The Reply All podcast had a recent two part show that I really liked. (You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2). My background in government and public administration is a big reason for my interest in these two episodes, but I’m pretty sure both of you will find this interesting and entertaining.
This thread will be place to jot down my thoughts on the podcasts.
If you really want to know a summary, I’ll give you one, but I think you should just listen to the first ten minutes, and if that doesn’t grab you, you can take a pass. Before I give a summary, I will say that part of what I think you’ll find interesting is the profile of one of the people in this. For me, he’s the type of fictional detective I’d really like (or used to) in a Hollywood movie or detective fiction. I think you would guys will find him interesting. Here’s a summary of the episodes. The podcast begins by chronicling problematic arrests in New York City. These arrests have their origin in a computer system. The podcasts examines the system, including the way it was built, how it initially worked well, and how things took a bad turn.
Can we really know what causes big increases and decreases in crime?
New York City had a big crime problem in the 1970s and 1980s, but at some point, crimes started decreasing, and kept decreasing over a long period of time. I was familiar with this, but as this point comes up in the podcast, I thought of the various theories to explain this phenomenon–e.g., the broken windows theory, reduction in lead poisoning and also making abortion legal and accessible. What stands out is the level of certainty advocates spoke with presenting their explanation. I believe in one instance the explanation began by dismissing other theories, claiming that the current explanation was actually the correct and definitive one. If we can assume that the causes and reduction of crime are complex (and I think this is the case), that they can involve several different factors, can we really speak confidently and definitively about the primary cause for crime and its reduction? Will we ever be able to?
(On a side note, this makes me think of using statistics to understand football. Football statistics seem to be a product of many interdependent variables, or they measure something indirectly related to some aspect of football. Will we ever had statistics and numerical data that will definitively give us the truth about football matters? If not, and we have to rely heavily on subjective analysis, we’ll never arrive at certainty.)