(The Root) — If you've ever been pulled over by an officer, taken an introduction to philosophy course or had a no-excuses parent, you know there are some strategies that never fly when you are debating. There are certain types of reasoning for rebuttal that just don't work. Enter the New York Post story by Jamie Schram and Kirstan Conley, "Gun Crime Up After Stop-and-Frisk Ruling," an article that takes several missteps in trying to establish causality between the repeal of stop and frisk and an increase in crime in New York City.
"Post hoc ergo propter hoc" is Latin for a common logical fallacy that first-year law students learn and love. Loosely translated, it means "after this therefore because of this." An example is telling a police officer that the reason you were speeding was that the truck driver was driving too slow. This type of reasoning may work in schoolyards but has no place in the urgent stop-and-frisk debate.
The secondary headline of the New York Post article states, "The recent ruling against stop-and-frisk has emboldened the city's pistol-packing perps." Connecting the ruling and the "pistol-packing perps" in a desperate attempt to establish a correlation between gun violence and stop and frisk is flawed. Also, a link between the court ruling and criminal intent ("emboldened"? Really?) is impossible to establish from any present research. Basically, a pistol-packing perp was a pistol-packing perp before and after any ruling for or against stop and frisk.
In statistical analysis, just because you have data does not necessarily mean that said data is relevant or validates your argument. Sometimes in research, in an exhaustive attempt to support your thesis, you may try to use data fragments, skewed sampling or non sequiturs to affirm your assumptions when, again, there really is no correlation. "During the 28 days ending Sept. 8, there were 140 shootings across the Big Apple, compared with 124 during the same period last year, the figures show."
I have been accused of being cynical more times than I care to mention. However, this time I feel my response to this statistic is appropriate: 16 more shootings in a 30-day period in this analysis elicits from me a "So what?" Modern-era research investigating gun violence finds increases and decreases are more attributable to a wide range of social, economic and psychological factors than any one court ruling for or against stop and frisk.
Second, can a brother get a source, can a black man get a citation when you throw figures around? Sorry that I digress, but the authors use unnamed sources for quotes in the article and data citations. The story continues with "And the number of gunshot victims was up more than 9 percent, with 164 people struck by bullets this year, compared with 150 shot over that month last year." Again, this data does not validate the narrative of the headline and is really another "so what" in my mind.
A more viable statistic that could be used in the stop-and-frisk debate (and would still be logical fallacy, but interesting nonetheless because it would look at the situation over the long term, versus 30 days after the decision about stop and frisk, a time period so brief that it cannot be used to establish neither a trend nor, in this instance, causality) would be this: The total number of gun-possessing individuals detained by stop and frisk during the 12 months prior to the repeal of stop and frisk, versus the number of of gun-possessing individuals detained because stop and frisk the 12 months following the repeal of stop and frisk.
It would be an interesting analysis, but again, not valid in establishing causality between the repeal of stop and frisk and the increase or decrease of gun violence.
One very interesting piece of data, which comes from the office of New York City's public advocate (pdf) and demonstrates the inefficacy of stop and frisk for extracting guns from the streets, was cited by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Of the 532,911 stop and frisks in 2012, only 729 guns were found. Additional food for thought to address the racial disparities in the administration of stop and frisk: Of those 532,911 stops, the NYPD found a weapon in one out of every 49 stops of whites, one out of every 71 stops of Latinos and one out of every 93 stops of African Americans.
Finally, the piece of data that refutes the hypothesis of gun violence being on the rise because of the repeal of stop and frisk was reported by the Huffington Post in May of this year: "The total number of shootings so far this year is down 22.4 percent, something officials attribute to an anti-gang offensive."
The New York Post continues the article by railing against the judge who repealed stop and frisk, using more appeals to emotions (perps aren't scared anymore, and police are more fearful of lawsuits than of gun-toting perps so they are not attempting stop and frisk anymore), which leads me to my conclusions about this piece by a couple of "journalists" using very bad logic in the stop-and-frisk debate. The article, with its catchy and sensational headline, does nothing to elevate or ratify stop-and-frisk proponents' side of the argument and does more of a disservice to the important debate about the societal impacts of stop and frisk. In the final analysis of the New York Post's piece and its flawed assertions, all I could do was sigh and say, "So what?"