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Badlands or fairyland? How to misuse statistics and confuse the public

Aug 03, 2011

from Rethining Crime and Punishment's new newsletter Truth in Justice:

If Truth in Justice were to have an annual award in 12 months time for the most inaccurate, misleading and appalling publication on crime and punishment, it is unlikely that anything would surpass Badlands: NZ - A Land Fit for Criminals by David Fraser and published by Ian Wishart.

While we were reluctant to give it any more publicity, the book is a self-contained case study of what can happen when someone with a set ideological agenda sets out to prove their position through false logic and the misuse of statistics. It almost qualifies as a serious hazard to public safety.

We asked three people to review the book. Each has approached it from a different perspective.

Murray Short - Badlands and Denying Science

Murray Short considers that the book adds little to the ongoing consideration of effective penal policy and is seriously inaccurate and misleading in many respects. To support his view he gives examples of Fraser’s selective use of data, misuse of statistics, internally inconsistent argument, limited research, false logic and invalid measures....

Read Murray Short’s Review

Wayne Goodall - Badlands or Fairylands? A book evidencing a serious crime problem or a work of fiction?

Wayne Goodall agrees about the misuse of statistics, then goes on to address another shortcoming – Fraser’s ability to quote (or misquote) an individual case in order to generalise from the particular. Goodall also pays special attention to Fraser’s analysis of imprisonment rates in New Zealand. In Goodall’s view, the book is either a brilliantly created story taking obfuscation to new heights or just the work of a seriously inept analyst. He considers that there is little in the book that is portrayed fairly and in places it is simply wrong.

Read Wayne Goodall’s Review

Kim Workman – Dissecting David Fraser

Kim Workman focuses on the last chapter of Fraser’s book, which sets out recommended changes to current sentencing policy....

While providing no research to support his claim, Fraser rejects the substantial evidence which shows that firstly, offenders can be rehabilitated and secondly, that there are psychological and sociological factors which contribute to crime. He also rejects the idea that the conduct of children and adolescents can be modified away from offending behaviour. His solution is simple – lock people up quickly, and for a long time. His sentencing policies are impossible to cost, but are conservatively estimated to be in the realm of $5 - $10 billion a year.

Read Kim Workman’s Review

Read the whole newsletter.

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