SocraticGadfly: 11/11/07 - 11/18/07

November 17, 2007

FBI criminal profiling – little more than psychics’ “cold reading”

Why the FBI needs even more reform than just being dragged into the Computer Era

Cold reading is what pseudo-telepathic frauds like James van Praagh and John Edward use to make gullible people believe that they can actually read their minds. It’s obviously unscientific. A practitioner makes vague, open-ended statements to fish for information. With the exception of fishing for information, your newspaper horoscope is the same thing, of course.

Well, Skeptic’s Dictionary author Bob Carroll, following up on a New Yorker article by psychosocial insight guru Malcolm Gladwell and an actual statistical survey (PDF) by the University of Liverpool, argues that FBI criminal profiling is little more than bogus cold reading.

Carroll notes about the Liverpool study:
First, the psychologists argue that profiling won't work the way the F.B.I. does it. (F.B.I. profiling assumes a stable relationship between configurations of offense behaviors and background characteristics, which is not supported by the research evidence.) Second, they note that the F.B.I. claims a high degree of accuracy for the method that supposedly shouldn't work. Then, they explain the illusion of accuracy as due to subjective validation.

And then, about the actual FBI profiling study Liverpool analyzed:
It also turns out that it shouldn't be surprising that the profile is bogus. It wasn't based on a representative sample. According to Gladwell, the F.B.I. profilers who came up with the serial killer profile, John Douglas and Robert Ressler, chatted only with convicts who were in prison in California. Furthermore, they had no standardized protocol for interviewing their subjects.

The FBI had been operating under the premise that serial killers fall into two types. Those who preplan their individual killings, based on victim age, race, sex, etc., for some particular psychological fix, and those who kill at random. They then assumed that each type of serial killer had a profile based on a different personality type.

Well, profiles were somewhat off in many cases, and egregiously off in many others. Gladwell says that in Britain, the Home Office studies 184 criminal cases which had profilers involved, and the success rate was 2.7 percent.

More below the fold (pretty long):

The problem is even worse than that, Gladwell points out. Ultimately, the FBI method of developing details that are supposed to belong to a certain type of profile, such as one type of serial killer versus the other, is unscientific:
(FBI agents) Douglas and Ressler didn’t interview a representative sample of serial killers to come up with their typology. They talked to whoever happened to be in the neighborhood. Nor did they interview their subjects according to a standardized protocol. They just sat down and chatted, which isn’t a particularly firm foundation for a psychological system. So you might wonder whether serial killers can really be categorized by their level of organization.

The Liverpool study went back and analyzed a number of specific killings committed by serial killers. They started with the idea that traits that fit in the profile or organized killer, or disorganized killer, would “interlock” with one another.

Not true. Most the crimes had specific factors that were a mix of both profile types.

And, here’s exactly how it’s like cold reading:
A few years ago, Laurence Alison, one of the leaders of the Liverpool group and the author of “The Forensic Psychologist’s Casebook,” went back to the case of the teacher who was murdered on the roof of her building in the Bronx. He wanted to know why, if the F.B.I.’s approach to criminal profiling was based on such simplistic psychology, it continues to have such a sterling reputation. The answer, he suspected, lay in the way the profiles were written, and, sure enough, when he broke down the rooftop-killer analysis, sentence by sentence, he found that it was so full of unverifiable and contradictory and ambiguous language that it could support virtually any interpretation.

Gladwell begins his article by noting that profiling has many of its roots in Freudian psychiatry, which means that, beyond being cold reading fishing expeditions, actual profiling work-ups are also often wrong in the same way that Freudian psychiatry is.

We of course have seen FBI profiling go tragically wrong three notable times in recent years, first in falsely implicating Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympics bomber. the failure to consider blacks as sniper-type serial killers, as was disproved by John Allan Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, and finally, getting the Wichita, Kan. BTK serial killer incredibly misprofiled while he remained at large for decades. Note this FBI profiling of BTK, vs. the reality, from 1984:
The best minds in the F.B.I. had given the Wichita detectives a blueprint for their investigation. Look for an American male with a possible connection to the military. His I.Q. will be above 105. He will like to masturbate, and will be aloof and selfish in bed. He will drive a decent car. He will be a “now” person. He won’t be comfortable with women. But he may have women friends. He will be a lone wolf. But he will be able to function in social settings. He won’t be unmemorable. But he will be unknowable. He will be either never married, divorced, or married, and if he was or is married his wife will be younger or older. He may or may not live in a rental, and might be lower class, upper lower class, lower middle class or middle class. And he will be crazy like a fox, as opposed to being mental. If you’re keeping score, that’s a Jacques Statement, two Barnum Statements, four Rainbow Ruses, a Good Chance Guess, two predictions that aren’t really predictions because they could never be verified—and nothing even close to the salient fact that BTK was a pillar of his community, the president of his church and the married father of two.

Now that we have strong academic reasons for saying FBI profiling (not to mention movies based on it like “Silence of the Lambs”) is pretty much full of shit, we need to get the Attorney General in the next administration to get the FBI’s badly needed technological updates to be done in a way to push seat of the pants, cold-reading “criminal profiling” to the fringes of the Bureau.

Let’s put this in the “War on Terror” context. We could have false profiles of terror bombers (witness Jewell for a past sample of that). Or note that Transportation Security “watch lists” are based n about the same level of scientific credibility.

Shoe leather detective work is one thing. But seat-of-the-pants hunches and guesswork gussied up as “profiling” is another thing altogether.

The Surge?

Try the surge in bribing Iraqi sheiks. $100K of smackers would make a lot of people loyal, as long as they knew there was the possibility of getting even more.

But, as the dollar goes south as fast as the Surge’s bump in troops is scheduled to draw down, will the sheiks, like supermodel Gisele, start demanding to be paid in euros?

And can you blame many Shi’ite leaders for being suspicious?

Hell, Moqtada al-Sadr might lead a Shi’ite Awakening for enough money, or he might not. But some Shi’ite leader certainly would.

Hell, Ahmed Chalabi led George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, et al into the Neocon Awakening four and a half years ago after he got enough U.S. perks.

More seriously, the article points out that many of these Awakened Sunni Sheiks may well be double agents, drinking American-bought cognac while U.S. field troops go marching up blind alleys on their unreliable tips.

McCain the diplomatic simpleton

The Schmuck Talk Express™ says he won’t talk to the Irans and North Koreas of the world unless the talks would guarantee a U.S. win in whatever was under discussion.

Idiot. The whole give-and-take of diplomacy on controversial issues is that, unless your diplomacy is W’s diplomacy of the gun barrel, there is no 100 percent winning and 100 percent losing. And, his claiming that Kissinger always conducted his diplomacy this way is ludicrous. We all know just how much of what he wanted Kissinger got from Le Duc Tho.

I know that McCain is voicing aloud what passes for foreign policy of most Republican contenders for the presidential nomination. He’s theoretically smarter than the ilk of Rudy (I’m not really a dictator, I just play one in New York) Giuliani and Mitt (I have as many positions as Brigham Young had Mormon wives) Romney, which makes his willful knuckle-dragging stance all the worse.

Musharraf WAS the Taliban

Or, why we’re fighting the wrong war in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq

The full version of the Ted Rall comment:
The marketing of Musharraf as a bulwark against radical Islam and the Taliban is one of the biggest jokes of the post-9/11 era. He wasn't for the Taliban before he was against them. He was the Taliban.

Rall crossed the border from from China to Pakistan at just the time Musharraf was overthrowing prime minister Nawaz Sharaf. He then invited Taliban fighters from Afghanistan to come into the Kashmir region of Pakistan to up the ante in the fighting against India in the third Kashmir War.

That said, Rall is blunt in that our war in Afghanistan is, in his opinion, even worse than the invasion of Iraq. Why?

This is why:
If U.S. officials had wanted to catch Osama bin Laden, all they had to do was call Musharraf. On 9/11, the Al Qaeda leader was laid up in a Pakistani military hospital in Islamabad. If the dictator refused, invading Pakistan —if you’re into that sort of thing — would certainly have been more justifiable than Afghanistan or Iraq. A Pakistan War could have neutralized the world's most dangerous nuclear threat, established a valuable strategic American foothold between India and China, and — if we worked with the UN — scored us popularity points for restoring democratic rule.

Such a war would have been far more justifiable than Afghanistan or Iraq. No country was more responsible than Pakistan for 9/11. Pakistan hosted Al Qaeda's headquarters in Kashmir. Most of its training camps were in Kashmir and Pakistan's Tribal Areas--not Afghanistan. On July 22, 2004, The Guardian reported that General Mahmoud Ahmed, chief of the ISI under Musharraf, had sent $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker. The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Pakistani intelligence had financed 9/11, but the 9/11 Commission decided not to investigate our “strategic ally in the war on terrorism.”

Remember in what country Daniel Pearl was killed? Rall is right.

And, though he doesn’t get specifically into it, as long as he kept the border open, we could have sent all the troops we have in Iraq to Afghanistan and still not totally snuffed out Al Qaeda.

Rall’s conclusion?
Musharraf was always a huckster. Anyone who paid attention could see that, but that's the problem: we never do.

Right on.

And, this refreshing angle on this is part of why I like Rall as a columnist.

November 15, 2007

The subprime madness merrily goes on — personal evidence

At my apartment complex, Gehan Homes just got done doing a mass windshield-flier bombing of all the cars on the parking lot. Read this:
Free on-site loan approval. Credit issues OK. Be sure to ask about lease buyout. $0 total move-in.

Gehan Homes can rot and burn, and so can the mortgage brokers working with it.

Court tells NHTSA to come up with real CAFE standards for light trucks and SUVs

And start over:
A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out federal fuel economy standards for many sport-utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the standards, which were to go into effect next year, didn't properly assess the risk to the environment and failed to include heavier SUVs and trucks, among several other deficiencies the court found.

The decision resulted from a lawsuit filed by 11 states and environmental groups that argued federal regulators ignored the effects of carbon dioxide emissions when calculating fuel economy standards for light trucks.

The new mileage standards, announced in March 2006, required an increase in the average fuel economy for all passenger trucks sold in the United States from 22.2 miles per gallon to 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010.

Filed last year, the suit sought to force the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recalculate its mileage standards from scratch, with carbon dioxide emissions taken into account as a major factor in the agency's analysis.

Hmm. Too bad we can’t talk Nancy Pelosi to court to get new long-term CAFE standards before the full House for a vote.

Given the SCOTUS ruling earlier this year that the government, specifically the EPA, has the statutory power to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, this ruling certainly should stand up should the NHTSA be knot-headed enough to appeal it.

November 14, 2007

Army lied about hiding Gitmo detainees from Red Cross

And now, the proof is out.

A leaked copy of "Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta,” a 238-page manual for Guantanamo Bay operations signed by Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander there, has the details.
The manual indicates some prisoners were designated as off limits to visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross, something the military has repeatedly denied.

Nice to see the military’s been caught red-handed in this one.

Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Bush simply said rules have “evolved significantly” from the 2003 date of the manual. He had no specific comment about “ghost detainees.”

So, why should we believe him now when he claims rules have “evolved significantly” if we know the Army’s been caught in a huge lie on ghost detainees?

The leaked manual was posted on Wikileaks. The top leak currently there is a 2,000 page document of all units in Iraq with U.S. weaponry; allegedly, that includes low-grade U.S. chemical weapons.

Why is Pelosi blocking new auto CAFE standards?

Apparently, we need to blame the Speaker and not John Dingell. Gregg Easterbrook, who while too conservative in some ways for me, has some decent insights on environmental issues, says that’s not the only thing wrong with Nancy Pelosi’s green credentials:
Raising mileage standards for vehicles and enacting a carbon trading system for electric power generation are two highly desirable actions Congress can take right now, without doing economic harm, to cut greenhouse emissions, improve national security by reducing U.S. reliance on Persian Gulf oil and push Detroit automakers to become more competitive so they stay in business. But instead of taking badly needed action, the House of Representatives last week spent $89,000 of taxpayers' money to purchase 30,000 tons' worth of "carbon offsets" for its antiquated coal-burning powerhouse. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared the U.S. Capitol will be green by 2008, but this sounds to me like political yammer.

First, according to estimates by resource economists, carbon offsets need to cost $20 to $25 per ton in order to generate a significant profit incentive for innovators, and thus inspire technical breakthroughs that will stave off artificial global warming. If the Capitol paid only $3 per ton, it wasn't buying much. More important, if you really believe artificial global warming is a huge menace to society, you don't just buy offsets and continue using your antiquated coal-fired powerhouse -- because, after all, the offsets only prevent emissions from rising, doing nothing to reduce emissions. If you really believe artificial global warming is a menace, you buy offsets and cut your own carbon output, thus reducing emissions. This is the big fault with Al Gore's patting himself on the back for buying offsets: He has not reduced his carbon footprint. If he believed his own speeches, he'd both buy the offsets and cut back his carbon-intensive jet-set lifestyle.

Pelosi's talk of a "green" U.S. Capitol is especially phony when she refuses to allow the House of Representatives to vote on proposals to increase fuel-economy standards for vehicles. Higher mpg standards -- the average fuel economy of new cars, trucks and SUVs has not risen since 1988 -- are a million times more important to preventing artificial global warming than symbolic actions such as those being taken at the Capitol. Stricter mileage rules would not only reduce U.S. payments to Persian Gulf dictatorships but also make a significant dent in greenhouse gases because greenhouse emissions are proportional to fossil fuel burned. Yet while Pelosi announces lofty promises about a renewable Capitol, she won't schedule a vote on the strict new mileage standards backed by figures as diverse as President Bush and Barack Obama.

Easterbrook is an equal-opportunity excoriator on politicos from both parties, though.
What of other political leaders? George W. Bush has proposed an international conference to negotiate nonbinding future goals for greenhouse gas reduction — exactly the empty gesture his father proposed in 1992! As Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post shows, all contenders for the presidency have embraced climate proposals that seem bold and sweeping. But read closely: None would have teeth until long after the bold politicians making the sweeping proposals leave office. Hillary Clinton, for instance, wants bold, sweeping action against greenhouse gases by 2030, when she would have been out of office for at least 14 years. John Edwards, whom TMQ likes because he emphasizes the forgotten issue of poverty, wants bold, bold, really bold action by 2050, when he will be 97 years old. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pulling this fast one, too. His bold, bold California climate plan has gotten him fawning press but does not require any action until after Schwarzenegger is out of office.

This is a complaint I’ve had for a long time. And, if you think I have this complaint about global warming, I have it in spades about Peak Oil.

Top books: Amazon readers weigh in

And, so do Amazon’s editors. Read both their lists of top-100 books. From the editors, on the nonfiction side, there’s sublists of top-10s in current events, history and general nonfiction. Customers have top-10 lists of biographies, history and general nonfiction.

A definite favorite of mine, Chistopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great,” was No. 5 among all books, on the customers’ top 100. Say what you will about Hitch on the Iraq War, this was better than Richard Dawkins, a fair amount better than Dan Dennett, and far, far better than Sam Harris on the last year or two’s spate of atheism apologias.

Why? Two reasons.

First is that you get Hitch’s acerbic wit.

Second is that, unlike Dawkins and Dennett, who generally go light on Eastern religions, and Harris, who positively cozies up to Buddhism, Hitchens is ready to say the Dalai Lama has just as much no clothes as the Pope or Pat Robinson.

Gore’s “Assault on Reason” was No. 14 with customers; Greenspan’s book was the only higher-ranked political book.

Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine” topped editors’ current events top 10. Greenspan was second, followed by Robert Draper’s new W bio.

Colbert’s “I Am America,” at No. 10, was tops among political books on the editors’ top-100. They had Hitch at No. 22.

November 11, 2007

Charles Schumer, official dickhead on Mukasey

)Seconded by Harry Reid, though.)

First, Frank Rich rips him a new one, then the NYT editorial board piles on.

First, the editorial, which begins by taking a shot at Harry Reid, without naming him:
Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster. So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes? Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.

Then, it focuses on Schumer:
The claim that Mr. Mukasey will depoliticize the Justice Department loses its allure when you consider that he would not commit himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal.

Then, it finishes by shooting at all the Democrats on this one:
All of this leaves us wondering whether Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders were more focused on the 2008 elections than on doing their constitutional duty. Certainly, being made to look weak on terrorism might make it harder for them to expand their majority.

And, here’s a thought from Rich:
What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.

Don’t worry, though: Schumer is out saving hedge funds from additional taxation as we speak.