Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1972

Abstract

Statistics have an almost magical appeal in a "fact"-minded culture such as ours, among a people conditioned and accustomed to watch for-and attach great significance to-even the smallest fluctuations in say, the unemployment rate. Hence, as Darrell Huff graphically demonstrated in his famous little book, How to Lie with Statistics (1954), they can be-and have been-manipulated to terrorize or calm, inflate or depreciate, and above all, to sensationalize and over simplify. As Harvard criminologist Lloyd Ohlin noted recently, statistics are especially potent when "they give a sense of solid reality (usually false) to something people vaguely apprehend and when they 'prove' or 'document' what people already 'feel' or want to believe." Small wonder, then, that "get-tough" politicians bent on "proving" by "facts," statistics and other "evidence" that crime is overwhelming our society and that "criminal-coddling" courts and "soft-on-crime" liberals are largely to blame, have found vast receptive audiences--especially among the frightened and angry "unyoung, unpoor and unblack." Perhaps the most notable (but hardly original) examples of how politicians from each major party "selectively" utilize crime statistics occurred in May of 1968-when, for the first time since Gallup started polling, Americans ranked '"crime" as "the most important domestic problem."


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