Friday, February 10, 2006

Stereotyping: Pit Bulls, Terrorists, and the NYPD

A great article by Malcom Gladwell (of "Blink" and "The Tipping Point"). It's based on a story of a Pit Bull attack, but he pulls in examples from Terrorism, NYPD / Border Patrol studies, etc.

The final point is the recognition of the failures of generalizations based on unstable category-trait relationships (e.g. "New York is full of crime" and "Terrorists carry 2 bags and have beards" vs "Kenyans are good runners" .. read the article)

The New Yorker: Fact
TROUBLEMAKERS
What pit bulls can teach us about profiling.
by MALCOLM GLADWELL


A few good snippets:
After the attack on Jayden Clairoux, the Ontario government chose to make a generalization about pit bulls. But it could also have chosen to generalize about powerful dogs, or about the kinds of people who own powerful dogs, or about small children, or about back-yard fences—or, indeed, about any number of other things to do with dogs and people and places. How do we know when we’ve made the right generalization?
And now for the jump...
"Could a terrorist dress up as a Hasidic Jew and walk into the subway, and not be profiled? Yes. I think profiling is just nuts."

Eighty-four per cent of the pit bulls that have been given the test have passed, which ranks pit bulls ahead of beagles, Airedales, bearded collies, and all but one variety of dachshund. ... "When pit bulls set out to provide comfort, they are as resolute as they are when they fight, but what they are resolute about is being gentle. And, because they are fearless, they can be gentle with anybody.”

You’ll find nothing here about race or gender or ethnicity, and nothing here about expensive jewelry or deplaning at the middle or the end, or walking briskly or walking aimlessly. Kelly removed all the unstable generalizations, forcing customs officers to make generalizations about things that don’t change from one day or one month to the next. ... After Kelly’s reforms, the number of searches conducted by the Customs Service dropped by about seventy-five per cent, but the number of successful seizures improved by twenty-five per cent.

The kinds of dogs that kill people change over time, because the popularity of certain breeds changes over time. The one thing that doesn’t change is the total number of the people killed by dogs. When we have more problems with pit bulls, it’s not necessarily a sign that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs. It could just be a sign that pit bulls have become more numerous.
This one is for Andria:
I’ve seen virtually every breed involved in fatalities, including Pomeranians and everything else, except a beagle or a basset hound
Back to the mean dogs:
The junk-yard German shepherd—which looks as if it would rip your throat out—and the German-shepherd guide dog are the same breed. But they are not the same dog, because they have owners with different intentions. ... “It is usually a perfect storm of bad human-canine interactions—the wrong dog, the wrong background, the wrong history in the hands of the wrong person in the wrong environmental situation."
And finally:
It would have required, that is, a more exacting set of generalizations to be more exactingly applied. It’s always easier just to ban the breed.

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