So, I attempted to answer some of the questions Matt has related to 2020's murder surge: https://postwoke.substack.com/p/20000lives

A few points:

-The FBI data will be nice, but the MCCA quickly released data for most of the major cities (Jeff Asher manually collected more and so did I just based on local news; error-prone I'm sure)

-Major cities account for almost half of annual murders (less that I would have thought) but murders are highly concentrated

-Across the reporting cities, murders went down slightly in a few, but mostly up, up to a 200% increase, with an average of 30%. Asher assumes suburban and rural deaths went up less; hence 25% conservatively nationally

-In these cities, there was NO correlation between the increase in murders and poverty, or the rate at which police were funded/defunded, or the number of guns bought in the state. (Fair warning, I used Excel and auto-linear regressions, don't hate.)

-I didn't bother comparing what party was in charge of cities or states bc it's a dumb idea

-The biggest jumps happened in cities where there was a high-profile police killing and large protests after (or, in the case of Seattle and Portland, just the protesting)

Questions I was left with:

-Why did murders stay flat in Baltimore? Are they just maxed out on it? Are people leaving the inner city in droves?

-Why did they go up so much in Ft. Worth?

-Was most of 2020's jump comprised of black victims, or was it proportional across racial groups? (Black victims made up more than their fare share of 2015-2019's increase in victims)

-Assuming this is driven by a breakdown in community-policing relationships, is it mostly on the community side, or the police side? Or totally mutual?

It does seem insane that we have to wait 10 months for important data.

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On what's being taught in schools, Wesley Yang's prescription is exactly right. And I definitely believe there is a weird textbook in Louisiana. But I also know what everybody outside the Deep South knows, and that is that we were all taught about slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights movement. This is not a known unknown, it's a known known. So I find it completely mystifying that Robin di Angelo and her ilk insist that most people weren't taught these things, and that American history as taught in school is some sort of racial nirvana. We all know this isn't true, and it's really peripheral to the anti racist central argument, which is that all whites are racist and we just need to constantly pay consultants to help us do the work. So all it does is make us seriously doubt everything else they're trying to argue for no upside.

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>But unfortunately, as best I can tell, descriptive work is low-prestige across broad swathes of academia.

This is the buried lede of the piece. It's really bad that social science academia wastes loads of time trying to establish causality for things that don't matter! Providing better descriptive evidence of stuff people care about is a much better contribution to the sum of human knowledge than conducting RCTs and natural experiments for things nobody cares about. Scatters > Regression tables.

And this is something common to both economics and most of the rest of social science academia. Ideology doesn't come into it - the problem is their priorities and incentives.

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Criticizing the timeliness of homicide data is reasonable, but it would be good to know *why* the problem exists. Jim Lynch is an extremely well-respected criminologist who ran the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2010-2013 under Obama, and his whole vision was to revolutionize crime data so that real time data could be used in policy decisions. What went wrong? You should just ask him. That's one benefit of being a famous journalist: People will actually answer your phone calls and you can tell us what they said.


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One of the genuine problems in social studies is really we don’t know what we’re supporting to teach.

Like in Math, the Legislature is pretty prescriptive. In first grade

We learn how to make halves and quarters in second grade we add thirds and in 3rd grade we do fractions. ELA is slightly less specific but we teach main idea in k-2 and add theme in 3rd.

“ Evaluate the contributions of various African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, veterans, and women.” Is 1/28th of 2nd grade social studies. You tell me what that means I should teach. I’m not interested in teaching the more batshit stuff but I could fit almost anything I want to here and be within the guidelines.

To have this trench war over a subject that’s not really taken seriously by anyone is weird. I’ve been teaching 11 in grades 1-3 and no one has ever cared about social studies and now it’s the most important thing in the world to politics.

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I was talking to my wife this past week comparing my high-school experience (private school in the South) with hers (public school in the North). We were able to make lots of comparisons about the English literature curriculum, but when it came to American history, neither of us remembered much about what was covered, because we both found it so dull.

In my case anyway, my high-school history and social studies teachers were mostly hired as football and basketball coaches, and academic subjects were a secondary duty. Needless to say, this did not tend to produce inspiring teachers of those subjects.

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"In my experience, lots of people sit through weird DEI trainings, roll their eyes, and then proceed as normal. It’s just a checkbox compliance thing from the legal department. The problem is that the DEI trainers themselves aren’t in on the joke, so they’ve developed some elaborate pseudo-radical ideology."

I don't understand why this is considered okay.

Freddie DeBoer had two articles recently that really struck a nerve with me about how there is no accountability for "social justice" dictates outside of them being essentially pointless. Its okay to force people to sit through "weird DEI trainings, [where they] roll their eyes, and then proceed as normal" because they have no real impact other than making everyone hate DEI initiatives for being pointless. But it feels like so much of the energy and passion of progressives around social justice get's caught up in the culture war and symbolic posturing instead of actual action taken to help people.

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The chicken example isn't that random--those stats exist because people trade agricultural and livestock ETFs, futures, etc.

Financial markets are really good at information discovery and dissemination. Conversely, there is no market for "how much critical race theory will be taught in the US in any given year?" and as a consequence, there is no reliable information on it.

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"What’s more, there’s what’s on paper and then there’s what’s happening in classrooms.

In my experience, lots of people sit through weird DEI trainings, roll their eyes, and then proceed as normal. It’s just a checkbox compliance thing from the legal department. The problem is that the DEI trainers themselves aren’t in on the joke, so they’ve developed some elaborate pseudo-radical ideology. And by the same token, it’s very normal for history teachers to go off-book if there’s something in the textbook they don’t think is spun the right way. "

Thank you for saying this! There is powerful disincentive for school systems to be open about what is taught in social studies and history: what ever you say has a very real chance of sending someone to the local news outlet, of sending outraged and deaf parents to school board meetings, and contributing to the certainty that all education everywhere is some lethal combination of incompetence and indoctrination.

This is not to say there is not lethal incompetence in education and in the classroom. Rather that it doesn't look as people expect. What history is taught, what books are read are nothing compared to the commitment to teach students how to write coherent paragraphs and essays. Not what to think, but how to structure a coherent argument.

There are over a hundred school systems in my state, which means thousands of individual schools under thousands of individual principals. When this is multiplied out across the whole nation, the idea the "education" is some monolithic thing, everywhere the same, should become obviously nonsensical. Even more outlandish is the idea one could get that many Americans to even come close to marching in lockstep about anything.

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> how is it that all the tech bros in San Francisco are convinced there’s been a surge in shoplifting and petty crime when the data says the opposite?

I think this gets to something important about crime stats- they represent the number of crimes reported to and accepted by the police department.

If the police department refuses to accept reports, or systematically minimises crimes, the data will be bad. If people believe that reporting crime won't do anything, they won't report it.

Walgreens closed ten stores because of theft in SF, I am not sure why people get skeptical about this. Drug stores have been pretty essential and open all pandemic. This is a strange and local thing.

More epistemic humility! Preface all national crime statistics with a catechism about how they are collected in diverse ways with diverse standards and come with the warning that they should not be used to make comparisons!

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The strongest bias in journalism is the bias towards giving the reader the impression that by reading the article, they are informed as to what happened.

In one case, a reporter friend who works at a major paper told me privately that they believe a particular person was shot by the mafia because of romantic rivalry, but that they feared reprisal if they ran that, so instead they just extensively quoted a government official who said the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. I asked, why not just run that you believe you know who shot the gun and why, but can't tell the reader for fear of reprisal? And, tell the reader that you believe the government is not telling the truth? They didn't have a reason, besides just that their paper would never, ever run such a story.

This was the refreshing genius of Gawker -- they had an institutional culture of always telling the reader what they believed to be true, period.

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I know it was a military thing that predates Rumsfeld making it famous, and his application with regard to WMDs in Iraq was completely ghoulish, but the Known-Unknown Punnett square matrix is a fantastically useful decision matrix and has got to be one of the more useful things ever popularized by one of histories worst ppl lol

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OK, I have to point out that Dr. Love's work helping teachers be less racist is not morally the same as racist history books. Setting aside the fact that the textbooks are meant to be seen by children while Love's work is meant to be seen by professional educators, the goal of her book is to persuade teachers to be nicer to their black and brown students. The goal of those history books is to tell racist lies to children.

The article Matt links to is just three paragraphs, each an anecdote of professional educators being mean to black and brown kids. That's it. It does not deserve to be lumped in with myths about the War of Northern Aggression and the nobility of General Lee.

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As hot takes go, Matt, this is pretty tepid.

Of course we should collect more data on important issues in public policy. There's just no controversy here.

Who is going to say, "no, we should make the country stupider and make our policies worse by outlawing data collection"? Who is going to be so comically villainous as to forbid health workers from collecting info on important causes of death?


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Like Matt has said that to many people inflation means “the price of gas and maybe milk”, to many ordinary people the crime rate means, “the rate of murder, robbery, and unfortunate public interactions, possibly weighted in that order”. (AKA “how safe do I feel?”)

I see this in the controversy in San Francisco—no matter how much progressive politicians and activists tell the public that crime overall is down, people don’t care because the crime they care about is up.

And progressives often have really bad messaging about this—one assistant to the DA locked her Twitter after she compared a citizen complaining about not feeling safe in public to the KKK. I think this is because it’s become normalized on the progressive left that everyone who disagrees with you is a racist arguing in bad faith, which is a bad way to treat constituents even when true. Telling people that their fears make them bad people is a losing strategy.

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Headline should have been, "Yes, you can count chickens before they're hatched,..., but not other important stuff". LOL

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