Last year, when Joe Biden cemented his status as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, his work on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act became the subject of deservedâ€”if somewhat belatedâ€”criticism. While the intervening years have revealed it to be a highly problematic piece of legislation, those of us who were alive at the time remember the early 1990s as an era during which anxiety over violent crime seemed to be at an all-time high. Even worse, many criminologists at the time had predicted that things would only get worse.
The long-promised crime wave, however, never materialized. On the contrary, data would later reveal that violent crime began to decline in 1990 and plummeted throughout the decade. Here’s the thing, though: no one knows exactly why. Just about everyone in politics, law enforcement, and/or corrections has tried to take credit at one point or another, but none of their explanations match up with the data. Not all of the data, anyway.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (as if you had a choice), is to use what you learned from the chapter on causality and experimental design to evaluate two possible explanations.
The first possible explanation comes from Kevin Drum, a writer at the magazine Mother Jones. Although Drum is by no means a social scientist, he does a decent job of articulating the work of a handful of legitimate criminologists.
The second possible explanation comes from Stephen D. Leavitt, author of Freakonomics, among other things. For the record, I have a love/hate relationship with Leavitt’s work. His research ranges from laughable to offensive, but he does such a good job of explaining his methods that I can’t help but refer to his work in at least two of my classes. Also, you should note that this piece, which was first published in 1997, has not aged well. Just to give you an idea of how much the world has changed in the interim, Rudy Guiliani was still considered a respectable politician when it initially hit shelves. Anyhow, I left some sarcastic notes in the margins, which you may or may not find helpful.
After reading Drum’s article and the chapter from Leavitt’s book, you will write three blurbs, each of which should be approximately 250-500 words (yielding a total of about 750-1500 words). In the first blurb, you will use the criteria outlined in the textbook chapter to evaluate the extent to which Drum succeeds in establishing a causal relationship between lead and crime rates (6 points). In the second blurb, you will use those same criteria to evaluate the extent to which Leavitt succeeds in establishing a causal relationship between abortion in crime rates (6 points). Finally, in the third blurb, you will offer your opinion as to whether Drum or Leavitt makes the better case (8 points). The content of this third blurb should be based on the criteria necessary for establishing causality between two variables, not how you feel about one or both of the writers (or, for example, leaded gasoline).
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