Monday, May 15, 2006

Facial Profiling :: Farkonomics

Today we resume the irregular farkonomics feature at The Emirates Economist. Our subject, racial profiling.

From yesterday's The Sunday Times of London:

Cameras set racial poser on car crime
Dipesh Gadher, Transport Correspondent

BRITAIN’S most senior policeman Sir Ian Blair is facing a race relations dilemma after the release of figures that reveal almost half the number of people arrested in relation to car crime in London are black.

Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, has signed off a report by his force’s traffic unit which shows that black people account for 46% of all arrests generated by new automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

Dear Reader, one of my blogging secrets is that I am regular reader of Fark. Sometimes credited, sometimes not, Fark is often my source for stuff that interests me and shows up on this blog.

Fark works like this. A reader submits a news article for listing in Fark, giving it an amusing headline. Next, moderators at Fark decide whether to accept the submission - to post the link and headline. Once an item is posted anyone can also comment on it. Comments are also moderated. Fark steers me to interesting articles I would often otherwise miss, and it attracts commenters who add value to the media's product. Probably Fark attracts folks that have similar tastes to mine which is why it works for me and might not work for you. But if you are a regular reader of this blog that says something about your tastes.

In the case before us, the media's product is the Times article quoted above. One might expect such an article to attract comments by farkers that are ignorant or racist. Not so. At least under the Fark system comments are witty, ironic, and intelligent - all of which will mean that those ready to be offended will be, but avoiding offense often leads to avoiding the question.

The comments on the Times article certainly add value to the article. Here is a great comment written by Godwin which he opens with a quote from the article:
The report tacitly appears to address concerns among ethnic minority communities who believe they are unfairly targeted by the police through stop and search powers. Black people are up to six times more likely to be stopped than whites.

Let's assume the cameras are truly non-partial. According to the article, 45.6% of crimes caught through the camera system are perpetrated by blacks, while 36% come from white backgrounds. According to the most recent census, 11% of London is black and 71% is white. The relative crime rate between black and white Britons (again, assuming the cameras are impartial) is then given by the ratio of the percentage of crimes perpetrated by blacks times the percentage of whites to the percentage of crimes perpetrated by whites times the percentage of blacks (the math's pretty easy, work it out yourself).

If you plug in these numbers, then black Britons are 9 times more likely to commit a crime than white Britons. Meanwhile, blacks are "up to" only six times more likely to be stopped by police. Therefore, British cops are more likely to pull over a white suspect than a black suspect when the relative crime rates between the two groups are normlized out. QED

The flaw in this analysis is that the cameras are concentrated in Southwark and Lewisham. If you plug in the numbers for Southwark, blacks appear to be only 5 times more likely to commit a crime. If you plug in the numbers for Lewisham, blacks appear to be only 4 times more likely. Therefore the rate of blacks being stopped by British police is closer to what it should be considering relative crime rates (keeping in mind that the figure was "up to" six times).

That was pretty pointless, but hey, I was curious.
(All formating is Godwin's.)

The Times headline refers to a "racial poser." A poser is a baffling question or problem. I like the word and how it has been used by the Times writer. In the article the writer goes on to talk about feelings that exist, feelings that could be legitimate as long as we remain in a state of bafflement. And fail to present some facts. But there's not much in the way of making sense of those facts.

If analysis like Godwin's was in the article itself, then you'd have some powerful journalism. Sometimes we have to do the analysis for ourselves, as Godwin did. Sometimes we can find the answer at places like Fark, or even at a humble blog. The article is now much more useful. Once Godwin's analysis is out there others may find a flaw in his reasoning, but at least now we are reasoning about what the numbers mean and not expressing how we feel.

Bloggers may often work in their flannels, but that is immaterial. What matters is that the good ones are not merely cutting pasting and ranting. They are taking the mainstream media's product and adding value. You are the beneficiary.

TAGS: farkonomics, ,

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Blogger grapeshisha said...

Good post, and fair point about the c&p (or copy paste which I often hear it called) which I am often at fault with.

Aside, I just finished freakonomics, which was one of best reads of the year so far. (and a year after everyone else read it) Am sure your farkonomics theme has got significant leeway, even if it is focused on the UAE! Look forward to the book spinoff!

3:43 PM  

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