As part of our related coverage of mass incarceration, Tressie McMillan Cottom, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, wrote a piece for us last week that contends, “Every conversation about resources in the United States is also about race and racism.” Tyler Lane, an Atlantic reader in Melbourne, Australia, offers his stats expertise to address Cottom’s comments on the rise of violent crime in several cities over the past year:
A bit on my background: I hold an DPhil (PhD) from the Oxford, for which I spent a year and a half in South Africa researching the association between child labour/responsibility and familial illness, primarily HIV/AIDS. I’m not a criminologist, but I worked as an Assistant Statistician in the Ministry of Justice in London between completing my doctorate and moving to Australia. My expertise is quantitative social science and I am currently employed as a research data analyst.
My main issue with Dr Cottom’s piece is that her arguments—that racism drives everything, especially conversations about crime—strive to keep their distance from evidence of criminality in black communities. When she does engage with the data, it seems she does her best to obscure it. For instance, this quote from her on the “Ferguson Effect”:
Waves in the bathtub aren’t even that simple to explain, much less crime waves. No one with any serious training in data, statistics, and crime attributes isolated crimes to a national trend armed with only nine months of data.
Here’s the issue with that: