Overused Statistic #738: Mental Illness and Violent Victimization

So there’s a particular bit of overused truth whose use I want to challenge. Again, it’s not that it’s not true. AND it’s not that we shouldn’t be telling people that it’s true, BUT it seems to only ever be used in contexts where it doesn’t mean what people think it means.

Persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators of violent crime. This is true.

Persons without mental illness are also more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators of violent crime. This is also true.

But wait! How is that possible?

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Hunter/Gatherer Serial Killers: Guess who hunts their victims & who gathers them…

Oy.

There’s a new paper out by Marissa Harrison (of Penn State) et. al. collected historical data on the crimes of 112 murderers who killed 3 or more people with at least one week between each murder (killing more quickly did not disqualify one so long as there were at least 3 periods of single/multiple murder that were separated from all other periods of single/multiple murder by a full week on each side). 55 of the killers were women. This is the all but 9 of the women serial killers in the US from 1821 to 2008 – at least that they could find. From the men serial killers during that period they selected “matches” of the women subjects. “Matches” here means that they were approximately equivalent to their women counterparts on certain variable which the researchers wanted to control.

Then they ran some criminological statistics on the gender-separated populations & looked for differences. The resulting research was published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. NewAtlas, reporting on the study, tells us that:

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Andy Lewis’ Gendered Gotcha

I rarely do this outside of classrooms, but I’m going to give folks here some definitions that are in common use among people that seriously study gender. Why? In part because Andy Lewis seems to think that there is no coherent definition of gender generally and woman specifically because gender is an inherently incoherent concept while sex is an inherently coherent concept and that to the extent that we use the words gender or woman or man we should use them only in reference to underlying, coherent categories of sex. The Andy Lewises of the world appear to believe that this definitional challenge – and the poor response most people give when asked to meet it – proves the fundamental rightness of an anti-trans*, pro-TERF feminist philosophical position.

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Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

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Science Magazine is Failing Us

Science journalism is failing us in important ways. This post will be far shorter than I might like it to be, but I want it to be readable, and in any case I plan on following up soon with more information and also, I hope, a detailed action plan.

Here I simply want to point out a single article. In another post, I’ll also be discussing an article on the dismissal of Francisco Ayala from UC Irvine and the pattern of sexual harassment that led to that dismissal. But right now, let’s tackle an interesting article with a headline that is … terrible, in ways we will investigate later. The headline reads thus:

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Autism = Violence in England Gay Bar Threat? Why not? asks Associated Press

A number of news outlets are carrying a brief Associated Press story on the sentencing of a man arrested in connection with a terrorism threat against the gay community in the smaller Brit town Barrow-in-Furness. You can read it here, if you like.  The story is mostly uninteresting. The man arrested, Ethan Stables, never got the chance to make the spectacular “kill all the gays” attack he’d been threatening, and when time came for his sentencing, the judge assigned him an indefinite term in a psychiatric facility.

What’s odd here, however, is that you don’t go to a psych hospital instead of jail if there’s no psychological or psychiatric problem that led to your crime. Now, it may be that you had a condition from which you’ve since recovered, but you had to have had a condition at the time. So when the Associated Press’ description of Stables lists precisely zero conditions known to have a mechanism that can cause violence but does list “autism spectrum disorder” readers not aware of the state of psychological research might assume, wrongly, that autism spectrum disorder is associated with an increased risk of violence.

This description of Stables originally came from the defense, but we should not allow that to grant the Associated Press a free pass here. In order to prevent crazy-blaming, the AP has a responsibility to avoid dropping any disorder into a story in this context unless they are certain that the disorder has a known correlation with an increase in violence and a plausible explanation of how that disorder might have played a causal role in the behavior at issue. It may be that the records of any court ordered psych examination are sealed, but in that case the AP should not mention any particular disorder, whatever the defense contends. It may also be that the court believed that autism spectrum disorder could explain Stables’ threats of terrorism, but in that case the AP should clearly report that this is contrary to the best scientific evidence we have to date, and absent an explanation of how aspects of autism spectrum disorder played a role in a unique causal chain, the court’s judgement should be clearly labeled questionable. The AP took neither tack. The relevant part is entirely contained in this quote:

Defence lawyers said the 20-year-old, who has an autism spectrum disorder, had been brainwashed by right-wing extremists. But he was convicted in February of preparing an act of terrorism.

Journalism of this recklessness should always be called out for criticism.

Kevin Jackson Fails History

On Fox News yesterday, host Laura Ingraham brought on two Black guests to respond to Spike Lee’s strong statements attacking Trump as Racist. Media Matters has the video, and a transcript of a small slice of what was said. What they found remarkable was Kevin Jackson’s statement to Leo Terrell, Ingraham’s other guest, that

the Three-Fifths Compromise was essentially what this particular gentleman doesn’t understand was it was to give humanhood to black people. Spike Lee learned that and it was an embarassment to him.

It’s no surprise to any readers here that he’s wrong. But here’s the thing. Quite a number of people don’t understand the 3/5th compromise. Quite a number of you reading this, I’m sure, don’t understand the Three-Fifths Compromise, if by “number” we include “one or possibly two out of both my readers”. One and two are both numbers, right? Okay then. That out of the way, let’s take a look at why Jackson is wrong.

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Peterson IS Freud

PZ has another post up on the failures of Jordan Peterson. It points out the irony of skeptics embracing Peterson when Peterson himself does skepticism so damn badly. As a major exemplar, PZ calls out Peterson’s embrace of Freudianism. Among other observations, he expresses surprise that Peterson, a psychologist, would embrace Freud long after he’s been discredited. Others in the comments provide other observations on just how rare it is to teach much Freud in university psychology programs.

I don’t doubt the truth of those observations, but Freud is nonetheless highly relevant today, and his relevance to today very likely explains exactly why Peterson embraces the man’s ideas.

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My Optimal Test Taking Approach

All this talk about Murray and IQ has reminded me of a great time I had one day in fourth grade taking a standardized test. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are institutional uses to which those test scores are put. I think there are good critiques we could make about the uses of those scores, but the critiques are already out there in the field where people actually study this stuff. If policy makers haven’t yet listened to those critiques to come up with better policies that does suck, but we have to take responsibility for our actions in the world we live in now, not the world we might like to occupy.

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