There has been a host of recent articles and books decrying the use of “big data” to make decisions about individual behaviors. This is true in commerce (Amazon, Facebook, etc.), but also true in criminal justice, my field of research. Moreover, some of the algorithms that forecast dangerousness are proprietary, making it all but impossible to determine the basis for challenging a sentence based on the algorithm’s outcome. Recent books, such as Weapons of Math Destruction and The Rise of Big Data Policing, underscore the dangers of such activity. This is the essence of an autopilot approach to forecasting behavior – hands off the wheel, leave the driving to us.
There is some research that supports this type of algorithmic decision-making. In particular, Paul Meehl, in Clinical versus Statistical Prediction, showed that, overall, clinicians were not as good as statistical methods in forecasting failure on parole, as well as the efficacy of various mental health treatments. True, this book was written over fifty years ago, but it seems to have stood the test of time.
It is dangerous, however, to relegate to the algorithm the last word, which all too many decision-makers are wont to do (and against which Meehl cautioned). All too often the algorithms, often based on so-so (i.e., same-old, same-old) variables – age, race, sex, income, prior record – are used to “predict” future conduct, ignoring other variables that may be more meaningful on the individual level. And the algorithms may not be sufficiently sensitive to real differences: two people may have the same score even though one person may have started out doing violent crime and then moved on to petty theft, while the other may have started out with petty crime and graduated to violent crime.
That is, the fact that a person has a high recidivist score based on the so-so variables should be seen as a threshold issue, a potential barrier to stopping criminal activity. It should be followed by a more nuanced look at the individual’s additional life experiences (which do not fit into simple categories, and therefore cannot be included as “variables” in the algorithms). That is, everyone has an age and a race, etc., but not everyone was abused as a child, was born in another country, or spent their teen years shuffling through foster homes. Therefore, these factors (and as important, the timing and sequence of these factors) are not part of the algorithm but may be as determinative of future behavior as the aforementioned variables. This is the essence of a power steering approach to forecasting behavior – you crunch the data, but I decide how to use it and where to go.
Regarding power steering, I’m sure that many of you would rather look at an animated map of weather heading your way than to base your decisions (umbrella or not?) on a static (autopilot) weather forecast (BTW, does a 30 percent chance of rain refer to the likelihood of my getting wet in a given time period or to the fact that 30% of the area will be rainy and may skip me entirely?). The same issues are there in crime analysis. A few years ago I coauthored a book on crime mapping, which introduced the term that heads this post. In that book we described the benefit of giving the crime analyst the steering wheel, to guide the analysis based on his/her knowledge of the unique time and space characteristics of the areas in which the crime patterns developed.
In summary, there’s nothing wrong with using big data to assist with decision-making. The mistake comes in when using such data to forecast individual behavior, to the exclusion of information that is not amenable to data-crunching because it is highly individualistic – and may be as important in assessing behavior than the aforementioned variables.
It’s a punch in the gut to hear of John McCain’s serious brain cancer. I generally disagree with him on almost everything. I still find much to admire about him. And he had that genuinely great moment in the 2008 campaign.
Wow what a contrast to someone else we could mention.
On some personal level, Senator McCain has simply been a presence our lives for a quarter-century. His physical fragility provides yet another reminder of some basic realities in human life.
I and most of my friends on the Obama campaign never bore personal animus towards McCain. We admired his service, and he reminded us of a cranky relative we loved but didn’t think should be President. We were genuinely shocked that Trump denigrated McCain’s service–and that Trump survived it. Still are.
One irony. Senator McCain’s cancer has apparently derailed Republicans’ repeal-and-replace effort. It’s the same cancer that ultimately felled Senator Edward Kennedy, a story that profoundly altered the trajectory of the Affordable Care Act.
I’m slow to outrage, but I’ve had it with the lying, fake-news press and the deep state apparatchiks that want to keep America ungreat. The president has stepped down from the comfortable life he earned by his unmatched business skill to serve us in the corrupt swamp of politics, but does he get help? loyalty? He does not, and we had better hope he doesn’t give up on us and walk out the door in frustration.
Democrats refuse to vote for the Republican health care plan he clearly instructed Ryan and McConnell to pass; is this any way to treat your leader? They endlessly refuse to confirm appointments on the thin excuse that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone for them. How hard is it to pass a stack of confirmations with the names left blank for use as needed? Is this the kind of obedience we expect of our lawmakers?
Don’t even ask about Mueller.
Most outrageous recently, and the main reason I’ve just hit the wall, is the constant sabotage of Donald Vladimirovich’s ability to get marching orders from his daddy. Putin is better looking than Trump, his women are more beautiful and more accomplished, he’s more ruthless, he’s killed more people and enriched more of his gang members, and he’s stolen way more money. For our nation to take direction from such a leader is probably the greatest gift Trump can bestow–of course he’s gone in the tank to him; how else is he supposed to know what to do day by day?–but at every turn, some treasonous, small-minded reporters interfere with the normal channels by which orders from Moscow could flow. The secret link through the Russian Embassy Jared creatively tried to set up, the secret meeting at the G20 dinner, the meeting Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort took with
1 2 3 4 5 Russian messengers last spring, the tireless efforts of Flynn, and more: one after the other essential tool of governance torn from workable secrecy and left to dessicate and shrivel in public sunlight. Selling the presidency to Putin was the greatest deal the Donald ever made, and we’re stepping all over it.
Trump cannot be Trump if he can’t get confidential instructions from Putin, period, end of story. This treasonous undermining of basic governance tools by the press, and the leaking deep state fifth column, has to stop.
Nevada dispensaries reportedly running out of marijuana, just days after legalization. Nevada considers emergency rules to address shortage of legal weed. Sandoval signs order that could end Nevada marijuana distribution fight. Inside a massive (and legal) Nevada marijuana cultivation centre. Nevada half-hearted marijuana legalization guarantees a healthy black market.
Colorado tries to fight homeless problem that may have been triggered by pot law. Colorado state troopers search fewer cars for pot since legalization, but racial disparities rise. Pairing wine and weed: California dream or nightmare? Hanford, California allows cannabis cultivation, but where can you buy recreational pot on Jan. 1?
DC passes emergency legislation giving pot dispensing preference to black-owned businesses. DC arrests for public use of marijuana nearly tripled last year. With medical marijuana now legal in Florida, is recreational pot far behind? Facebook takes down pages of some legal Arkansas pot shops.
Marijuana industry gears up after New Jersey candidate backs legalization. Marijuana legalization debate keeps burning in Delaware. Push to legalize weed still on in Illinois to help solve budget problems. Michigan petition to legalize marijuana has 100,000 signatures so far.
Professor Ekow Yankah and I were interviewed on Detroit Today by Stephen Henderson. The subject was why the country took a different approach to the current opioid epidemic than it did to the crack cocaine epidemic.
You can listen to the show here. This is a brief summary of my own analysis of why we have had a more public health-oriented response this time around.
1. The opioid epidemic is afflicting white people and middle class people more heavily than did the crack cocaine epidemic. Historically, the country has tended to attribute addiction among oppressed groups as an indicator of moral failing worthy of punishment. That was certainly the dominant perspective on the crack cocaine epidemic in Black communities in the 1980s, which was met with a ferocious law enforcement response. But when a drug epidemic happens among white people (especially white people with economic resources, as Adam Gelb pointed out to me on Twitter, we were not particularly kind to dirt poor white meth-addicted people in the 1990s) the framing of the problem is more sympathetic and the response is much more oriented towards help than discipline.
Ekow made this point beautifully on PBS News Hour recently, and I find particularly powerful his description of how bittersweet the policy change is for Black Americans.
2. The crack cocaine epidemic had enormous associated violence. I was at ground zero on Detroit’s Cass Corridor during the epidemic and it was a frightening place. The violence came about in part from dealers shooting it out, but a lot of it was pharmacologically driven (e.g., people high on cocaine losing their temper and hurting or killing someone). Terrified by all that violence, both blacks and whites demanded tough enforcement and punishment.
The opioid epidemic has been far less violent. Much of the supply came from people who carry stethoscopes rather than guns, and pharmacologically, opioids usually have a sedating effect rather than making people aggressive. Less violence translates into less fear, increasing the likelihood of a more compassionate response.
3. An increasingly successful treatment/recovery movement has achieved major political victories supportive of public health responses to addiction (e.g., the 2008 parity law that expanded access to treatment). You can’t accuse those activists of doing their good work just with whites in mind because they’ve been at it since long before the current epidemic started. They have made a significant difference culturally and politically, and they have benefited addicted people of all races in the process. Good on them, they’ve earned their place in heaven.
Glenn mentions my Death of a Salesman essay, which is here.
These two characters should feature prominently, adding at least one dollop of humor to a national humiliation.
The Leaders’ Declaration from the just-ended G20 summit in Hamburg runs to 14 pages of dense diplospeak prose, 5,311 words. Can anyone point to a single line that is a win for US diplomacy? If there had been one, Trump would have claimed it.
Or in any of the 14 other documents “agreed” at the same time? Here they are, confirmation that German industriousness extends to paperwork. Site link if you feel up to it.
- Hamburg Action Plan
- Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth
- Hamburg Update: Taking forward the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda
- Annual Progress Report 2017
- G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter
- G20 Africa Partnership
- G20 Initiative for Rural Youth Employment
- High Level Principles on the Liability of Legal Persons for Corruption
- High Level Principles on Organizing against Corruption
- High Level Principles on Countering Corruption in Customs
- High Level Principles on Combatting Corruption related to Illegal Trade in Wildlife and Wildlife Products
- G20 Initiative #eSkills4Girls
- Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative
- G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue.
The media are concentrating on the one glaring defeat for Trump on climate. As I predicted last December, the other 19 have gone their own way:
We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions.
The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation … blah blah.
The US threat to help other countries backslide on their Paris commitments is empty. Even Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey refused to show any solidarity with Trump and signed on to the strong G19 statement, a major win for Merkel. There is no mention of North Korea, a major and immediate US headache, in the Declaration. Nor of Syria and Iraq. (The price was forgetting about the 2009 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, no date given then or subsequently. It’s still there on page 12(!) of the ”Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth” annex, but the action has shrunk to token peer review. This suits Merkel, who does not want to pick a fight with her SPD coalition partners on a coal phaseout, so the German policy of continued dithering is now officially the world consensus.) [Update: Turkey is joining Russia in delaying Paris ratification, probably to get leverage with the EU. Unlike the USA, Turkey is building coal as well as renewable generating plants.]
Why did Trump fail so completely? It not just or even mainly because he’s thick. Continue Reading…