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.

Eugenics and Population


Population Problems in the United States and Canada: An Outgrowth of Papers Presented at the Eighty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, December, 1924

Book by Louis I. Dublin; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926





THE ascertainment of the way in which the health movement will probably affect the population of the future is a many-sided problem. It is often assumed that the advancement of medicine and hygiene is bound to cause a certain amount of racial deterioration because the weaklings are thereby kept from being eliminated by natural selection. Mr. A. E. Wiggam, for instance, warns us that medicine and hygiene 'are weakening, will weaken the human breed.' 'Vice and disease,' he tells us, 'purify the race because they kill the weak and vicious. They leave the strong, robust, and virtuous to hand the torch of heredity to men unborn.' Possibly this is true. A priori, it sounds sufficiently reasonable. But it may be only partly true, and there may be counter-tendencies which, even from the standpoint of eugenics, serve to offset some of the racial ills which result from the saving of more lives. At any rate, the conclusion is one which requires careful scrutiny if our acts are to be in any way affected by it.

No one, so far as I am aware, recommends the cessation of medical aid and public health activities on account of their alleged injurious effects upon our racial vigor. Prospects of decadence through the decline of the death-rate are generally cited to impress us with the urgency of eugenic reform. But the chief occasion for alarm from the eugenical standpoint is to be found, I believe, more in the anomalous distribution of birth-rates than in the mere reduction of mortality. After all, it is the differential birth-rate that counts in evolution. It is birth, not death, that leads on to further development, the death of the unfit being favorable to advancement simply because it prevents the unfit from producing inferior progeny. If the unfit were not eliminated, but merely failed to reproduce, the outcome would be very much the same.