Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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53 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    OK, I’ll bite. Is that a lie, a damned lie, or a statistic?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      It’s something that I never, ever would have considered to be the case, given our media focus on violent crime.

      I suppose its a statistic that betrays a damned lie.Report

      • Avatar Noah says:

        I don’t disbelieve it, having read it. It’s a little surprising, but in society there’s a lot more Marijuana possession than there is violent crimes.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Which is really kind of the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

          You’d think that there would be greater empahsis on property crimes and traffic safety from police in response to a decline in violence. But I have a very hard time getting my clients’ cases of theft and vandalism taken seriously by the police, who dismiss such things as “civil matters.”Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            There are two types of incident police are likely to do anything about.

            Things that are sexy and get their resume a brush-up for advancement (drug crime arrests look especially sexy if you’re running for elected offices like Sheriff) and things that make quota.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Then I really don’t understand it. The people my clients complain about are overwhelmingly African-American.

              …Oh, did I just write that? That’s really mean. Not all cops are like that.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I have a very hard time getting my clients’ cases of theft and vandalism taken seriously by the police, who dismiss such things as “civil matters.”

            This makes my head explode.

            I cannot comprehend this.Report

            • Avatar Noah says:

              I think that in terms of damage to society and other citizens crimes like violence, theft and vandalism are substantially more damaging than crimes like drug possession. Stopping theft and vandalism isn’t well-rewarded though.

              I read somewhere that when the streets are cleaned of graffiti and broken windows are fixed, other types of crime go down just because the neighborhood becomes nicer. It’s pretty alarming that theft and vandalism are dismissed as civil matters 🙁Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If the cops bust you for weed while you’re in your car, they can seize your car, sell it at auction, and make a little money for the department or the pension fund or whatever.

                What in the hell can you do with a vandalized wall?Report

              • Avatar Noah says:

                Nothing, and that’s why it’s a problem that doesn’t get cleaned up or punished. It’s why our prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders and out streets are covered in spraypaint.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Recite some Robert Frost.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                streets are cleaned of graffiti

                I want to stand up for graffiti. I love graffiti, when it’s not just a giant board of public cussing and actually shows artistic development, style, and a flare for color.

                There’s a whole world of in-your-face street art done by musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, and electronics artists that are consideredbad. These artist break the rules by busking without permit, inciting public action, defacing property; they’re in your face like skateboarders. And as an alternative-art fan, they’re oh so good because they’re so bad. It’s a whole lot more fun to skateboard on the street and in the park then it is to skate at the skate park because you’re getting in other people’s space.

                It’s the intent is to discomfort, to push the rules, to speak out when you’re supposed to remain invisible.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW says:

                Seconded. I’ve seen some amazing graffiti.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                If the skateboarders aren’t running people over, and the graffiti artists are actually making /pretty things/ (and I got a lotta latitude on that front!), I agree.

                I despise tagging. It’s like teenage boys behaving like dogs, pissing on posts just to show whose post it is.

                Now if you’re going to write your name in HCl 15 stories up, just to show that you can? I can dig it.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                There’s a nice mural near my home, several hundred feet long, with sections painted by several different artists.

                It’s slowly but surely being obscured by graffiti.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Having lived in Chicago long enough to be able to interpret some of the gang tags, to me, it’s like looking at a pack of dogs recording their boundaries ( and their kills and casualties ) with acrylic piss. It’s useful to understand what’s being said. All these ninnies who think every tagger is a fucking Banksy should get their heads examined.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                I knew a guy that was into spray art. I learned a lot about it form him. Different nozzles, various techniques, etc.
                His thing was trains. He went through the whole thing about which cars were best, which to avoid. Never cover numbers, etc.
                He showed my some photos of his work. Most of it was just letters. I had to ask him what the letters meant. Often they would stand for some phrase which he thought were words that sounded cool running together.
                I had to wonder about the value of it when the “meaning” is ultimately something entirely arbitrary. But they’re in it for the calligraphy.
                Makes me wonder why they don’t study Arabic or Chinese.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              have a very hard time getting my clients’ cases of theft and vandalism taken seriously by the police, who dismiss such things as “civil matters.”

              This makes my head explode.

              I cannot comprehend this.


      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        What is the damned lie?Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          The reason that I ask is that I can tell you right now that there are going to be a sizable number of people that are going to look at that graph, and this is what they will see:

          They’ll see a huge increase in people being arrested for marijuana, and once that number got big enough, they’ll see a downturn in violent crime.

          People are going to use this graph as justification for making pot illegal.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Without saying “something something causation”, my immediate take is to look at the resources used and used to what end. For example, I wonder what people imagine the police do versus what they want the police to do and how that lines up with what is actually done.

            (My intuition is to say that people think that cops are a lot more like on CSI. Hey, they should dedicate half of CSI to busting people for pot.)

            I would be sincerely interested in seeing to what extent the marijuana numbers overlap with the violent crime numbers in a Venn. My immediate inclination is to say that they don’t particularly… or, at least, that they line up in the same way that Starbucks lines up with bank fraud.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Oh, I don’t believe there’s a causal link. I’m us telling you how that graph’s going to be interpreted by people that think pot should be illegal.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And that didn’t even occur to me until you pointed it out.

                Now I’m depressed.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You have too much faith in humanity.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Sorry Jaybird, but I’ve seen multiple commenters on conservative sites say basically, “the reason why crime rates have dropped for the past 30 years if we’re finally getting tough on crime and putting lots of people in jail for a long time.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that there are types of crime that aren’t particularly fungible… that is, if you arrest a drug dealer, you create a job opening that will be replaced by another drug dealer. It doesn’t seem obvious to me that the same is true of violent crime. If you arrest an assaulter, it doesn’t seem obvious to me that another will take his place.

                With that in mind, I can understand the argument that assault will go down if assaulters are locked away.

                I just don’t see the connection between smoking weed and violent crime as being equally obvious.

                I’d love to see some numbers.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Of course, the reverse of this is true as well: there are only so many territories available for drug dealers, but there is an effectively unlimited supply of assault victims.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Assuming that assault operates on a demand economy would require enough changes in many of my other assumptions that I have significant resistance to the idea to the point where I’m going to dismiss it without detailed argument explaining why I shouldn’t.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Assault mostly operates on a proximity economy. That is, if you put a bunch of people together, someone’s going to assault someone else. It doesn’t really matter how many people you put in jail. Humans attack humans. It’s kinda what we do.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                If there is a connection, I would bet this is how it works:

                There is a finite portion of the population willing to resort to violence for personal gain (or just because). This finite portion of the population probably correlates, to some degree*. A lot of their crimes are going to be difficult to prove. However, if you catch them with drugs, you can send them to prison for it. This relocates their activities from the streets to prison, lowering the crime rate.

                Of course, there is also a very high false positive rate when looking at drug use and the propensity to commit violent crime. Some of this would be mitigated by selective enforcement such as an individual deemed non-threatening (say white and middle class, and/or no criminal history) being allowed to go on probation and someone deemed potentially threatening (say black and not middle class, and/or with criminal history). The rest would be collateral damage (hey, they were breaking the law, right?).

                Anyway, if 90% of violent crime is committed by 10% of the population, putting as much of that 10% of the population behind bars could result in lower crime rates for violent crimes. If you’re willing to overlook the morality of the situation.

                * – Which you take issue with. I would actually bet on their being a correlation simply because of a willingness to break known felonies. Not that weed causes crime, and of course a strong majority of weed smokers are not violent criminals, but you’re going to find a higher concentration of violent criminals among those willing to (a) break drug laws and (b) be under enough scrutiny to be searched.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That is, if you put a bunch of people together, someone’s going to assault someone else.

                Lots of people go to concerts together without assaulting one another. And the movies. And conferences, retreats, picnics, recreational activities, etc, without assaulting one another. Most of social life is comprised of social interactions in which people don’t assault one another.

                I know you know that.

                Some people are inclined to assault, perhaps. And some social situations people find themselves in foster assault-behavior. But I’m with Jaybird on this. It’s not like there’s a market for assault or assaulters, such that eliminating one individual playing the “assaulter” role opens up that slot for another to step into.Report

              • Avatar Mopey Duns says:

                Most violent crime, most domestic disturbances, most burglaries come down to the same relatively small number of people. Ask any long term cop and I bet you they could point to the ‘clients’ of theirs which create a disproportionate amount of that sort of misery in the world.

                Preventing them from doing so, whether by incarceration or other means, can do a lot to improve the lives of the rest of us.

                This argument does not, of course, apply to drug users.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Still, I meant in the aggregate: putting people together ultimately results in violence, even if most interactions between people don’t.

                Also, I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that the majority of the concerts I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a lot, have resulted in at least a minor scuffle at some point: loud music and alcohol, combined with a bunch of people in a relatively small space, is pretty much inviting fights.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                There are three things that influence violence, really. The proximity of people whom one finds sufficiently annoying to want to do violence to them… the individual’s inclination to do violence… and de-inhibitors (mostly just alcohol).

                There is a good chunk of the population that has low violence impulse control; the ones that also have ready access to de-inhibitors and a bunch of other frustrations (typically lack of economic opportunity and lack of education) will punch people. Putting them in jail will reduce the number of those sorts of assaults.

                Domestic violence, on the other hand, is confounded a lot by the proximity of people who push your buttons. People who are not naturally low-violence impulse control people can still beat up on their spouses and children, because spouses and children can generate an awful lot of stress. The threshold for resulting to your fists is higher, but your wife can get you there a lot faster than some idiot in a parking lot. Aside from pre-screening marriage license applications, I really doubt you can cut this down much, epistomologically speaking, by incarceration.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Is this true? Maybe.

                But I’d think if you have (making up numbers here) 1% of the population that will and do regularly commit violence against their spouses and half of those people end up incarcerated, you’ll cut your instances of violent spousal abuse in half. Wouldn’t you?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Assault mostly operates on a proximity economy. That is, if you put a bunch of people together, someone’s going to assault someone else. It doesn’t really matter how many people you put in jail. Humans attack humans. It’s kinda what we do.

                This explains why, for example, Tokyo has so much more violent crime than New Orleans.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Sorry Jaybird, but I’ve seen multiple commenters on conservative sites say basically, “the reason why crime rates have dropped for the past 30 years if we’re finally getting tough on crime and putting lots of people in jail for a long time.”

                I realize that it must must kill you that that worked, but that’s no excuse for sophistry. The claim that cracking down on real crime resulted in less real crime is distinct from, and much more plausible than, the hypothesis that cracking down on marijuana possession resulted in less real crime.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                I think that ship sailed around the time my father-in-law looked at the last election results and said “Yeah, pot should be legal”.

                The guy’s not exactly a stoner, you know? (Ever watched My Name is Earl? He’s basically Earl’s dad. If he hadn’t been in the Navy, he’d have been at Woodstock to watch Sha-na-na and getting annoyed at all the hippies for getting on his blanket).Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            I think it would be different it they put coke/crack on the graph, because that’s what I see; more coke/crack in the neighborhood, more crime. Less coke/crack and more pot in the neighborhood, and less other crime.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              and it’s probably worse for crystal meth.Report

              • Avatar Durr Derp says:

                Crystal meth involves a lot of trailers getting shot up at the trailer park.

                Maybe it’d be safer not to let the sort of people involved in crystal meth have guns.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Fuck yeah. But them? They build bombs. Get paranoid, you see.
                Nasty business, making that shit. And it don’t clean up easy, like.
                You househunting? Check for meth — you don’t want that anywhere near where you live.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Most likely; but since I’ve had no contact with that world, and it’s rise seems to match violence declining, I think we would see even greater declines in violence; the big difference being the $$$ involved, for as I understand it, there was a whole lot more money in the coke trade then the meth, to more motivation for gun involvement.

                But I bear correction on this if I’m in error.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                It’s bad out there, real bad. You don’t see it as much in the cities. Meth is countryside bullshit, and leads to a lot of violence.

                Out here, you don’t stop to help someone on the highway. You might get ambushed.

                And people thought I was crazy for telling folks to not get badly lost in Tennessee!

                Fayette County — the state troopers call it Fayettenam. It’s a place you dont’ want to go, don’t want to stop.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Pretty much reflects what I know about it, all learned from watching True Blood. (And I haven’t for over a year, since we dumped the cable hookup; don’t know if it’s still on.)Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Marijuana is just bad for you.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Mmmmkay Mr. Mackey.

      (I got yr joke but I can’t help but hear the South Park teacher’s voice in my head when I see “MJ” and “bad” in the same sentence).Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s worth pointing out that marijuana arrests are generally done on a catch-and-release basis. Violent criminals outnumber drug offenders in prison by about two to one. I don’t know what percentage of drug offenders in prison are there for marijuana alone, but I imagine it’s a fairly small fraction, with an even smaller fraction there for simple possession.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      You’ll often see people giving statistics on federal prisoners that show a much higher percentage of drug offenders. This is misleading because the number of federal prisoners is a small fraction of the number of state prisoners, and is heavily skewed towards drug offenders because most violent and property crimes fall under state jurisdiction.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      “marijuana arrests are generally done on a catch-and-release basis.”

      If true this would be appropriate, since on net it’s very difficult to become hooked on marijuana; but something sounds fishy to me about this statement.

      For example, CA knocked down their “3 Strikes” laws, but I believe some other states still have similar laws on the books. In those states, exceeding the limit would presumably fish one up.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      This say 12% , it passes the smell test.Report