Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Butterfield effect

It's no secret that the New York Times views those millions of Americans not living in the tonier areas of Manhattan as little short of knuckle-dragging, Bible-thumping yahoos.  Very often, its reporters are so blinded by this prejudice that they end up proving the opposite of what they set out to prove.  Often, this amounts to revealing their complete ignorance of high school or middle school math.  Recently, Catherine Rampell thought she was showing that the only way to close the federal budget deficit was to raise taxes, using data that showed the exact opposite.

This tendency is called the Butterfield effect, which is named after Times reporter Fox Butterfield, who famously discovered the "paradox" of rising rates of incarceration alongside falling crime rates. Here's another recent example.

Today, Michael Luo set out to show how concealed carry laws lead to greater lawlessness because criminals can obtain concealed-carry permits. His evidence was that, of the 230,000 people in North Carolina with concealed-carry permits, a number of them committed crimes. As Robert Verbruggen puts it, Luo's numbers actually show the opposite:
North Carolina has a statewide murder rate of about 5 per 100,000. Even without counting manslaughter, that’s 25 murders committed per 100,000 North Carolinians every five years. There are about 230,000 valid concealed-carry permits in North Carolina, so by pure chance, you’d expect these folks to be responsible for nearly 60 murders over five years. And yet only ten of them committed murder or manslaughter. Instead of “rais[ing] questions,” the Times has demonstrated yet again that permit holders are more peaceful than the general population.