Friday, September 16, 2005

Then? Now? What does Statistics have to do with eugenics?

Ah, found something to confirm the use of statistics as suggested in "Tomorrow's Children" below. Today, rather than "biometrics," we us "Actuarial methods—i.e. the use of statistical rather than clinical methods on large datasets of criminal offending rates to determine different levels of offending associated with one or more group traits, in order to (1) predict past, present or future criminal behavior and (2) administer a criminal justice outcome—now permeates the criminal law and its enforcement."

Isn't that about what eugenists did? Doesn't "biometrics" = "Actuarial methods"? "And they have it all wrong," Harcourt writes.

The IRS uses something like it to guess who to audit. The police use something like it in "racial profiling." Here's an excerpt from


by Bernard E. Harcourt.

The common law method of applying precedent to the specific
facts of a case in controversy is a particularistic endeavor. But outside the narrow confines of the judicial decision-making process, I would argue, the vast majority of our judgments in criminal law enforcement and policy fall in the category of the generalization, stereotype, and profile; and, with the possible exception of racial profiling, we generally tend to be comfortable with these types of generalization. The general public and most academics generally support the use of prediction in policing and sentencing. To most, it is a matter of plain common sense: why would we not use our best social science research and most advanced statistical methods to improve the efficiency of police investigations, sentencing decisions, parole practices, treatment efforts, and general correctional procedures? Why wouldn’t we deploy our wealth of new knowledge to fight crime more effectively? It would be crazy not to take advantage of what we now know about the propensity to commit crime.

Contrary to what Schauer suggests, his is the majority view. It has become, today, second nature to believe that actuarial methods enhance the efficiency of our carceral practices with few offsetting social costs—again with the exception, for some, or at least publicly, of racial profiling. To most, criminal profiling on a nonspurious trait will simply increase the detection of crime and render police searches more successful, which inevitably will reduce crime rates. Although racial profiling may be suspect because of the sensitive issues surrounding race, other forms of criminal profiling—profiling the rich for tax audits, for instance—do not raise similar concerns. There, the calculus is selfevident: the detection of crime will rise, the efficiency of law enforcement will increase, and, through the traditional mechanisms of deterrence and incapacitation, crime rates will decrease. Most people believe this. In fact, even the staunchest, most vocal opponents of racial profiling support criminal profiling more generally.17

And they have it all wrong. This article challenges our common sense. It
challenges the majority position that most actuarial methods are beneficial to society. The problems that are most often raised in the racial profiling context, I contend, are problems about criminal profiling more generally. Actuarial methods in the criminal justice field produce hidden distortions with significant costs to society. We would be better off as a society if we deployed our criminal justice measures more randomly.

16 Schauer 2003:ix.

Read the whole thing (PDF). It's interesting and explains why we are going backwards - to a more cunning eugenics. No, the article doesn't say that, but read between the lines.


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