09 December 2009

Paying Liddle attention

I really don't want to talk about Rod Liddle, but I feel drawn towards his odious journalistic malfeasance like a moth to the flame. At the risk of giving him the oxygen of publicity, in last week's Spectator magazine, the journal of choice for all swivel-eyed loons, he wrote what he probably thinks is a "brave" article about race and crime in the UK. Once again he was speaking the unspeakable, or in his case writing the unreadable. Here's a sample, to give you a taste of what passes for work in Rod's world:

The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is [sic] carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community. Of course, in return, we have rap music, goat curry and a far more vibrant and diverse understanding of cultures which were once alien to us. For which, many thanks.

As with all good debates, at the beginning I should declare an interest: I think Rod Liddle is a crypto-fascist troglodyte, and did before I even read his loathsome article. He's Clarkson without the brains, Littlejohn without the sophistication. Hitler without the moustache.

Not surprisingly, the article has attracted a fair share of attention, and not all of it says "well done Roddie". Most of the ire is directed to the fairly fundamental point that he actually has his facts wrong (and he cites no sources in the article - for more detail, click here). Black men do not commit the majority of the crimes he mentions, even in London (which he scurrilously tries to extrapolate across the country). But to me this is missing the point.

Let us suppose it were true - in some categories it nearly is true - would that make him a visionary? The question is, as it should be always when applied to statistics, especially in the hands of a dyspeptic boor like Liddle: what are you doing with this information? He presents it as though it were the dispassionate, neutral release of pure data, untainted by spin or innuendo. Does Rod suggest that we abandon all our present crime-fighting tactics and opt for an approach based upon racial profiling? Would I be allowed to pre-emptively attack Afro-Caribbean young men in the street, on the statistical probability of preventing an assault upon me? Rapists are 100% male - should the police start to profile all men on the assumption they will attack women?

Sometimes it's hard to spot the inference, we are so used to categorisation. If I say the majority of knife crimes in are committed by black men, you might think I was making a statistical observation (an incorrect one, as it happens). But what if I were to say that most insider trading in was committed by Jews? Leaving aside whether it is true or not (and I have no idea), suddenly it doesn't sound so dispassionate - I am cutting the data to make a point, and a pretty unpleasant one.

Liddle believes he is the heroic standard bearer for the Silent Majority, taking a stand against the woolly-minded forces of political correctness. Whereas 86% of people think he is a racist dullard with mercifully limited publishing channels. Probably. But who's counting, eh Rod?

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