Two Graphs on Crime Illustrate the Wild Disconnect Between Fact and Opinion in America

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I was talking to someone at a party last night (yes, I occasionally go to parties, not just political events! LOL) and I was talking to them about how when we were growing up back in the 1970s, our parents let us wander around the neighborhood, bicycle across town, etc., and that somehow we survived it all. Today, of course, if a parent does that they're liable to get nailed for the horror of "free-range parenting".Why have things changed in that direction? Is it because things have gotten so much more dangerous in recent years/decades? Or is it more because the media deluges us with "if it bleeds it leads" coverage, making people THINK that crime and mayhem are out of control. Like the person I was talking to last night, who when I mentioned that the crime rate today had plummeted in recent decades and was now lower than in the 1970s, when we were busy being "free-range parented" and somehow surviving it, simply looked incredulous/disbelieving, like I was making it up or something, couldn't possibly be right, etc.
I told him just go online and you can find the statistics, that it's not like there haven't been articles like Violent Crime Drops to Lowest Level Since 1978US violent crime is lowest in 44 years and half the rate in 1991, so why have we become the United States of SWAT?US crime rate at lowest point in decades. Why America is safer now.FBI: Violent crime rates in the US drop, approach historic lows, etc, etc.
Yet really, there's no reason to single out the person I was talking to last night, since I see this phenomenon all the time on a wide range of issues (also, see the graph below which shows widespread ignorance of the plunging U.S. crime rate): people simply aren't aware of the data/empirical evidence, and hold whatever beliefs they do for whatever reasons, regardless of the fact that they are not factually based in any way.
Harmless, you might think, except that these wrong/warped beliefs adversely impact public policy. For instance, to the extent that people believe crime is rampant, they might favor super-tough sentencing guidelines, militarized police forces, restrictions on civil liberties, etc. Another example: to the extent that people believe "Islamist terrorism" is a huge threat to America, even when More Killed by White Extremists Than Jihadists Since 9/11, it certainly has public policy implications. Finally, when people complete ignore decades of climate science, 99%+ consensus among scientists, and reams of evidence that the world is warming dangerously, that obviously leads to horrendous public policy consequences.
Sure, the corporate media bears a great deal of blame here, as do interest groups (e.g., the fossil fuel industry) who actually spend money trying to deceive the public. But in the end, I also believe that individuals have a responsibility as well. I mean, finding the articles I linked to above on crime in America, or the graphs in this blog post, took me about 5 minutes (max) of Googling. This really isn't that hard, which means there's really no excuse for people to be ignorant about stuff like ths.