All posts filed under: Criminology

Is Crime Genetic? Scientists Don’t Know Because They’re Afraid to Ask

The U.S. has made unprecedented strides in the fight against crime. Both violent and non-violent crime are way down from their highs in decades past. This is great news, of course, but the success could easily lull us into a false sense of security, believing that we have the problem solved. Indeed, what if much of what we know about the causes of crime is either deeply flawed or flat out wrong? Imagine the trial of a new drug for an ailment that is as intractable as it is lethal. Researchers find 100 people with the disease and give the new drug to the first 50 patients who show up to the clinic. The next 50 trial participants are placed into a control group and given no treatment. The drug has a truly shimmering success rate. As you may have guessed, problems abound with this experimental design. For starters, because it isn’t randomized and because preexisting differences among the participants aren’t taken into account, the study can’t answer the question: Did the new drug cause …

Does Religion Cause Violence?

The streets of small rural towns in United States are typically tranquil places, but they are especially still on Sunday mornings. On those mornings, people dutifully report to their local places of worship, pay their tithes, listen to the sermon, sing the hymns, and bow their heads for the prayers. Religion is a cultural bulwark; it is a glue of the community. But southern piety, like all incarnations of faith, harbors a dark history. One spotted with racism and contempt for minorities, and incredulity that women might do much else than sing in the choir. What’s worse is that there is no shortage of scripture from which to justify these iniquities. And God, at least in the past it seems, provided ready dispensation. More insidious are the acts of violence and aggression committed under the auspices of religion: the crosses burned, the houses of worship destroyed, and the lives taken, all with the apparent sponsorship of no less than the “creator of the universe“. Religion, it would seem — all brands included, but some more …

The Bermuda Triangle Part II: Dangerous Research & The Risks Worth Taking

Another clever word Sets off an unsuspecting herd And as you step back into line A mob jumps to their feet – “You’re Gonna Go Far Kid,” The Offspring   The late J.P. Rushton represents one of the most brilliant, yet oddly obscure, psychologists in the last several decades. Few would deny that Phil Rushton possessed a stunning intellect; his work on human altruism, in fact, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988. Yet, when he is spoken of in circles both within and outside of academia now, brilliance is not the first adjective that gets tossed around. Rushton’s interest in differences among human population groups would lead him to begin asking “dangerous” questions about how those differences arose.  His book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective (published in 1995) represented the culmination of much of his work on the topic to that point in his career. For Rushton, the book was his opus, but for many, it represented the detonation of an academic land mine. Make no mistake — Rushton was controversial before …

Criminology’s Wonderland: Why (Almost) Everything You Know About Crime is Wrong

When you say ‘hill’ the Queen interrupted, “I could show you hills, in comparison with which you’d call that a valley.” ‘No I shouldn’t’ said Alice, surprised at contradicting her at last: ‘a hill can’t be a valley, you know. That would be nonsense—. – Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll Consider what it would be like to meet the Red Queen.  Not only is she boisterous and overbearing, but she’s also convinced that your perceptions of the world are wrong. Science often behaves like the Red Queen, leaning over to whisper a little bit of craziness in our collective ears.  At first, we gawk at the nonsense spewed in our direction, yet with time, we realize that the world really does work like her majesty said.  A new approach to studying crime is doing violence to our intuitions about where illegal behavior comes from.  In a prior discussion, we introduced you to why this new approach was necessary. Here, we take you further into Wonderland and acquaint you with some of what we …

Ferguson Effect Detractors Are Wrong

Violent crime in many American cities began rising in the second half of 2014, after two decades of decline. The Major Cities Chiefs Association convened an emergency session in August 2015 to discuss the double-digit surge in violence besetting its member police departments. Homicides at that point were up 76% in Milwaukee, 60% in St. Louis, and 56% in Baltimore, compared to the same period in 2014; the average homicide increase among 35 cities surveyed by the Association was 19%. “Crime is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said St. Louis Alderman Joe Vacarro in May. July 2015 was the bloodiest month in Baltimore since 1972, with 45 people killed in 30 days. Arrests, summons, and pedestrian stops had dropped in many cities, where data on such police activity were available. The violence surge continued into fall. Homicides in Baltimore reached their highest per capita rate in the city’s history. In October, Attorney General Loretta Lynch brought together over one hundred police chiefs, mayors, and federal prosecutors in another emergency meeting to strategize over the …

What Does Science Tell Us About the So-Called Ferguson Effect?

American policing is in the midst of a challenge to its legitimacy. The police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in the summer of 2014 led to a firestorm of social media attention focused on police use of force against minority citizens. Social media and cell phone video fueled the viral spread of similar incidents across the United States in months to come, making police shootings a national (and international) conversation rather than one constrained locally to the jurisdictions where specific incidents occurred. Rather than speculate about the impact of so important an issue, solid research should guide our understanding and policy responses. Ferguson and related incidents resulted in civil unrest, microscopic scrutiny of police behavior, lawsuits, and officer terminations. Websites where citizens could post cell phone video of police-citizen interactions gained popularity, such as Cop Block and Reddit’s Bad Cop No Donut. This led some commentators, law enforcement officials, including the FBI Director, and politicians  to warn the American public of an impending crime wave. More crime was argued to be the result of …

How criminologists who study biology are shunned by their field

  – But what’s puzzling you, is the nature of my game. “Sympathy for The Devil” The Rolling Stones I am a criminologist by training, which means that I make my living trying to better understand the causes of criminal behavior.  My research specialty in particular is something my colleagues and I call biosocial criminology. What is that, you ask? The simplest way to answer that question is to clarify what it is not — biosocial criminology is not one thing. It encompasses various flavors of psychology, biology, genetics, and neuroscience all aimed in the direction of understanding why human beings engage in a host of disreputable, dangerous, aggressive, and, of course, illegal behaviors. The logic for approaching the study of crime in this manner is simple. Human beings perpetrate criminal behavior and humans are biological creatures. Simple reasoning would require that biology should play some role in the production of crime. For decades, however, our traditional criminology colleagues disagreed with us. They sternly rejected the chain of thought that I just described and chided …