Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just a Jack-Knife Has MacHeath, Dear

Have I ever complained about journalists not doing basic research? Well, bugger me backwards, I'm going to do it again. Aaro: We are all stabbing blindly at knife crime.

I awoke to an absurd discussion on the radio yesterday morning. Some chap from a northwestern accident and emergency ward was reacting to what he and many others believed were government plans to ferry young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings.

Right, the Today programme has an exemplary website, where it is not hard at all to find all the interviews and reports from the previous week. How do I know he means 'Today'? a) Because it's always 'Today' and b) via - of all things - Sky News. (I missed the programme at the time our Dave was getting up (ten to nine), because I was already at work.)

The apparent u-turn follows a scathing response to the plans from opposition parties and doctors' groups.
Donald Mackechnie, clinical vice-president of the College of Emergency Medicine, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We certainly don't think it would be a good idea if then potential or actual perpetrators of knife crime were marched through to see these patients, who are in an extremely vulnerable state."

So, given the name of the 'chap' I could work out that DA meant the Today programme on Monday, 14 July 2008 08:50 UK.
And on Sunday the BBC reported on Shock tactics for knife carriers.

Mrs Smith's proposals will see young people caught carrying knives being made to go to accident and emergency wards, to see the consequences of stabbings.

To recap, Ms Smith has definitely suggested that yoofs should be taken to A&E wards. Mr Mackechnie (I think he's a surgeon, so Mr rather than Dr) has said (he's quoted correctly by Sky which saves me typing his statement) that patients recovering from knife attacks may not appreciate being put on show. He has not said anything about "ferrying young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings". (Probably because that's an absurd and unhygenic suggestion which no hospital would contemplate.) Dave made that bit up. His objection had nothing to do with the physical patching up, but to do with protecting traumatised and vulnerable people.


No, ministers' ambitions were limited to having visits to the wards.

Indeed, and that's Mr Mackechnie objected to, calling it "paramount to secondary victimisation in someone who's already suffered a horrendous insult to them." Very clear: it's not about interupting surgery.

Even so, the doctor summoned up an unexpected expertise to say that even such less dramatic mechanisms for confronting young people with the consequences of crime had been shown (in the US, of course) not to work.

I have no idea how he knew this, but when it comes to the prevailing moral panic, we are all experts now.

I do have an idea how he knew this: I listened to what he said. He cited the Scared Straight! programme (actually a film project). As Wikipedia has it:

Of course, it must be remembered that the program was the brainchild of a film maker, not a psychiatrist specializing in the rehabilitation of felons; therefore, the focus was on whatever theatrical value could be obtained by filming a group of hulking inmates scaring relatively young teenagers.

Mr Mackechnie actually has it wrong here. "The recidivism rate of the original two casts was less than 10%." Pretty good, actually. I remember the programme (god, I'm old). But if anyone knows anything about crime in the US, I'll be happy to print a correction if I'm talking out of my arse on this. Update: HA! Thanks to Anonymous (well he or she knows who they are) in the comments, we have "Scared Straight" and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency. OK, I relied on Google and got Wikipedia as the first result. This is so much better. Cutting to the discussion, we get the following:

These randomised trials, conducted over a 25 year period in eight different jurisdictions, provide evidence that 'Scared Straight' and other 'juvenile awareness' programmes are not effective as a stand-alone crime prevention strategy. More importantly, they provide empirical evidence - under experimental conditions - that these programmes likely increase the odds that children exposed to them will commit offenses in future. Despite the variability in the type of intervention used, ranging from harsh, confrontational interactions to tours of the facility converge on the same result: an increase in criminality in the experimental group when compared to a no-treatment control. Doing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the programme. Given that the seven trials used in the meta-analysis were conducted in six jurisdictions using different conceptions of the intervention underscore the high external validity of these findings.

Point to Mr Mackechnie and I apologise for saying that he had it wrong. How did the doctor know this? Because unlike our Dave, he's clearly used to reading real science papers. Unlike the brain-dead arts grad wankers who form the third estate.

Dave then goes on to be in the words of one comment a "tempered voice on the problem and one that reminds us to look at the facts and deal with things in a calm and collected way." Well, that's one way of looking at it. What he does in my opinion is ask a lot of rhetorical questions which are blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever read a book on criminology or sociology or economics for that matter. He pretty much wastes a column saying "there are weighty and serious questions which need answered." They do; I agree with Aaro. Most universities have sociology departments. Someone could have addressed all this, talked about actual research, and written an informative article.

What we got was a waste of space. Like a print version of Jaqui Smith, then.

Donald Mackechnie was followed by the man who "today takes on the job of heading up the national knife crime programme" Alf Hitchcock.

Janet Leigh.

Well, someone had to make that joke.

Frank "Mafia Boy" Sinatra provides a bad example to us all. (Lyrics Bertolt Brecht based on an original idea by John Gay.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

..... and supporters of a certain invasion should be forced to mop the floors in Basra Central A&E for a week.

7/15/2008 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger John B said...

"What he does in my opinion is ask a lot of rhetorical questions which are blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever read a book on criminology or sociology or economics for that matter."

...which is still better than the ill-informed crap from rightwing commentators (and Neil Clark) about how knife crime is T3h Ev1lz, broken society, etc, etc, featuring no sign of any knowledge whatsoever of any understanding of criminology, sociology or economics.

If every knife crime editorial read like Aaro's, the world would be a better place, people would be a bit less paranoid and the debate would be a bit less poisoned...

7/15/2008 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

John, I largely agree with you, but I think the point of newspapers is to tell me stuff I don't know. Aaro's quite capable of writing an article considering the answers to any one of those questions, and his column would be much better if he had.

This is an area which has been studied in great depth. It's interesting to sociologists and anthropologists because it approaches issues like group violence (and therefore, possibly, war) in the raw. It's fairly well funded because governments actually want to know this stuff.

And it's been done several times in history. Societies these days have been disarmed. I don't quite know how it happened, but it worked. None of this is a mystery. It's not magic. Aaro's saying that it's dark and he's blaming everyone for not turning a light on.

7/16/2008 05:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A number of prison vistation programmes for juvenile criminals have been conducted in the US under the 'Scared Straight!' rubric. A systematic review conducted for the Cochrane Library (link) concluded: "not only does [the Scared Straight programme] fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior."

7/16/2008 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harry's place are printing what the observer won't - and nick is becoming less and less readable (try to get your head round the first sentence/paragraph):


7/16/2008 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT, but is there any word from the League for True Decency condemning Israel's swap with Hezbollah today? After all, their whole justification for the assault on Lebanon 2 years ago was that you couldn't possibly negotiate with these terrorists and it was far better to have a big, you know, kind of thingy that would really shake things up. So surely Brownie, Brett Lock et al should be lining up to condemn this capitulation - I suppose poor old Gene Zitver, who thought that Israel had won the war, will be too busy scratching his head.

7/16/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


mainly they seem to simply not understand the concept of the swaps.

7/16/2008 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Wasn't Bertoldt Brecht a Communist?

7/16/2008 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Lordie.

the liberal press, Liberal Democrats, a section of the Labour Party, the Met, the West Midlands Police, the BBC, a part of the Civil Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Lord Chief Justice and His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury

...they're all the bloody same!

Seal of Mel?

The Muslim Brotherhood is a subtle and skilled organisation as well as a repellent one. No one deals with it without paying a price.

Do you think he's got anything specific in mind, or anyone?

7/16/2008 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HP is almost beyond parody today on the Lebanon business. All the moral outrage over a releasing a man who killed a man and a child when he was 16, and has since served 28 years in prison, from individuals who were so vociferous in their support for a pointless war two years ago in which hundreds of women and children were targeted and killed, and a million cluster bombs left behind.

7/16/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Anon, duly noted. You've dented my faith in Wikipedia and the Intertrons as the source of the all wise - I suppose it had to happen.

As for the Harry's Place thing. See David T at 16 July 2008, 11:43 am.
David Edgar, as you well know slyly accused Nick Cohen of racism. [snip] Are you Nick Edgar?

Reply (6 minutes later):

are you David Cohen?


7/16/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And this Sunday Nick proves that Banksy is literally stealing money out of the mouths of the poor and hiding it in a scecret offshore account, along with his radical-chic accomplice Vivienne Westwood - when will the madness of the liberal-lefts tyranny end !

7/20/2008 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are we still watching Anthony? His latest review in the Observer contains the gem:

... Thomas drily noted that for all the tendency to denounce external enemies, more Muslims have been killed by fellow Muslims than ever died at the hand of Christians and Jews.

... as if more Christians have not been killed by other Christians than ever died at the hands of Muslims.

7/21/2008 07:22:00 AM  

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