63

It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be plausible


 

Despite plenty of evidence their efforts will be futile, the people who study such things continue to insist on analyzing the actual usefulness of the Harper government’s crime policy.

Decades of evidence on prison policy is being trumped by ideology and populist pandering, says an independent report on the Conservative government’s corrections road map. “Raw wedge politics — in place of studied evidence — is the new face of public policy for Canada,” Graham Stewart, one of the study’s co-authors, said at a news conference Thursday.

… Their analysis was immediately dismissed by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, who made a point of referring repeatedly to Mr. Jackson as “the professor.” “The professor has a different philosophy than us,” Mr. Van Loan told CBC Newsworld. “We think the protection of society has to come first.”

… Ian Brodie, Harper’s former chief of staff, told a McGill University symposium last March that criticism of the tough-on-crime policy by sociologists, lawyers and criminologists actually bolsters the Conservative case — because they are held in lower regard than politicians.


 

It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be plausible

  1. It seems to me that if Harper is planning to exit dramatically (and in a way that sets him up to later claim he is a man of principle) he might want to force an election on precisely this sort of highly divisive issue.

  2. It's precisely this kind of cynical politicking that depresses the hell out of me.

    Has a "tough on crime" approach ever achieved positive results anywhere? I know it feeds nicely into the "Conservative Politician As Tough Guy" meme, but has it every actually led to a decrease in crime?

    • Nope. Unfortunately too many of our fellow citizens are more preoccupied with mob justice than actually being safe.

  3. A few questions for anyone who cares to answer them:

    Why should we take Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stewart at face value? Doesn't it seem likely that they too are pushing a particular ideological viewpoint?

    How did sociologists, criminologists and lawyers get to be held in such low regard?

    In a democracy, shouldn't we take the public response seriously?. Maybe academics and lawyers need to think long and hard about how they might improve their credibility? Maybe they might consider that they collectively have contributed to this problem and that studies like this are making the problem worse not better?

    • It seems like the authors used things like "facts" and "data" and "analysis" and pointed out that things like "facts" "data" and "analysis" were lacking in the direction the Conservatives have chosen on crime legislation.

      Although I applaud you for your use of an ad hominem attack, perhaps you could review Mr. Jackson and Stewart's report and identify any flaws or holes in their analysis, as opposed to just assuming that they are pushing an ideological viewpoint.

      • Good advise to actually read the report before trashing it and its authors…a great pity Vanloan didn't take it.

      • I would think that people in a free society are allowed to make ideological arguments and it is not therefore "ad hominem" to ask if that is what they are up to. But, that said, if it is ad hominem to make such a claim isn't the entirety of Jackson and Stewart's argument an ad hominem attack on the government? Aren't they accusing the government of being motivated by an "ideological myth" (their words if Mr. Cheadle can be trusted)? If they can raise that sort of charge against others, why can't it be raised against them?

        As to facts, data et cetera, I wouldn't take any 236 page report at face value. Okay, they have done a lot of research, let's take at least as much time questioning and challenging it.

        As a pragmatic matter, "Here is my long and dense report, now surrender," is not an approach that is going to do a lot to restore the reputation of academics and lawyers.

        • I'm sorry, but what exactly have "academics" done that requires them to restore their reputation? Only in crazy land are people who devote their lives to a given subject are worthy of derision.

          • Oh Canada, our home and crazy land…

          • There are precious few things in this world that are as tiresome as the faux populist sneer at "elitism".

          • Yup. Climate scientists, wrong. Journalists, all biased. Academics, commie dopeheads, and wrong. And so forth…

          • Without getting into a very long answer let's just start from the hypothetical case that they have done nothing wrong. Even if, the fact is that the public doesn't trust them. If they hope to influence public opinion, then they should do something about it.

            It's a representative democracy. If you want to influence policy you have to convince the public and their representatives that they should take you seriously.

          • What makes you think that the public doesn't trust experts in their field? I understand that YOU don't trust experts in their chosen field, but YOU aren't The Public.

            Anti-Intellectualism is such a tired cliche…

          • Hey maybe I'm wrong and the public reveres sociologists and criminologists (although I'm pretty certain they don't trust lawyers much). But if I am wrong, then this should be a slam dunk right? The public will read about the report and punish the conservatives at the polls.

            But we both know that is not going to happen because we both know that Jackson and Stewart are only the latest in a long line of people to push this particular argument. And they keep losing. You know, if you keep failing to convince the public, after a while it begins to look like they don't believe you.

          • Who said anything about revering? I don't revere anybody for being an expert in their chosen field, I just don't look down my salt-of-the-earth stained nose at them.

            Conservatives across the continent have so poisoned the well when it comes to criminal law policy that the only people who are punished are the ones who dare to point out that acting like John Wayne may be fun, but it shouldn't provide the rationale for your criminal justice system.

            Furthermore, your line of reasoning is vaguely unsettling…something is only good if the greater public believes it, not if it's true, or right, or good policy. You seem to be espousing a view that the mob is always right. And that's frightening.

          • The short answer is that people prefer an easy answer over a more complex solution.

            Lock 'em up and throw away the key, at face value, offers the easy way out.

          • Until you run out of room to lock people in, or run out of money to pay for more room, more guards, etc. People in prison don't work to generate economic activity, and when they leave if they aren't able to re-integrate properly then they go on to further drain on the economic activity of the area. Meanwhile all those nasty guards and their unions aren't going to work with people who have no hope and nothing to do in prison for just peanuts, the P3 options seen around (I remember when Wackenhut the megaprison corporation, tried to get involved in a P3 med & max security in New Brunswick under McKenna) inject a profit motive into the system – and that means both cost cutting in operations and material, while padding the invoices being billed to the taxpayer.

          • Something doesn't seem quite right about your view of how a representative democracy should work. Your last paragraph suggest that our MPs have been elected solely on the basis of holding a certain set of beliefs. Once they are elected they will primarily use those beliefs to advance certain pieces of legislation; if anyone else has some information or facts that might actually contradict the actions contained in a piece of legislation then it is the obligation of those other people to make their case.

            I thought that the role of the MP was to represent all of the citizens in the constituency, it was to do the research and reading and thinking and so on that each of us would do if we had the time, and then combine the facts at hand with a small sprinkling of ideological preference to advance legislation that maximizes the overall benefit to all of those constituents.

            I want MPs to take an active role in seeking out the best actions, not just passively wait to see which of the stakeholders presents the most convincing argument.

          • I think you may have succeeded in distilling everything wrong with the various arguments above into one fine point as follows;

            "I want MPs to take an active role in seeking out the best actions, not just passively wait to see which of the stakeholders presents the most convincing argument."

            Well, of course you do. So do I but my idea of what constitutes the best action may (and probably does) differ from yours. So how do we determine whose "best ideas" prevail. In a representative democracy, we do so by asking that the government submit to scrutiny by an elected parliament.

            If you don't think that is working you have only one possible response: persuasion as I suggested above.

            BTW: You say "Your last paragraph suggest that our MPs have been elected solely on the basis of holding a certain set of beliefs." Really??? Here is my last paragraph:

            It's a representative democracy. If you want to influence policy you have to convince the public and their representatives that they should take you seriously.

            Where do you see me saying anything like what you imply above here?

          • I think you may have succeeded in distilling everything wrong with the various arguments above into one fine point as follows;

            "I want MPs to take an active role in seeking out the best actions, not just passively wait to see which of the stakeholders presents the most convincing argument."

            Well, of course you do. So do I but my idea of what constitutes the best action may (and probably does) differ from yours. So how do we determine whose "best ideas" prevail? In a representative democracy, we do so by asking that the government submit to scrutiny by an elected parliament.

            If you don't think that is working you have only one possible response: persuasion as I suggested above.

            BTW: You say "Your last paragraph suggest that our MPs have been elected solely on the basis of holding a certain set of beliefs." Really??? Here is my last paragraph:

            It's a representative democracy. If you want to influence policy you have to convince the public and their representatives that they should take you seriously.

            Where do you see me saying anything like what you imply above here?

          • If you are interested, I can share how I got from your statement to my inference.

          • Hi Jules:

            Not exactly sure how to proceed….but I'll start by confirming that you agree with this "I want MPs to take an active role in seeking out the best actions, not just passively wait to see which of the stakeholders presents the most convincing argument."

            Thanks.

        • "Here is my long and dense report, now surrender" is at least a little preferable to "Here is my unsupported and poorly thought out opinion, now surrender", isn't it? Yet the latter appears to be Van Loan's answer.

          • But Van Loan's not asking anyone to surrender. He is a duly elected representative explaining why he is planning to act in a certain way. Next election, he and his party will held accountable for those decisions. Now, I can understand that you think he should behave differently because you find the academic arguments compelling and if you can convince enough Canadians to go along with you, you'll prevail. If you don't you won't.

            But nowhere is there any principle that says the government needs to X instead of Y just because some terribly smart people say they should.

        • So rather than read and understand a 236 report you and the people governing this nation would prefer to just assume they are ideological?

          • The report seems to have been issued yesterday. I think it is a little early to be drawing conclusions just yet. A report of this sort should be subjected to years of close peer review before drawing any conclusions.

            It's odd, by the way, that these two seem to have gone straight to a public press conference with their research.

          • " A report of this sort should be subjected to years of close peer review before drawing any conclusions.

            But it's OK to go ahead and intoduce legislation without any research, based on ideology? I see.

          • Why is that odd?

          • It's odd because the academic world is all about peer review. Academic papers get presented to other academics for review and debate. Going straight to the public as these guys did is generally frowned on because it suggests that you are trying to avoid serious review.

          • Jules, they didn't do the research. It has been done by many, many others over many, many years. They just put the research into their report.

        • Actually, not in this case. There is a mountain of evidence, much of it compiled by the Government of Canada itself, that was completely dismissed without a single, solitary bit of reasoning for doing so.

          One of the silly facts that disturbed me was the numbers and the comparison with the U.S. over the years. I can't find the report to get the numbers exact, but I did watch the press conference. In 1974 or so there were 108 incarcerated for every 10,000 (Americans or Canadians, I forget which) and 91 incarcerated in the other country. In 2003 or 2005 or something the Canadian numbers were more or less the same (maybe 112) while the Americans were 730! Looking at the crime rates in those same thirty years, they have held comparable numbers (i.e., the Americans have always had a higher rate of violent crimes, and the difference between Canadian rates for violent crimes have held at the same level of difference. This comparative difference is true for all other types of crimes as well.) Now, if the "tough on crime" legislation had worked in the U.S., don't you think the crime rates would have gone down, comparatively speaking?

      • Well, there is a point to be made here. Statistics can be manipulated into saying whatever you want them to say, so you really have to examine such things as the questions asked, the people or area covered, etc. For example, you could say that 3/4 of people who go through Canada's justice system never re-commit the crime they went to jail for… however, if you leave out the fact that (a) you only kept track of them for four months afterwards, and (b) they went to jail again for a DIFFERENT crime… there's some misleading information being spread here.

        For someone with an ideological agenda, statistics is an art wherein you tell the truth, but just not the whole truth. It's like selective quoting.

        • I agree, but then you just made an actual argument disputing a statistic rather than trashing the reputation of the author's profession. A line of argument I have much more respect for than JulesAime's.

          • What's odd (back to Jules) is that you're focusing on the motives of the gentleman who prepared the report, rather than the report itself. What is does do is analyze of the policy of the government from 2007 outlining their plans for the criminal justice system.
            According to boatloads of data from around the world (and a lot from just to the south of us), "tough on crime" policies neither reduce crime nor keep people in jail longer. So, maybe there's a middle ground between "country club" prisons the left are accused of supporting, and the "gulag" style of prison that the right supposedly dreams about. Unfortunately, both sides seem to be preoccupied with scaring the crap out of each others' voters with "Libs will let the baby killers run a daycare in your backyard" or "Cons will take away all your rights and put old ladies in jail for littering". So, when a cabinet minister responds to legitimate questions regarding their policy with "“We think the protection of society has to come first.”, it is, sadly, business as usual.

      • Yet it exists, and at least part of JA's point (I believe) is that if the folks who support the professors should take that reality into account they might have a better chance of succeeding.

        Removing truthiness from public policy debates is a separate battle.

    • If the public believes that heavier things fall faster than light things, should we base our safety standards on this? This is essentially what we're doing with the general public's belief that a "tough on crime" stance is useful. It has been shown, repeatedly, that this stance not only doesn't work, but ends up being counter productive.

      The argument your using is a logical fallacy known as "appeal to the masses" it is a derivative of the "appeal to authority" type of argument, only it is even less likely to be valid.

      As a pragmatic matter, nobody is suggesting "Here is my long and dense report, now surrender" they're only suggesting that "Perhaps you want to know what the hell you're talking about before you open your trap."

    • Why should we take Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stewart at face value? Doesn't it seem likely that they too are pushing a particular ideological viewpoint?

      Why, you ask? Simple. Because the G&M called them and their John Howard Society independent. So its readers who happen to not like Harper's Tories can accept the rebuke without having to think too hard. That's why.

  4. A few questions for anyone who cares to asnwer them:

    Why should we take Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stewart at face value? Doesn't it seem likely that they too are pushing a particular ideological viewpoint?

    How did sociologists, criminologists and lawyers get to be held in such low regard?

    In a democracy, shouldn't we take the public response seriously?. Maybe academics and lawyers need to think long and hard about how they might improve their credibility? Maybe they might consider that they collectively have contributed to this problem and that studies like this are making the problem worse not better?

  5. … Their analysis was immediately dismissed by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, who made a point of referring repeatedly to Mr. Jackson as “the professor.”

    I don't know why moderators in the media can't insist on little decorum when it comes to this kind of insult. I'm sure many of them have the ability to suggest, gently, that this kind of personal insult is not really appropriate.

    The Conservatives get away with this all the time because the media lets them.

    When the children are acting up, it's up to the adults to tell them to behave.

    • Ha!! And that would be the media??

    • In fairness to Mr. Van Loan, it's entirely possible he didn't know who had written the report..

      ..because that would involve, like, reading.

    • Jackson is a professor. It's an insult to state a fact? It's a personal insult to call a professor a professor?

      • I agree with you on that; I don't see anything wrong with it.

        • It's done with derision, that's the problem. If referring to someone as "the Professor" is meant to imply that the report's author has no real world sense, it's an ad hominem type of attack manifested through sarcasm.

          And it's total BS.

      • I agree that it's idiotic for "professor" to be an insult, but I also think it's more than plausible that Van Loan meant it as an insult. It's like how Tories talk about Ignatieff's time teaching at Harvard as though their talking about his time selling drugs to school children.

        "That may be how people at Harvard think…"

        I do often get the impression from the Harper government that they generally consider being well-educated to be a character flaw. Heck, I've even heard Flaherty speaking derisively in this manner, and he went to Princeton for Pete's sake!

        • It is an attack against credentialism. There's a big difference between being anti-intellectual like the Khmer rouge and being against the idea of a technocratic ruling elite.

          The social sciences are rather notorious for proving a number of things that just aren't true. The fetish for de-institutionalization led to crime and homelessness, urban planners gutted cities with urban renewal and towers-in-the-park that became the worst ghettos we've seen. All fully proved and encouraged by the leading lights of the day in those fields .

          Going to Harvard or Princeton is a good thing (or Queen's, U of T, Waterloo…), but when your whole campaign is "I went to Havahd and I'm sooo much smarter than all of you", it's an indication that you haven't done anything of note. Like people in their 30s bragging about their SAT/LSAT/GMAT scores.

  6. But will the new super prisons have Tim's franchises ?

    • Heh! That would keep the criminals gainfully empolyed too, don't ya think?

      • You always do the time for TimHorton's!

    • Clearly yes. Mr Harper was at the TH Innovation Centre to be re-assured that no one could hide little files in TH donuts.

  7. " Ian Brodie, Harper's former chief of staff, told a McGill University symposium last March that criticism of the tough-on-crime policy by sociologists, lawyers and criminologists actually bolsters the Conservative case — because they are held in lower regard than politicians."

    Dude. Ouch.

    • And why are they held in such low regard? Could one of the reasons be that blowhard idealogues like Van loan are not adequately challenged in their assertions?

  8. Lawyers I get. But sociologists and criminologists? How many sociologists and criminologists do you know? They seem too low-profile to me to attract such animus.

    Ah well, if Ian Brodie said it, it must be true.

  9. “The professor has a different philosophy than us,” – Mr. Van Loan

    Our government has a philosophy? I thought it was more of a rule by credo, philosophy be damned approach…

    • The professor probably uses correct grammar as well, the elitist windbag!

    • "The professor has a different philosophy than us."

      The professor's philosophy is that laws should be based on evidence, and potential for effectiveness. Tory philosophy is that laws should be based on emotion, and potential to attract votes.

  10. Conservatives prefer their science to be pre-Darwinian (:

    • I'm not sure that's true.

      I think many conservatives prefer their science to be pre-Pythagorean.

    • Do you save these classless insulting sweeping generalizations for Fridays, or do you enjoy being a jerk every day of the week?

      • My generalizations exude class. Must be the company I keep.

  11. Another pesky fact is that 5 out of 6 inmates has some kind of substance abuse or mental illness problem. Harper's plan doesn't even address it. Finally, who can deny Jackson's point that human rights in prisons is important to prevent the abuse of power. Remember Abu Graib (I don't because I forget how to spell it) and Guantanamo? Have you ever noticed the number of powerful people who turn out to be crooks? Say, bankers and investment brokers for example. Could that be because their power was unfettered?

    All the cost of all these new prisons, demonstrably shown that it won't give us the desired outcome, which we can know before we spend the money, and I'd think Conservatives (the fiscal kind) might want to look at this report. It's just a shame that of the dozens of media pieces I found on the subject, not a one mentions where the public might find said report.

  12. This is almost too gloomy for words.

    First, you have Mr. Van Loan repeatedly using "professor" as a slur. There seems to be this automatic assumption that education and common sense are mutually exclusive.

    Then, you have Mr. Brodie openly admitting that pandering to people's fear of crime to win votes was more important than actually keeping the public as safe as possible.

    And these people want a majority government?

Sign in to comment.