Thursday, May 21, 2009

E-Thugs-'n'-Harmony

Now, I'm all for using empirical data (aka "evidence-based" methods) to shape public policy, but just because some doctor to writes a test does not automatically pass the threshold of acceptable public policy utility:
LOS ANGELES -- In more than 40 years of studying this city's street gangs as a social psychologist, Malcolm Klein says his home was burglarized nine times. Now, the retired University of Southern California professor is offering the city what he hopes one day will help stem crime: A test that he says could predict if a child is destined to join a gang.
We'll leave aside the questionable wisdom of a man whose house has been robbed nine times, but there is something creepy and very (Philip K.) Dickish about commenting on anyone "destined" to be criminal. It isn't as if we're talking about hardened sociopaths who are incapable of feeling any sort of empathy or remorse:

The screening, intended for children between 10 and 15 years old, asks a range of questions on issues ranging from past relationships to drug use to attitudes toward violence. One question asks test takers if they recently had a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend; another asks test takers if they are kind to younger children.
I can only imagine some of these questions:

13. You get a "D" on an English exam. Do you:

A. Tell your mother that you'll do better next time and follow through
B. Come to grips with the fact you'll be wearing a name tag for the rest of your life.
C. Say "Hey Mom, look! I didn't fail!"
D. Smack a ho.

27. What is the best meaning of the following sentence: "The gentleman left his domicile in order to collect his remuneration from gainful employment."

A. The guy escaped from his nag of a wife to get his money he owed his bookie before he went to the bar.
B. The man left his home to pick up his paycheck.
C. Donde esta la bibliotecha?
D. That nigga done left his crib to get his n's from them hoes, cuz a nigga needs to be gettin' paid, yaknowhumsayin?!?!?

70. If you've gotten this far on the exam, the chances of you being a gangsta are slim because:

A) You've demonstrated an ability to read
B) You have followed through with an assignment, which is a sign of responsibility
C) You showed up for school today
D) All your clothes are not the same color
E) All of the Above

In all seriousness, this is a quote from the city's "gang czar" (How many czars does it take to run a democratic republic these days?):
"We were not relying on data," says Rev. Jeff Carr, an evangelical minister who is the city's "gang czar," leading outreach and prevention efforts. "We had gang-prevention programs, but no criteria to determine who was in a gang." (emphasis mine)
Well, failing to identify individuals who, wear certain colors every day or perhaps...I dunno...PERMANENTLY SCAR THEIR AFFILIATION ALL OVER THEIR BODIES may be indicative of a less-than-effective anti-gang strategy, so I can see why some in the community may want to try a new approach.

But why this test, with no remote proof of effectiveness?
This year, the test is being given to children for the first time, and officials say they will use the results to determine whether some of the city's $24 million annual budget for gang prevention is being spent on children who aren't at high risk.
Yes, folks, it's just another way to allocate money. Shocking, I know. Get an academic with an impressive résumé (albeit with a less-than-stellar home insurance rating) to create an arbitrary measure and we'll figure out how to fiddle with the budget because Raoul and Jaquan have recently broken-up with their Boos and harass their little brothers.

Just because eHarmony can come up with a test for romantic compatibility doesn't mean some retired Ph.D can determine with any degree of certainty who ends up bangin' and who doesn't. (Nor, might I add, is gang affiliation alone a sufficient indicator of criminal violence.)

If you want to decrease gang activity, eliminate their most lucrative business: end the damned drug war. Will gangs completely go away? Probably not--but without the money to keep operations afloat, the majority of the gang--those non-sociopathic, non-murdering members just looking for a sense of belonging and a little money to go with--will be much more likely to revert to legitimate means of living.

Added music bonus:

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