to terrorize, to force people to change many fundamental areas of their daily lives by stripping away the sense of security they’d always been able to rely upon, then al Qaeda won the “War on Terror” years ago.

    Most of the truly horrific examples of violent terrorism directed at Americans have come from Middle Eastern Muslims, true. But you could also say that a non-trivial percentage of the sexual molestation of children over the last several years has been committed Catholic priests. So if profiling is justified in response to one set of crimes, why not another? And how exactly would you “profile” someone to see if they are, or had ever been, a Catholic priest, if you want to ensure your neighborhood is free of pedophiles?

    We simply can’t do “pre-crime” the way they did it in the movie Minority Report. While there are, I would hope, sensible security measures one can take to reduce the likelihood of a particular act, it should seem obvious that ones that unduly violate civil liberties are… problematic.

  25. Kevin says

    Just a PSA on how not to argue this topic. Some people will pick examples of terrorists who would not fit the profile, but who also are not the focus of the TSA. Terrorists have specific goals and their targets reflect those goals. The TSA is only concerned with terrorists that target the airlines. The TSA is not concerned with extreme pro-lifers who target Planned Parenthood or extreme environmentalists who target animal research labs. If we stopped one of these terrorists from getting on a plane, they would be a false positive since they are not a threat to airline security.

  26. tosspotovich says

    Ok this might ruffle some feathers but statistically, profiling works and racial profiling is just one facet. If the pop quiz asked for a more specific crime rather than the blanket “terrorism” then statistics might point to a Caucasian or Asian male 25-40 for a killing spree such as that perpetrated by Breivik.

    Like radiometric dating, there are known limitations. White collar crimes are primarily committed by middle aged, white males but this unlikely to reduce the suspect pool significantly. False negatives are another which can be mitigated – profiling is not a tool of elimination but one of focus. Before the trail goes cold, pursuit of the more likely suspects has to be prioritised in many cases (e.g. kidnapping).

    Obviously racial profiling is open to abuse by racist people but a racist cop, for instance, is going to behave in this manner with any tools available and needs to be retrained, disciplined or dismissed as necessary.

    Go on… cut me to ribbons.

  27. says

    Well, the problem is that once you have a policy in place that allows profiling by race, you’re no longer in a position to discipline racist cops for using it as intended. If you can think of a way that such profiling can be done with safeguards of some sort in place to prevent their abuse by racists, I’d be interested to hear it, but I don’t think you’ve thought it through to that end yet.

  28. michaelbuchheim says

    I’m torn on this issue. I live in Israel. I was a child in Jerusalem in the 90’s. And the 90s were paradoxically a decade of hope for ending the conflict between Israel and Palestine as well as arguably the worst decade in the history of the conflict. The first Insurrection meant that we had to bulletproof our family car’s windows because children and teenagers would lob rocks at Israeli cars from the hills. Disputed lands are not clear-cut or large. These are territories in which an Arab village or city and an Israeli settlement or city can be often found less then an air kilometer apart. That’s why it is such a complicated conflict, but I digress. Having the occasional boulder hitting your windshield at 80 KPH became small potatoes when suicide bombers started blowing themselves up along with Israeli civilians month after month. I was lucky, despite the fact that my daily routine could have consigned with such events, I nor anyone close to me were victims. But the fear was everywhere. Remember how America reacted to 9/11? Our reaction was similar. Many demanded an all out war. Racism against Arabs became even more prevalent and draconian measures of security became the norm. Every stray bag is a cause for alarm and delays until the police bomb squad has detonated the suspected item remotely. My privacy rights are infringed daily as I have to submit my bag to security for a quick check if I’m entering the university or the central bus station or the local mall. And to add to this sordid affair, imagine a military conflict was often waged in a distance of 45 minutes from my house. Imagine the Iraqi entanglement was happening in the suburbs of your city. It is a strange life to live. I at least had the illusion of living in a modern city between terrorist attack to another. A Palestinian boy my age would have faced a worst situation, in which the indignation, fear, and anger could easily be melded with religious zeal, racism and hate. It’s no wonder some chose to strap explosive to themselves and kill themselves along with civilians in a misguided attempt to end the conflict.
    I don’t have a clear point. Just the fact that the last decade was much more safer for me. Suicide bombers are a very rare event now, and sadly I cannot attribute it to improvement in Israeli-Palestine relations. What is evident is the heightened security I’m surrounded with and the simple truth that Arabs are subjected to much more scrutiny despite sharing the same civilian status as mine. I find myself waiting in line for an x-ray machine to scan my back-pack, mumbling to my self “A nation that sacrifices a little freedom for a little security, looses both and deserve neither.”, asking myself whether I agree. And I don’t know.
    Whatever the case, the price of such security is high. Very high. Racial profiling breeds suspicion and racism and hatred. And even if we assume that the profiling is justified, these side-effects are eating at our democracy from the inside. I find my self worrying less about my personal safety then our national moral integrity. Some would say that I could not afford such worries if my personal safety were at the danger levels it was in the 90’s. Honestly, I don’t know. I do what most of the people around me do, Israeli and Palestinian alike, I live.

  29. MarkB says

    But the point you’re raising in the Klan case appears to include a previously committed crime, with clues and leads to follow up. Profiling in most cases seems to be for the prevention of a crime that has yet to be committed. That’s where yanking random Muslims out of a crowd is unfair and counter-productive, as I’m guessing you would agree with…

  30. tosspotovich says

    You’re right, Martin. Just some superficial research and a few episodes of Profiler ;)

    All I’m suggesting is that certain parties are made aware of the statistics so investigations make better use of time and resources.

    I should also point out that I think Harris’ flaw in reasoning was that by allowing seemingly innocent people through the firewall the door is opened for trojans.

  31. says

    The self fulfilling prophecy effect can come in here. For instance, the arrest records of young(ish) black men in US cities shows that they are much more likely to get in trouble with the police, but a small amount of investigation shows that white and black men have a big difference in how often the police bother with them. I don’ think I need to elaborate on this, everyone knows it.

  32. Kazim says

    Can you link the statistics? I’d be interested to know just how effective its proponents claim it can be.

  33. says

    *overly alarmist rhetoric* But what if they hijack the plane and then ram it into an abortion provider or field of GM crops! ! Can you take that chance???????

    Mostly jokeing technically there’s no reason they couldn’t get the same goals done through a plane hijacking. Honestly given the state of airplane security I can only cite lack of creativity as to why anyone would target them anymore.

  34. says

    This is the same point I was trying to make in my own post. The current situation is based in fear and as Sam Harris does point out before he goes all xenophobic on us is that despite the invasive security measures, they miss a lot of dangerous stuff that passes through unnoticed.

    While some level of security is probably necessary due to the vulnerable position an aircraft is in being in defiance of gravity and all, it is not that more of a good target than a whole lot of other targets. Trains and buses are much more often targeted and have no security whatsoever in most places.

  35. says

    Well, leftist in the US is everything that is not far right in the rest of the world, so I think I prefer PZ’s take on politics to most else over there.

    I too like his style; and usually, but not always, agree with him. He is by far the public skeptic that disappoints me the least. Far too often someone would do one or two of those things that Sam Harris just did and lose some or all of my respect.

    PZ is also one of the more approachable and friendly of the public skeptics. At least among the ones I’ve met personally. Him and James Randi.

  36. says

    You also have issues like the centennial park bombing where the criminal profile lead investigators to look in the wrong direction. Which was made much worse when the media found out about it and tarred the wrong person based on the profile.

  37. F says

    You can use racial profiling with the Klan because the Klan is race-based. No, you aren’t going to harass groups of Black and Latino kids hanging around the park when looking for a Klan member who has committed a crime.

    Muslims come in all “races” and skin tones. Have fun racially profiling Muslims.

  38. F says

    All of our (US) “anti-terrorist” actions just create more terrorists and more disaffected people at home and abroad. We helped make the ones that we’ve been fighting since 09/11/2001.

    They are assholes, and they have a lot of bullshit motives, but they are also pissed off for reasons we gave them.

  39. tosspotovich says

    Investigating a hate crime against a black man? Start with the KKK. Concerned about radical Islamists? Look for tell-tale signs. Aren’t they forbidden from shaving the sides of their faces? Country of origin, known associates, dress etc. Terror cells are discovered using some of these methods.

  40. Zengaze says

    I have no background in law enforcement, but to my mind everything must be evidence driven. I do have a military background, and that taught me that if you spend your time looking in the direction you assume the enemy is going to come from you are going to get shot in the back of the head.

    Assume nothing, and direct your efforts based on intelligence gathering. There is no such thing as 100 per cent security. There’s an old adage that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, this is a succinct way of saying the enemy thinks too and will have likey thought of your plan and devised a plan of their own to negate yours. While your watching the Arab with the suitcase in the airport the pale faced chechnyan is looking at your water supply.

    In reality visible security measures are there as road bumps and reassurance. The real work of defeating those who wish to harm you is done in offices tracking individuals based on their behaviours. Thankfully the really smart people in this field don’t think like Sam.

  41. says

    I’d think it’d suffer from the same basic problems.

    If you know they’re looking for shifty-eyed nervous people, then train the terrorists to be jubilant and jokey.

    Given that they’re apparently A-okay with suicide bombers, they could decide to send some shift-eyed nervous people in as decoys while the normal acting ones get through.

    We need a solid across-the-board screening system that doesn’t care about behavior, race, gender, etc.

  42. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Why do you hate America?

    *cough* *cough*

    I’ll get my coat.

  43. says

    For those of you who enjoy thinking about such issues by means of fiction, there’s an interesting example of this sort of thing in the Cory Doctorow novel Little Brother, in which terrorists blow up the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in San Francisco and Homeland Security descends on the city like a ton of bricks.

    It’s not about racial profiling, but all about how surveillance technologies take a lot more than they give.

  44. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Ben Goldacre, the British doctor and self-confessed “stats nerd”, had something to say on a very similar topic to this a few years back.

    His Bad Science book has a chapter on issues like false positives, although specifically geared towards the medical industry illustrates the same problem as described in the OP. I’d strongly recommend his book, btw, he writes very well…

  45. says

    Random screening at least has the benefit of being deterrent, instead of being a predictable obstacle that can be merely walked around.

  46. says

    The problem with any kind of profiling is that it’s assuming that there’s a steady predictability of those who are being profiled.

    This may work for cats, but we’re not talking about cats. We’re talking about a group of people who are smart and can easily adapt to whatever we do.

    Profiling is like laying down road spikes after the police chase has already gone by, just in case anyone else driving down the same road might be a bank robber too.

  47. John Kruger says

    Racial profiling strikes me as a fancy way of saying racism. Skin color is not an indicator of very much beyond recent ancestry or the amount of sunscreen a person should wear. People who want to espouse this type of thinking always need to trot out bell curves and probabilities, even though there will always be some probability from statistics even if the qualifiers are completely unrelated.

    According to the 2010 report on terrorism, the western hemisphere suffered a total of 949 deaths, injuries, or kidnappings due to acts of terrorism(page 20 of the report). Compare this to deaths by tobacco use in the US in 2010: 443,000. 49,400 of these are from second hand smoke. We are not cracking down and racially profiling smokers, but they are much more likely to kill you. We do not racially profile car users in an attempt to reduce traffic fatalities even though there were 33,808 of them in 2009.

    Almost all the security panic is driven by fear mongering, xenophobia, and racism. We do not take such extreme measures for any other threats, even if they are greater. By all means, take measures to prevent acts of terrorism. Racial profiling is not a worthy way of accomplishing this, it is just an excuse to harass and alienate people that you are afraid of.

  48. colubridae says

    Yeah. I read about someone caught in their car seat belt and couldn’t escape from a road traffic accident and died because of their seat belt.

    Better not wear your seat belt.

    There are pros and cons to profiling. This isn’t one of them. It’s just a statistical strawman. Nothing positive is without drawbacks and every dark cloud has a silver lining.

  49. Nathan Godwin says

    I think Sam Harris is often simply attempting to shake people out of their comfort zones to make them think with a lot of his writing. I think he just wants to make sure that clear thinking trumps intuition or emotion. His concern that liberals have their own brand of dogmatism is valid in my opinion. Harris routinely talks about conversations he has with liberals who say things like “well, that’s their culture, who is anyone to tell them they’re wrong?” or “there are Christian terrorists, too!” – it is a liberal inclination, and it is usually one of Liberalism’s strong suits (sometimes to a fault).

    Of course a sovereign state is entitled to their own culture and practices, but there are objectively beneficial, neutral, and harmful practices that fit squarely into Right or Wrong, or Good or Bad columns (if these terms have any meaning at all). Not “right for you, wrong for me” but just plain “wrong”. It is almost an instinct as a liberal to immediately deny this, so that is something Harris writes about frequently. He doesn’t mean “now since we know it’s wrong, let’s drone-attack the school-girl-face-melting fundies!” (though if ever there were a reason to use a drone….), he’s just asking us to think objectively.

    Of course there are Christian terrorists in the United States, they’ve even managed to bomb several abortion clinics and murder a handful of people (perhaps more, and at one time, if you were a black man who was lynched, it was almost certainly by a crowd of Christians – not so much in the 21st Century). In the grand scheme of tearing shit up these days, however, they’re much more dangerous to the rest of us on the legal front than on the lethal front.

    Harris is simply making the point that if you’re going to go to the trouble to staff an airport with TSA screeners and equipment at all, you may as well utilize these resources in the most productive way (or at least the way that is more likely rather than less likely to achieve any results). Whether or not such a machine is effective or even necessary at all is another argument (and one I’m not sure Sam would support), but when it comes to “random” searches, I don’t think there is any argument that patting a kindergartener’s crotch isn’t the best application. In other words, I don’t always grope folks’ crotches, but when I do, I prefer Dos Individuaciones Raciales.

  50. jacobfromlost says

    All I want to point out is that I don’t think Al-Qaeda is as fiendishly clever as we all project onto them (I even find myself doing it from time to time reading these discussions). We do have to respond to the threat, but we also have to deal with our own collective psychology while doing so. When we think of terrorism, we think of 9/11. And when we think of 9/11, we too often think of some kind of “24-esque” evil geniuses who pulled off a near-impossible attack via labyrinthine plots and schemes the mere mortal would have difficulty grasping.

    I don’t think they were genuises at all, and their attack plan was not very complicated nor anywhere near impossible. We have extensive information about exactly what they did and how they did it. We need to be wary that we don’t overthink things, and terrorize ourselves into losing our minds.

    Just remember the “underwear bomber”, or the “shoe bomber” to see my point.

  51. says

    Well, I’d make two points.

    We’re also talking about a range of terrorists from amateur to professional. Mr. Underwear Bomber wasn’t on the higher end of the spectrum.

    I’d also point out that 9/11 wasn’t terribly sophisticated because it didn’t need to be. We had little to no security at the time with air transportation, so why make it more complicated?

  52. jacobfromlost says

    “We’re also talking about a range of terrorists from amateur to professional.”

    I’m suggesting we’ve never been threatened by, nor attacked by, “professional” terrorists.

    “I’d also point out that 9/11 wasn’t terribly sophisticated because it didn’t need to be. We had little to no security at the time with air transportation, so why make it more complicated?”

    What if 9/11 wasn’t terribly sophisticated because there were simple weaknesses in our security, and weaknesses in our expectations of the nature of possible attacks…AND because Al Qaeda wasn’t capable of more sophisticated attacks? Those two elements in conjunction are exactly how 9/11 happened.

    It seems to me that if they WERE capable of more sophisticated attacks, they would have demonstrated that at some point. Our projecting sophistication onto them, I think, is just a mind game used by the least sophisticated of threats–the terrorist with little or no resources, means, or know-how to carry out any kind of attack with any kind of significance…certainly not the kind of significance our imaginations run wild with when we decide to frisk every five-year-old in line for a flight.

  53. Tax says

    I have an anxiety disorder. I take medication for it but often times it isn’t enough. If there was any kind of profiling on behavior, if I flew on a day where I wasn’t particularly well I suspect I would be singled out.

    A lot of people have issues with anxiety, particularly in social situations. I think any kind of behavioral profiling is going to end up hassling a lot of people like me, and making my anxiety worse. This would happen at the expense of me, or my career, and my time.

  54. Sas says

    When your dark cloud is “thousands of people being subjected to state-sanctioned racism” then it has to have a way bigger fucking silver lining than we’re getting from it.

  55. Kevin says

    I remember hearing that people with depression would be targeted for terrorist recruitment. I guess its easier to convince someone unsatisfied with life to commit suicide. This means that terrorists would be more calm than your average traveler. This shows us that it is important to not base our criteria on what we think we would act like if we were going to commit an act of terrorism. We would act anxious if we are about to commit a crime because we care about the consequences of being caught, but we aren’t depressed. Also, this is not something that you can necessarily train someone out of. What it would do is change the recruitment strategies for the terrorists and may make it more difficult to for them to find new recruits assuming that you would be hard pressed to find a suicidal jolly guy.

  56. Kevin says

    Hijacking a plane is no longer an option since the cockpit doors have been reinforced and pilots have been instructed not to open them. The only option now is to explode the plane mid-air or to harm passengers in a minor way (go on a rampage with a knife, gun, etc.). This is what the TSA is trying to prevent. Neither of these options fulfill the goals of environmental or pro-life terrorists.

  57. colubridae says

    Yes you are quite correct. The way that islam treats other races, treats other religions; The way it treats women; Their state-sponsored oppression of virtually every minority; Their state-sponsored atrocities; Their state-sponsored terrorism….

    You are correct in this. It is a fucking dark cloud, and I confess, with the Islamic theocracies the silver lining is indeed vanishingly small.

  58. Sas says

    Oh, aren’t you adorably clever! But I was talking about the people who will be assumed to be Islamic terrorists based on the color of their skin, obviously.

  59. Nathair says

    Muslims come in all “races” and skin tones. Have fun racially profiling Muslims.

    It’s amazing to me how many people responded to Harris’ call for profiling with a rant against racial profiling. That is not what he was suggesting.

  60. says

    Well, it’s not even an option in spite of those things, because terrorism works best when it’s unpredictable. Blowing up planes has been done.

  61. Cassie says

    What about George Bush and Obama, they conducted (and still are) an illegal occupation in the middle east that has resulted in the direct and indirect death of countless civilians. They are terrorists not to mention war criminals upon the opening of gitmo.

  62. says

    I think you’re wrong there. He explicitly advocates profiling based on physical appearance, which means racial characteristics. “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.” And while you might argue, correctly, that Islam is not a race, it’s foolish to pretend that when someone says “Profile the Muslims,” they aren’t simply saying “Profile swarthy middle-eastern looking men with thick black beards.”

    I’m a little torn about Sam’s piece, really. On the one hand, he’s undeniably right that Islam is pretty much the world’s #1 troublemaker, just as he is in his condemnation of the hysteria that is American airport security. But he’s dead wrong in not seeming to realize, or care, that focusing on people of a particular appearance will cause you utterly overlook the McVeighs and Breiviks and Rudolphs and Unabombers of the world, angry white non-Muslim dudes all.

  63. Nathair says

    it’s foolish to pretend that when someone says “Profile the Muslims,” they aren’t simply saying “Profile swarthy middle-eastern looking men with thick black beards.”

    I’m not pretending (foolishly or otherwise.) To let Sam speak for himself:

    When I speak of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest. It is the charm of political correctness that it blends these sins against reasonableness so seamlessly. We are paying a very high price for this obscurantism—and the price could grow much higher in an instant. We have limited resources, and every moment spent searching a woman like the one pictured above, or the children seen in the linked videos, is a moment in which someone or something else goes unobserved.

  64. Kevin says

    The key to a successful attack is to exploit weaknesses, and Bruce Schneier has voiced many weaknesses in the TSA’s screening process. Predictability has more to do with not letting your opponent know your approach so that they have to cover all of your options (i.e. thin out their defenses). However, if you do become predictable and can still be successful (through exploiting a weakness), there is no reason to change tactics. A predictable tactic can still be a winning tactic.

  65. says

    I suppose, but if I were a radical Islamic jihadist, I’d be laughing my ass off at the absurd excesses of airport security while forming my plans to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge or something.

    (I guess I’m going to be flagged by the NSA for that one.)

  66. says

    While he’ll get no disagreement from me that the TSA is being ridiculous devoting so much time to confiscating nail clippers from little old ladies, it still doesn’t get around the fact that being a terrorist has nothing to do with having swarthy skin and everything to do with having a radicalized ideological agenda. The people who set off bombs at abortion clinics are almost invariably white Christians. And I would argue that the threat of homegrown terrorism from one of those groups is, at this time, likely to be far more of a clear and present danger on American soil than a repeat of 9/11 by Arab men. So, applying Sam’s suggested profiling ideas to that threat, how would he suggest we go about screening for it?

    Unlike a lot of folks, I’m not willing to say Sam’s 100% wrong or 100% right here, but he has underscored a problem: how to reconcile acknowledging radicalized Islam as the enemy it is, without tipping headfirst into the kind of racial profiling that brands every person (even multi-generational American citizens) of even remotely middle-eastern descent a potential terrorist, guilty until proven innocent? My only worry is that Sam doesn’t really consider the possibility of the latter to be all that big a deal.

  67. Corey says

    It seems to me that what Sam Harris is really arguing for is reverse-profiling: determining which groups NOT to bother investigating (like little old ladies). So while I agree with the logic of this blog post, as it applies to racial profiling, it is defeating a straw man.

  68. sosw says

    For those who say he’s just playing devil’s advocate (if he is, he’s doing so against a strawman opponent), consider that long before this, before his defense of torture, before Park51, Sam Harris was on O’Reilly’s show…and had Bill O’Reilly defending muslims.

    Yeah, I suspect he might actually have a bit of a bias against muslims.

    That said, the statistics for most realistic profiling scenarios are even worse than what Russell illustrates. As others have noted, Bruce Schneier has written about the subject extensively.

  69. tosspotovich says

    Martin, I don’t see any profiling proponents advocating presumption of guilt just a more targeted approach (and the methods of targeting would have to be constantly refined).

    Sosw, I think when it comes to certain behaviours you can objectively state that some groups perpetrate more than others. I would guess (haven’t seen the footage) that O’Reilly was playing devils advocate, if not being entirely facetious.

  70. bushido11 says

    Without having all of the data on-hand, I think both Sam Harris and PZ Myers make good points. It seems that criticisms of Sam Harris being an Islamaphobe are over-simplifications of his position. The area of profiling people due to their race (which was not the point Sam was making) or behavior seems to be very muddled ground. On a side-note, I checked out the link that Sam had on his article that linked to Susie Castillo’s YouTube video on her experience with TSA’s body search and was wondering what the deal was with the radiation emitted by the electronic scanner? That, to me, seems like paranoia brought about by health zealots, but I could be wrong. I, personally, would’ve chosen to go through the scanner rather than get felt up on by a TSA employee who’s reluctantly groping an American citizen because it’s what pays the bills in our hard economic times.

  71. Zengaze says

    That is a completely different debate, one worth having no doubt, but nothing to do with racial profiling.

  72. colubridae says

    Adorably clever, gee thanks. Yet adorably naïve too. I somehow assumed what’s sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander.

    Criticize ‘the powers that be’ for trying to do the best they can under virtually impossible circumstances. Yet somehow pretending that security measures are an initiative not a response. Not really my cup of tea.

    But thanks anyway for giving me the opportunity to remind everyone of the vile nature of Islamic state-sponsored hatred, terrorism and oppression.

    Being searched at airport security somehow loses its sting when compared against Islamic virtues such as stoning, genital mutilation (and I love it when it’s called clitorectomy; clitorectomy is an unfortunate necessary medical procedure. What islam expounds is genital mutilation. Pure and simple), flogging, slavery etc.

    Hope I’m not being ‘too clever’ pointing out realities in this way.

  73. Dave says

    Something that does not come up is the fact that the US Government is already profiling, but it is not as obvious as the TSA lines.

    There are manditory security checks in place for certain nationalies, genders, ages, occupations and political affiliations. They are known as Security Advisory Opinions (SAO)and provide part of the security background checks that many non-US citizens go through before entry into the US. All non-Americans go through a different check (possibly excepting Canadians by land).

    I am not going to go into my opinions about this, I just want it to be clear that profiling is happening. And going back to the original post on computer programming, imagine the challenges associated with finding the exact Mohamed Ali or David Anderson in a database of tens of millions…

  74. Sas says

    For all the evil Islam creates, you’re still ignoring the fact that our country perpetrating a different evil does nothing to stop it. Saying “they’re doing worse!” is not an excuse for us to be awful and racist. Racist profiling is not going to stop any of the atrocities you mentioned, in any way.

    “Hope I’m not being ‘too clever’ pointing out realities in this way”

    Don’t worry, you’re not.

  75. jacobfromlost says

    I read Sam’s article, and PZ’s since yesterday. I agree with #25, #27, #28, and #29.

    I think, ironically, many are profiling hypothetical profilers (and perhaps Sam Harris as well).

    I’d also point out that if “anti-profiling” is a stupid idea because the very old, the very young, etc, have been exploited in entirely different contexts once or twice, I’m not certain where we draw the line or why we draw it in terms of security. At SOME point, you are always going to be vulnerable in some way. You can’t eliminate it all, and someone could ALWAYS come back and say, “If we going to lengths A, B, and C for security, why not D, E, and F?” But even worse, I think the vulnerability in our imaginations is much worse than any actual vulnerablity, which is the point of terrorism in the first place.

    I think we are our own worst enemy in this regard, as we are overthinking (something people like us are prone to do), and our imaginations are going wild, when all the information we have suggests Al Qaeda simply isn’t that smart or sophisticated to do any of the things in our wildest imagination…or even our mildest imagination. (Even the simple car bomb attempt in New York failed, although that was apparently supported by the Taliban.)

  76. colubridae says

    It’s a discussion about human rights abuse (targeting people based on racial markers).
    Ok
    The discussion focus is on the middle east/muslim terrorist demographic.
    Ok

    Please tell me how the oppressive nature of Islamic theocracies is not an appropriate comment for the discussion.

    Islam (esp the middle east) is (at present) far and away the most alarming provider of terrorists. This disgusting religion is purpose built for violence and oppression. I think it is vital to keep these thoughts uppermost when discussing such matters.

    I fail to see why you think my points are not valid or ‘too clever’. Remembering these things may be ‘too simplistic’ for you, but they are still germane, if not the central core issue of the problem.

    You also claim that racial profiling won’t stop the abuse. So what, I never said it would.
    Racial profiling is claimed by Sam Harris to be a better use of security manpower.
    Manpower targeted at maintaining travel safety. You haven’t given any reason why you think it isn’t.

    All you’ve said is ‘It’s an abuse’.
    In which case I’m perfectly entitled to point out the absurd disparity in your viewpoint concerning human rights abuse.

    Apparently it’s OK for you to point out the single infringement (sorry calling it ‘abuse’ is ridiculous) of racial profiling, but when I point out the despicable and manifold nature of Islamic abuse I’m being ‘too clever’. After all racial profiling, arguably, has some benefits. Islamic oppression doesn’t (except for a small number of theocrats)

    Again many thanks for allowing me to belabour the nature of islam.

  77. Sas says

    It’s not an appropriate comment because the abuses of Islam have nothing to do with racial profiling because BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL MUSLIM, you fucking racist piece of shit.

  78. colubridae says

    SAS says:
    It’s not an appropriate comment because the abuses of Islam have nothing to do with racial profiling because BROWN SKIN DOES NOT EQUAL MUSLIM, you fucking racist piece of shit.

    Well there you go. It didn’t take too long for you to start with abuse. You put up such a self-satisfied smug view of your own fight against abuse, but within a few short lines hate and abuse spews forth from your own bigotry. After bitterly complaining about ‘profiling’ you’ve reached for the profiling six-gun almost straightaway. Look in the mirror, look at the bigot.
    I’ve said nothing racist. I’ve only given pros on the views of Sam Harris.
    I’ve only identified the horrors of islam. I’ve only shown you your own shocking inconsistency concerning levels and types of abuse.
    Yet within a short time you became intensely abusive.

  79. Sas says

    You had plenty of time to STOP using the horrors of Islam as a non-sequitor way to excuse racial profiling. And yet you continued with it over and over, that targeting brown people for racism was less horrible than what goes on in Islamic countries and so it’s OK. Plus, you think me calling you a racist is “abuse” but actual racism isn’t (“the single infringement (sorry calling it ‘abuse’ is ridiculous) of racial profiling”). Therefore, you’re a racist piece of shit. Yes, if I’m bigoted against racist pieces of shit, then I’m glad to be.

  80. colubridae says

    SAS says:
    You had plenty of time to STOP using the horrors of Islam as a non-sequitor way to excuse racial profiling. And yet you continued with it over and over, that targeting brown people for racism was less horrible than what goes on in Islamic countries and so it’s OK. Plus, you think me calling you a racist is “abuse” but actual racism isn’t (“the single infringement (sorry calling it ‘abuse’ is ridiculous) of racial profiling”). Therefore, you’re a racist piece of shit. Yes, if I’m bigoted against racist pieces of shit, then I’m glad to be.

    My intention is to keep reminding people of the horrors of islam.
    Your view that it is a non-sequitor is completely false. This thread is about infringement of human rights, in your view, its all about the infringement of ‘brown skin’ rights, Your words. When actually it’s about the infringement of everyone’s rights.

    Remember it’s muslims who create the terror, It’s muslims who attack innocent victims. It’s muslim’s and islam that create the fear and hatred that leads to these acts of violence. Absent Islam and the terrorist attacks from the middle east will stop/decrease. Maybe, maybe not. But it’s certainly the right place to start. But you aren’t interested in that. You couldn’t care less about that. All you care about is ‘brown skin’. It’s you who’s racist.

    What about gender profiling. It’s mainly men who commit these acts. Is that being a sexist pig, suggesting that males be targeted for security checks. What about age, or would I be an ageist pig. And we are only talking about zeroing-in with security checks. I’ve not said that all other security should be dropped.

    I’ve been a ‘victim’ of security racial profiling myself in russia, so what.

    You consider that my comparing racial profiling of airport security checks with Islamic horrors is invalid. I reject that criticism. I reject your absurd mental compartmentalism. The two are irrevocably linked, just because you deny it, doesn’t mean they aren’t. I am perfectly entitled to connect the two things, it’s perfectly valid in the context of airport security/muslim terrorism.
    If I compared Italian mafia thugs to Islamic terrorism that would be invalid, that isn’t the case here. Security profiling (racial, sexist, ageist, religious) is inextricably linked to terrorism. If you don’t like it tough. Go live in a world without islam.

    I’m taking a wild guess here, but I assume you viewed the French burka ban as an appalling infringement of a woman’s right to be enslaved by this disgusting religion.

    And lets not forget how much hatred you displayed for my ‘one single infringement’ where all I actually said was that ‘racial profile as an abuse was ridiculous when compared to Islamic human rights abuse.’. Gosh can you please demonstrate the hatred you would display if you were actually discussing Islam – it must be spectacular.
    And all because I dared to speak my mind and venture an opinion.

  81. Sas says

    Oh wow, you were super brave to DARE to criticize Islam on an atheist forum, you really put yourself on the line there. Save your masturbatory attempts at rhetoric, you have allowed your dislike of Islam to convince yourself that targeting people based on race is ok, racist shit.

  82. Muzz says

    This is very interesting. I suppose the point is ultimately, as bad as 9/11 was, it not as bad as that situation. Or maybe more importantly is qualitatively different in a number of ways. The conflict there is relatively clear cut by comparison. Al Qaeda’s goals are nebulous and ideological, if you can even call them goals. You can’t say “the bombers/rockets are coming from this neighborhood” or anything so specific.
    As poisonous as that level of security might be, you could conceivably justify it in the right circumstances. It’s just that those are unlikely to exist (I’d say won’t ever exist) in the US v Terror conflict.

  83. tosspotovich says

    Consider the relationship between India and Pakistan where racial profiling is routine, typically runs along religious lines, and is absolutely necessary to prevent bloodbaths.

    A Pakistani workmate of mine had to travel to India on the job. He was interrogated for an hour while his western counterparts passed through immediately. He was released under strict travel instructions to go to his hotel and office as per a roster while his colleagues visited the Taj Mahal in their downtime. Sure, he was disappointed, but he understood that many of his countrymen would happily terrorise such landmarks.

  84. colubridae says

    Fair enough.

    At least let me defend myself against his vile and hatefilled accusation.

    Yes. I hate islam. Yes I’ve unashamedly used this post to reiterate the vile nature of this religion.

    Yes I despise muslim males. Especially those who travel by air. Air travel with all that it entails requires a strong contact with reality.
    Young muslim males should know from this contact just how vile their religion and its hatred is. They have little or no excuse for not abandoning it.
    On the other hand I have great sympathy for muslim females. They are oppressed and suffer virtual sexual slavery.

    Yes it’s a generalisation, so what, I don’t have the time or inclination to get to know every human on the planet personally.

    Now as to the specific accusation against me.

    I travel by air two/three times per year.

    I hate and fear terrorist who want to blow passengers up. No matter how justified they feel or whether I agree with them.

    It so happens that most of the terrorist attacks, at the present moment, are perpetrated by a highly specific ethnic group. Like it or not such is the nature of the world we live in. I choose the term ‘ethnic group’ because that terminology does not carry any offence.

    Bearing that in mind I firmly believe that that specific ethnic group should be ‘targeted’ for rigorous security checking. I also believe that other ethnic groups, including my own be subject to random security checks.

    Should the level, or nature of the terrorist attacks change then I would wish for the security structure to change.
    Should my ‘ethnic group’ become the main perpetrators of terrorism I would fully expect and desire that my ethnic group would be ‘targeted’ for such extra security.

    However, and this is the crucial point, once any person passes through such security then I take no further interest in them. They now become a fellow traveller, long-suffering probably. Pain-in-the-ass if they drink too much/let their children run riot/or play obnoxious loud music.
    This is the vital point that everyone has missed, or refused to see, in Sam’s post. In my view pointedly missed

    If after going though security I still hate them or harass them then, and only then would I be an ‘ethnic groupist’. (I can’t be a racist, since I don’t believe in the concept of race.)

    SAS has jumped frighteningly quickly to the wrong conclusion, without any evidence. At the very least he should acknowledge his mistake, had I made the same error I would offer an apology.

    In my experience the people quickest to throw out the accusation of ‘racist’ are themselves deeply racist.

    I would greatly appreciate any comments/corrections of my viewpoint especially genuine criticism.

  85. Sas says

    Your weasel words have not proven my conclusion is wrong, they’ve only strengthened it. You just flat-out admitted that you hate a specific subset of humanity based on your generalized prejudice against them, and support people being profiled based on LOOKING like they MIGHT belong to that group. You’ve used the atrocities of Islam as a smokescreen to try and make racism look more palatable.

    Yes it’s a generalisation, so what, I don’t have the time or inclination to get to know every human on the planet personally.

    Congratulations, you have just admitted to being willingly and irrationally prejudiced.

    I firmly believe that that specific ethnic group should be ‘targeted’ for rigorous security checking.

    Since belonging to that specific “ethnic group” can only be guessed at in airport security based on security personnel’s racist preconceptions, you are in fact supporting racism. You cannot tell if someone is muslim based on their looks. This racial targeting has indeed caught many people who were not muslim or even middle eastern.

    If after going though security I still hate them or harass them then, and only then would I be an ‘ethnic groupist’.

    You already said you hate a specific ethnic group in general. Aside from that, you do not stop being racist just because you accept security’s decisions about them, or don’t harass them personally; neither of those conditions are a requirement for being racist.

    (I can’t be a racist, since I don’t believe in the concept of race.)

    This is the kind of thing that is only said by racially privileged people who will never be on the receiving end of racism. It’s incredibly transparent and patently ridiculous. Oppressed racial groups do not have the luxury of “not believing in the concept of race”. Trivializing that shows once again that you are acting from deeply racist reasoning.

    SAS has jumped frighteningly quickly to the wrong conclusion, without any evidence. At the very least he should acknowledge his mistake, had I made the same error I would offer an apology.

    First off, I’m a woman. Second off, if you had said a single thing that showed me to have made the wrong conclusion I would have acknowledged being mistaken, but instead you have dug yourself deeper and deeper and I’m not a bit surprised.

    In my experience the people quickest to throw out the accusation of ‘racist’ are themselves deeply racist.

    In my experience, people who are more offended by accusations of racism than actual racist policies are in fact SUPER RACIST.

  86. Kazim says

    Yes I despise muslim males. Especially those who travel by air. Air travel with all that it entails requires a strong contact with reality.

    All Muslim males, or is there a threshold?

    Kumail Nanjiani, whose picture is in the post and whose video is linked at the bottom, identifies as a Muslim. A fairly liberal, mostly unobservant Muslim, but I’ve heard him speak about it as an identity.

    Two questions: 1. Have you watched his videos, and 2. Do you despise him?

  87. says

    Wow, I had no idea I had such a big influence! A few days ago I commented on the linked pharyngula article that the scheme failed basic numeracy, using the word ‘datamining,’ and the next day this gets published!

    Not only that, but I also used the phrase ‘the numbers just don’t work,’ the exact words Myers just used in his follow-up as the link to this piece here. I am going to have to start charging you guys :)

    Nice piece, though. Naturally much of the discussion on this topic has been geared toward to the moral implications, but more important in my mind is: Is it rational? My preference is always to look into the numbers, and this post demonstrates how easy that can be.

  88. Porco Dio says

    You know, I laugh every single time we start asserting McVeigh or Breivic as evidence against racial profiling.

    PZ did McVeigh and above is the Norweigan. There is a massive difference that nullifies the argument.

    McVeigh said he would probably have reconsidered his target had he known there was a day-care center in the federal building. (This assertion was disputed at trial. The prosecution said that Timmy had knowledge of the inside of the building so he must have known about the kids… We’l never know the truth.)

    Breivik apologised publicly for victims that were too young and therefore not party-affiliated.

    And herein lies there difference. These fucktard terrorists had certain targets and were sending the definite message they communicating and they did that by killing SPECIFIC targets. They regretted collateral damage.

    In jihad ideology EVERYONE is a legitimate target. There are no innocents. There is no collateral damage.

  89. says

    I fail to see the meaningful distinction you think you’re making here. That jihadists don’t care who they kill while white terrorists “regret” the “collateral damage” they cause in no way makes their crimes less bad, nor does it justify racial profiling.

  90. Porco Dio says

    Then I shall explain further:

    Islamic terrorism is a different beast. It doesn’t seek a particular target to make a particular point. It seeks maximum mayhem for the sake of terrorizing. “White terrorists” (your words) are trying to make a point by specifically targeting their enemy. They are nutcases who will find a window of opportunity regardless.

    Jihadist terrorists (why does my spell check suggest Jingoistic for Jihadist?) have grander plans and therefore makes them easier to profile. Or, at least, makes the profiling more worthwile.

    We will NEVER be able to stop the Breiviks, Rudolphs and McVeighs of this world. You cannot profile a random event or a random idiot. But you can profile an international conspiracy.

  91. says

    I’d say this is false, and I think most counterterrorism experts would tell you so. Islamic jihadists are in fact protesting a number of very specific political points, not the least of which is what they see (and I have to say they’re not wrong) as brutal Israeli encroachment on Palestinian territories and the forced resettlement of Palestinians, with the US basically exclusively taking Israel’s side in the matter. I lived in Dubai as a child, and I can tell you from personal experience that 35 years ago, you could not have met a more friendly, pro-US, pro-capitalism bunch of folks than the Arabs. (No doubt because they loved what we were paying them for their oil.) What has turned so many of them against us, despite all this, is what they see as over three decades of abominable US foreign policy.

    None of which justifies what the terror groups do, but it’s simply false to say that Islamic terrorism is aimless, apolitical mayhem for terror’s sake.

  92. Muzz says

    The airport security people will be very disappointed to hear that they can’t stop one random psycho. That’s exactly what they are trying to do, aren’t they?
    This debate is all about racial profiling at the threshold, not that cops and so on can’t employ a person’s background as a component in their investigations.
    It’s because of one random, racially indeterminate, psycho that profiling fails. The goal of on the ground security is just that, not cracking Al Qaeda. That’s most of the argument (minus civil liberties concerns): it’s not on-the-ground security’s job to crack Al Qaeda specifically. It is to provide security. A specifically racial policy fails to do that by all reasonable assessments.

  93. Porco Dio says

    OMG. Do you really expect thinking people to believe that

    brutal Israeli encroachment on Palestinian territories and the forced resettlement of Palestinians

    is justification for untargeted retribution against non-related allies?

    No! This is just arcane reasoning to enable blanket reprisal against whoever and whomever!

    It’s like Greek people saying, “zomg that devilish EU got us into this evil austerity program therefore we will poison the Belgian water supply to kill as many civilians as possible and at the same time break their marvelous bier brewing institution. Praise be to Zeus.”

    As far as your “experts” are concerned I think you should either change your sources or, stop lying about them.

    Islamic terrorism is aimless, apolitical mayhem for terror’s sake.

    Yeah, right on the button. Damn right it fuckin’ is. If Timmy McVeigh was exploding Puritans in Massachusetts you might have a point. But he isn’t…., so you don’t.

  94. says

    Okay, Porco, since you’re eagerly diving headfirst into the deep end of SIWOTI syndrome, here come some references. Yes, the Israeli/Palestinian problem is a vital, perhaps the most vital, issue to these people. And while I am sure you feel your Greek analogy is very clever, you’re ignoring the basic fact that the Greeks don’t exactly possess the degree of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism that informs Islamism. The Hamas Charter itself, in and among a boatload of religious raving, spells this out.

    The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it… There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game (i.e. diplomacy).

    al Qaeda also listed US support for Israel as one of its driving motivations behind 9/11.

    The expansion of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.

    As for the opinions of terrorism experts, Robert Pape takes the view that

    The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw…

    In Lebanon, for instance, there were 41 suicide-terrorist attacks from 1982 to 1986, and after the U.S. withdrew its forces, France withdrew its forces, and then Israel withdrew to just that six-mile buffer zone of Lebanon, they virtually ceased. They didn’t completely stop, but there was no campaign of suicide terrorism.

    He also points out that, far from being mindless mayhem, targeting civilians rather than military installations is quite deliberate, as those are far less likely to be defended.

    So while I’m sure it’s emotionally gratifying to go all Ann Coulter about the subject, and regard Islamists as nothing more than uncontrollable animals who have gotten it into their towelheads that blowing shit up is the funnest thing ever, because they never learned the joy of collecting stamps when they were kids, and that we can ignore the root causes of their terrorism simply by pretending there are none, that certainly doesn’t translate into the kind of rational analysis and threat assessment that can actually confront and prevent their destructiveness.

  95. colubridae says

    SAS: Your weasel words have not proven my conclusion is wrong, they’ve only strengthened it.
    Never really understood this insult. Weasels are magnificent predators and they don’t try to be something they aren’t. Unmuddle your insults and they will be more effective.
    SAS: You just flat-out admitted that you hate a specific subset of humanity based on your generalized prejudice against them,
    Wrong again. Not prejudice. Muslims believe in sky fairies, Extreme muslims act on their hatred in their holy book, and ‘soft’ muslims make only a token gesture of dissent. My hatred of them is entirely justified. I would even go as far as to suggest that extreme muslims don’t even deserve the title of human. Their behaviour is rightly described as inhuman.
    SAS: and support people being profiled based on LOOKING like they MIGHT belong to that group. You’ve used the atrocities of Islam as a smokescreen to try and make racism look more palatable.
    Wrong again. I said that a highly specific ethnic group are the main source of terrorism. I said it outright. And I think that that ethnic group should endure more rigorous security. And I said I know it’s a generalisation. So what. Unless you rigorously check on every single air-passenger (thereby making air travel unfeasible) then all of it is a generalisation of some sort or another. Even if security is purely random you are generalising that all air travellers are terrorists until checked. Random checking then only being used to make air travel feasible.
    SAS: Congratulations, you have just admitted to being willingly and irrationally prejudiced.
    Wrong again. Not irrational. My thinking is purely rational. Maybe that’s what you object to. A specific ethnic group are the main source of international terror, at the present time. It is rational to target that ethnic group for more stringent security than other ethnic groups. ‘Prejudiced’ that’s your word not mine and I reject it. In any case still maintain lowered security on other ethnic groups.

    SAS: Since belonging to that specific “ethnic group” can only be guessed at in airport security based on security personnel’s racist preconceptions, you are in fact supporting racism. You cannot tell if someone is muslim based on their looks. This racial targeting has indeed caught many people who were not muslim or even middle eastern.
    So fucking what. I never said you could tell a muslim based on their looks or even if they are middle eastern. What is your point, that unfortunately innocent people will have to go through security checks at airports. It happens all the time. So fucking what; that’s the price everyone has to pay to travel by air.
    Even without ‘targeted’ security, security at airports is not perfect. Some terrorists will still get through. Security personnel are not perfect, nobody is. So what one still tries to get the bets balance between outright ease-of-travel and total security.
    SAS: You already said you hate a specific ethnic group in general.
    Wrong again. I never said I hated an ethnic group. If you are equating muslims with ethnic group then you are wrong. They aren’t the same thing. Get a dictionary.
    Muslims are followers of islam. That muslims within the middle east ethnic group currently ‘produce’ most of the international terror is a fact. Since it’s impossible to identify the subset of terrorist muslims within the subset of muslims within the ‘middle east ethnic group’ subset then the best (in the sense ‘least worst’) option is to apply more rigorous security checks to the middle east ethnic group. The best option would be for muslim terrorists to stop what they are doing.
    Will there be individuals undergoing extra security mistakenly. Sure. So what.
    Even if your hated racists security agents successfully target only individuals from the middle east ethnic group they will still be searching/checking mostly innocent individuals. So what. You want a perfect world go find one.

    SAS: Aside from that, you do not stop being racist just because you accept security’s decisions about them, or don’t harass them personally; neither of those conditions are a requirement for being racist.
    What the fuck are you talking about. You haven’t yet demonstrated that I’m ‘racist’. All you’ve done is claimed that I am. Every accusation you’ve aimed at me I’ve refuted. See above and below.

    ME:(I can’t be a racist, since I don’t believe in the concept of race.)
    SAS: This is the kind of thing that is only said by racially privileged people who will never be on the receiving end of racism. It’s incredibly transparent and patently ridiculous.

    Now who’s generalising. Fuck me I’ve endured page after page of abuse from you specifically for prejudice and ‘generalising’ And now you blithely jump straight in with your own.
    You tried to claim that I’m a racist even though I distinctly told you that I don’t believe in the concept of race. All you’ve done is the equivalent of saying ‘I must be a theist because I say I don’t believe in god. Ergo you must believe in god to claim you don’t believe in him’ This nonsense is what five-year olds come up with.
    SAS:Oppressed racial groups do not have the luxury of “not believing in the concept of race”. Trivializing that shows once again that you are acting from deeply racist reasoning.
    You claimed I’ve never been ‘racially’ abused. Despite me saying that I was ‘racially’ victimised in russia.
    It also happened to me in Israel.
    It also happened to me in Jordan.

    My ‘ethnic group/nation’ has been downtrodden for centuries. True we have mostly turned the corner now. But it was not always so.
    ME: has jumped frighteningly quickly to the wrong conclusion, without any evidence. At the very least he should acknowledge his mistake, had I made the same error I would offer an apology.
    SAS: First off, I’m a woman.

    I apologise for you being a woman. Sorry cheap shot. I apologise for using the masculine pronoun. I will use feminine pronouns with you from now on. Unless you prefer neuter. Please let me know. If I accidentally use the masculine I apologise my prose/typing sucks. Until you mentioned it gender was not a factor in my head.
    SAS: Second off, if you had said a single thing that showed me to have made the wrong conclusion I would have acknowledged being mistaken, but instead you have dug yourself deeper and deeper and I’m not a bit surprised.
    All of what I’ve said shows you to be wrong. Please see above.
    SAS: In my experience, people who are more offended by accusations of racism than actual racist policies are in fact SUPER RACIST.
    I think you’ve made a category error there. Either way I’m not sure what your point is. In any case people who use the term SUPER RACIST are in fact HYPER SUPER RACIST. Can I win now or would you like to continue your adorable child-like game?

  96. colubridae says

    Christ this is exhausting.

    Yes, I hate muslim males.

    Yes, my hatred is dialled between 1 and 100.

    Yes, I hate Christians, though with slightly less ferocity than muslims.

    Yes, there are muslims who are virtually not muslims who I would virtually not despise.

    Yes, whats-his-name identifies himself as a muslim.
    If he virtually doesn’t believe in islam, but still calls himself a muslim then he’s playing mindlessly imbecilic semantic word games.
    Your point is what?

    Yes, I generalise. Ironically I can generalise that everyone else does too.

    No, I can’t write posts wherein each and every time I use the word ‘hate’ or ‘despise’ I spectrally assign a value depending on the nature of the target of hatred. Sometimes it’s feasible, but mostly not. Anymore than it’s feasible to security-check every single air passenger.

    Yes, I try to view the world much the same was as Christopher Hitchens did.
    I said ‘try’; just in case every loonie jumps in and says ‘on such and such a date Hitchens said this/that – which is not what you said blah blah’.

    By the by, look at the post #35 ‘special screening of white haired old ladies is absurd’
    I point out that not special-screening white haired old ladies is profiling. If you special-screen me because I’m not a white-haired old lady then you are performing profiling. Call it anti-profiling is a smokescreen. You would be violating my human rights. Putting all the ‘but this…’ and ‘but that…’ afterwards doesn’t make it not profiling.

    So that particular profiling is ok, but any other profiling PZ or SAS dislikes is not ok? What gives anyone the right to say that their profiling is correct and someone else’s isn’t?
    As I said above, even random screening is profiling; profiling that every passenger is a terrorist.

    Harris’s ‘ethnic group’ profiling is based on pure reason and rationality. Is it perfect? Of course not. Only an imbecile would think so.

    Jebus, I’m bored now. All Sam Harris (or I) have done is point out the common sense logic of profiling. Unfortunately the word ‘racial’ was used; so every paranoid loonie from here to timbuktoo has come galloping out of the woodwork, wearing their self-righteous indignation like a gang tattoo on their sleeve.

    Nothing I say will dent your fear of being accused of ‘racism’ or stop bandwagon grandstanding.
    I’m not scared of being called a racist. I’m indignant because it’s plainly not true.
    Next please.

  97. Dave says

    In addition, when a black male is arrested for a similar crime as a while male, he is more likely to receive a conviction and go to jail for it.

  98. Kazim says

    You know what, coubridae? You’re an asshole. I don’t hate people as a group, I hate individuals once they’ve earned it. I don’t like you, and I’m glad that you will never get your way, however much you stew about it. Now fuck off.

  99. Porco Dio says

    Martin,

    How can a thinker of your standing make such claims and still be taken seriously?

    That tired ol’ argument that arabs blow themselves up only because of them pesky jews and arrogant americans has been debunked as thoroughly as YEC.

    Where are the Tibetan suicide bombers? Why are Sunnis unmaking themselves inside Shi’ite mosques and vice-versa?

    Be honest and serious now. It is islamic, and the respective religious, ideology that is the cause of maximum mayhem.

    Which brings me back to the original point of my original post: there is a massive difference between crazy religion and crazy people.

    Tim McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski and their respective ideologies is in no way comparable to the mass delusion from which a billion muslims suffer.

    Plenty right-wing hicks would have scorned the actions of those white extremists but we never hear moderate muslims deriding the actions of muslim terror. They tacitly support it at best and celebrate it at worst.

  100. says

    So the terror organizations themselves issue statements clearly telling the world that nationalism and the Israeli/Palestinian question is a motive for their actions, I provide you with links to their own charters proving it, and you smugly decide to ignore it and say it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    Okay then, I guess there’s nothing more to discuss.

    As for your claim that moderate Muslims never condemn terror, I suppose I could acquaint you with a service called Google, into which you could type something like “muslims condemn terror” to find statements from a number of Muslim organizations doing just that. But you’ve already made it clear you’re contemptuous of facts, and I have better things to do with my time.

  101. Porco Dio says

    One link does not an argument make. You may call that “proof” but, then again, there is plenty “proof” against Evolution and climate-change.

    I did as you suggested and googled “muslims condemn terror” and got a paltry 4600 hits. “Penguin tuxedo” gets 40 times as many hits!

    You could hardly call 4600 a consensus view and if you really want to know what islamic discourse is all about check out MemriTV.

    While we’re practicing our googling skills try this one: “Suicide bombing” and then click the news link. Pakistan, Nigeria, Dagestan. These are the 3 most recent attacks.

    It’s all sectarian violence and has nothing to do with Israel and the US. Islam has a thirst for martyrdom. Remove the US and Israel from the equation and you remove nothing. Remove their religion and, only then, we are starting to make progress.

  102. says

    I did as you suggested and googled “muslims condemn terror” and got a paltry 4600 hits.

    And as you were insisting that Muslims never condemn terror, that’s 4600 examples that you were wrong. Just admit it.

    I’ve never suggested religious zealotry was never a major factor in their violence. I was only responding to your claims that there was no political motive to Islamist terrorism with evidence that there is, even though it’s only one factor and not the whole. And if the “one link” I sent was a link to the fucking Hamas charter, then that one link ought to be all the evidence you need. (Then again, I can see why one link wouldn’t satisfy you, if 4600 don’t.) You’re simply wedded to an ideé fixe and unwilling to accept anything that challenges it.

  103. Muz says

    There was a terrific video linked over on Pharyngula about this. It seems worth putting it here too in case people missed it.

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