November 25, 2002



Simon Blackburn takes a piece out of Steven Pinker's new book, in the New Republic, saying Pinker took no notice of the recent Surgeon-General's report on youth violence, which challenges Pinker's thesis that culture does not influence violent propensities. Blackburn more or less says that Pinker didn't mention that evidence because he found it uncomfortable; about as serious an allegation as one can make about a fellow academic:

"There is also a rather startling absence of countervailing evidence, such as the recent surgeon general's report about media violence, or the well-known meta- study of studies of violence by Haejung Paik and George Comstock, which found in 1994 that media violence affects young people's chance of being violent about as much as smoking affects people's chance of getting lung cancer... the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with [those] meta- studies."

One small problem. The 2001 report by Surgeon-General David Satcher found next to no evidence of media playing a significant role in youth propensity towards violence. As I wrote at the time:

Just based on the limited research done to date, Satcher concluded, media violence apparently plays no role at all in the causing of late-onset violence (children whose record of violent crime begins in adolescence). It plays a minor role in early-onset cases (children who start engaging in violent behavior toward others before the age of 11). But even in those cases, exposure to media violence is only rated the tenth most significant risk factor by the report, behind poor parenting and parents who are themselves violent; and far behind poverty, substance use and natural aggressive tendencies in determining which children eventually commit crimes. If violent media has any impact, in other words, it has its effect before a child reaches puberty.

The "money quote" from the report itself was:

"Some studies suggest that long-term effects exist, and there are strong theoretical reasons that this is the case. But many questions remain."

Or as Satcher said during his press conference announcing the report (still in my notes): "Some may not be happy with that [lack of a strong connection], but that's where the science is."

So in fact, the Satcher report doesn't "flatly disagree" with Pinker. It actually dovetails with Pinker on the narrow issue of the effects of media violence, and with the other studies Pinker cites. Professor Blackburn should probably try reading his own citations before he opens his big yap about other people ignoring sources. (For the record, he also cites the Comstock study wrong: it correlated media violence and experimentally observed short-term aggression, not media violence and real-world violence... two rather different things.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:27 PM



From the National Post today:

"We cannot have equipment waiting in case it is used. Some complain that we rent [military transport planes] when we need them. But it is cheaper. What is important is to have our personnel to go from Point A to Point B."

--Prime Minister Jean Chretien. You know, a very common phrase in the Canadian Forces these days, when nearly every Canadian feels more should be spent on defence is we're "one man away from ____" (victory, buying new helicopters, making a meaningful international contribution, getting paid, etc.). Meet the One Man.

"The United States says, 'Well, you don't spend enough on defence.' Well, we could say, 'Hey, United States, what percentage of your GDP do you spend on medicare? You have 50 million people without health care... Do you know where the U.S. ranks in the world in terms of GDP they spend [on the military]? 53rd. Shame, shame, shame."

--Daniel Bon, director-general of policy planning, Department of National Defence

Okay, well, maybe two men. Silly me, I guess I always thought Canada's senior defence planner would be at least somewhat interested in defence. Evidently he's bucking for a civil service job with the health minister. Oh, well, everyone else in the CF is planning their exit these days... why not him, too?

For the record, according to the current CIA Factbook online, the U.S. is 44th in spending per capita out of 163 countries for which figures were available (Russia, Iraq and Yugoslavia were not estimated, so 47th out of 166 would probably be closer to the truth). Canada was 133rd out of the 163, tied with the Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

Posted by BruceR at 01:54 PM



(See previous entry) According to Jim of Global Howler, he has made changes to his website's information, in part to reflect the concerns brought up here and by readers in Flitters.

Specifically, according to Jim in a nice email he sent me:

--“Hijacked” has been removed from the Pentagon drill slide;
--The $43 million said to have been given to the “Taliban regime” now says the money was given to “Afghanistan”;
--Link to has been removed.

Both Jim and his critic Bill Herbert have both been passionate but fair defenders of their respective points of view on this one, which I think reaffirms my original point that there's nothing wrong with a conspiracy theorist so long as you can still get a dialogue going. Carl Sagan called it "falsifiability:" so long as you accept that there exists a mechanism by which your views could be proven wrong, and don't mind retracting when you know yourself you're in error, you still get a seat at the table. (Although it's also fair to say I have a little more tolerance for the received wisdom on Sept. 11 than Jim does, obviously.) I've enjoyed my correspondence, both public and private, with everyone involved on this one, and hope it continues.

Posted by BruceR at 01:24 PM