Pseudo science is rampant on Facebook and this Slate article peers into Natural News, which has become a popular source of Facebook posts. The Slate piece reviews some of the ways the media outlet distorts and mis reports scientific findings.
This video reports on results from the DARPA “SSIM” program. Geoffrey Raymond (UCSB) and Nikki Jones (UCB) examined the social interactions between police officers and citizens in public. Specifically they looked at the role of acknowledging or suppressing citizen’s interests, goals, projects, etc. during a police-citizen encounter. What Raymond and Jones found was that when police acknowledge, rather than suppress citizen goals (even if they don’t go along with the citizen’s goals), then the likelihood of citizen non-compliance, hostility, or violence decreases.
Empathy is important in forming and sustaining social relationships. Yet, as Paul Bloom explains, for all the concern about “empathy gaps”, empathy does not help us solve all of our more dilemmas.
The NRA’s Wayne LePierrer made numerous empirically questionable statements. One of them is that media (television, music, film, and video game) violence is in part to blame for mass shootings.
I briefly want to address the empirical evidence for the role of media violence on violent behavior because on the right and left alike, and among gun control opponents and advocates, there seems to be a taken for granted notion that media violence and violent behavior are linked.
As of 2012, the research on violent media and violent behavior has not shown a consistent effect of violent media on violent behavior (Ferguson, Rueda, Cruz, Ferguson, Fritz, and Smith 2009; Valdez and Ferguson 2012; Trend 2007). When effects have been shown, they are typically in the 1-4% range of explaining variance in violent behavior (e.g. Anderson and Bushman 2001) and meta-analysis generally bring the positive and negative effects down to statistically insignificant levels or simply 0%.
Interacting factors such as exposure to family violence, street violence, and violence in schools (i.e. living in a world of danger and everyday violence) on the one hand and dispositional factors such as being male, genetic predisposition, less lead in the water (Nevin 2000), and even diet (e.g. Sanchez-Jankowski 1991) better predicts and explains violence than media (Paulle 2005; Ferguson 2007; Ferguson et al 2009; Pinker 2002).
There may be a role for media effects in how those that are likely to engage in violent behavior “stylize” their violence. For example, in gang violence, media may not cause gun violence but it may be relevant to the peculiar fascination that some gang members have had with shooting their guns sideways (not only a stylistic effect but one that greatly decreases their accuracy).
The other significant problem is that youth violence has declined steadily (van Dijk, van Kersteren, and Smith 2007) even as there has been a proliferation of violent media.
There is a great deal of police humor available on the web. The following email has been circulating and gathering attention in part because it deals with the tension between citizens feeling like they have been singled out for enforcement actions or are being harassed. I believe that most citizens, most of the time understand that if they are breaking a law that there is a certain probability that they will be contacted for an enforcement action. However, rational this background expectation maybe, I suspect that just like with health issues, when a citizen is contacted by the police they move from this probabilistic sentiment to one more of, “why me?” just as a patient diagnosed with a disease asks the metaphysical question to the doctor, “why me.” The police, on the other hand, instinctively answer, “I am just doing my job” and seem confused that this answer is rarely satisfactory to a citizen, however true it is that they are doing exactly what they are paid and mandated to do. The fine email bellow weaves deftly across these two frames of reference:
Recently, the Chula Vista, California Police Department ran an e-mail forum (a question and answer exchange) with the topic being, “Community Policing.”
One of the civilian email participants posed the following question, “I would like to know how it is possible for police officers to continually harass people and get away with it?”
From the “other side” (the law enforcement side) Sgt. Bennett, obviously a cop with a sense of humor replied:
“First of all, let me tell you this…it’s not easy. In Chula Vista, we average one cop for every 600 people. Only about 60% of those cops are on general duty (or what you might refer to as “patrol”) where we do most of our harassing.
The rest are in non-harassing departments that do not allow them contact with the day to day innocents. And at any given moment, only one-fifth of the 60% patrollers are on duty and available for harassing people while the rest are off duty. So roughly, one cop is responsible for harassing about 5,000 residents.
When you toss in the commercial business, and tourist locations that attract people from other areas, sometimes you have a situation where a single cop is responsible for harassing 10,000 or more people a day.
Now, your average ten-hour shift runs 36,000 seconds long. This gives a cop one second to harass a person, and then only three-fourths of a second to eat a donut AND then find a new person to harass. This is not an easy task. To be honest, most cops are not up to this challenge day in and day out. It is just too tiring. What we do is utilize some tools to help us narrow down those people which we can realistically harass.
The tools available to us are as follows:
PHONE: People will call us up and point out things that cause us to focus on a person for special harassment. “My neighbor is beating his wife” is a code phrase used often.
This means we’ll come out and give somebody some special harassment.
Another popular one: “There’s a guy breaking into a house.” The harassment team is then put into action.
CARS: We have special cops assigned to harass people who drive. They like to harass the drivers of fast cars, cars with no insurance or no driver’s licenses and the like. Its lots of fun when you pick them out of traffic for nothing more obvious than running a red light. Sometimes you get to really heap the harassment on when you find they have drugs in the car, they are drunk, or have an outstanding warrant on file.
RUNNERS: Some people take off running just at the sight of a police officer. Nothing is quite as satisfying as running after them like a beagle on the scent of a bunny. When you catch them you can harass them for hours.
STATUTES: When we don’t have PHONES or CARS and have nothing better to do, there are actually books that give us ideas for reasons to harass folks. They are called “Statutes”; Criminal Codes, Motor Vehicle Codes, etc… They all spell out all sorts of things for which you can really mess with people.
After you read the statute, you can just drive around for awhile until you find someone violating one of these listed offenses and harass them. Just last week I saw a guy trying to steal a car. Well, there’s this book we have that says that’s not allowed. That meant I got permission to harass this guy.
It is a really cool system that we have set up, and it works pretty well.
We seem to have a never-ending supply of folks to harass. And we get away with it. Why? Because for the good citizens who pay the tab, we try to keep the streets safe for them, and they pay us to “harass” some people.
Next time you are in my town, give me the old “single finger wave.” That’s another one of those codes. It means, “You can’t harass me.”