#JOURNALISM An untrue claim in the New Yorker speaks volumes


Louise Perry @ The Post:

Reading the latest copy of the New Yorker magazine, published exactly a week ago, I came across this sentence in a piece by Jill Lepore:

One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.

This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.

This sentence jumped out to me. How could it possibly be true that ‘two-thirds’ of all Americans aged 15-34 visiting emergency rooms had been injured by police or security guards, given the very many other reasons why people might present for emergency treatment? In the online version, there is no hyperlink to the research (although the article does contain hyperlinks), and the study’s authors are not named.

Jill Lepore could hardly be more eminent. She is a professor of American history at Harvard, the recipient of a long list of awards, and a longstanding staff writer at the New Yorker, as well as a contributor at many other well regarded publications. I love her writing, so much so that I bought several extra copies of her latest book These Truths to give as presents to friends and family. Given this, I thought at first that I might have misunderstood the sentence, and tweeted as much.

I sought out the study she was referring to, and found it: a 2016 paper, whose lead author, Justin Feldman, was a doctoral student at Harvard at the time. Soon after publication, the findings were described in a Harvard press release, and also reported on by The Guardian.

And it turns out I was right — the ‘two-thirds’ claim is not true. Not even close.

Lepore is right to draw a comparison between the rate of ‘legal intervention injuries’ (to use Feldman’s phrase) and the rate of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles, although this only applied to men aged 15-34.

But it’s not clear where Lepore got the ‘two-thirds’ figure from. Possibly she misunderstood a line from from the paper itself, which includes the finding that 61.1% of people injured by police fell into the 15-34 age bracket. Or from the Harvard press release, which reports that:

Sixty-four percent of the estimated 683,033 injuries logged between 2001-2014 among persons age 15-34 resulted from an officer hitting a civilian.

Which is to say, they were injured by hitting, rather than some other use of force. But I’m sorry to say that Lepore’s claim is straightforwardly false, as Feldman himself replied when asked by another twitter user: ‘Oh weird, the rate being the same as car accidents is true, but the other part is definitely not.’

I did my best to work out a rough estimate of the true proportion of 15-34 year olds visiting the ER who had suffered legal intervention injuries, and arrived at a figure of 0.2% (you can follow my working in this thread). So I believe Lepore’s claim to be off by a factor of several hundred.

Why does this one sentence matter? Well, firstly, it misinforms readers, several of whom (based on my Twitter search for the article’s URL) also alighted on this claim, but unlike me took it on trust. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it tells us something about the political climate in a publication like the New Yorker, which was once famous for its rigorous fact checking.

We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action.

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If you are a gang-related youth and you get hurt robbing a store or stealing a car, are you really going to say that at the ER?
No, of course not.
The idea that you’d tell your saintly mom that the police did it, and then she told the ER that should not surprise anyone.
People with insurance don’t just go to the ER over minor injuries, they go to their doctor first.
So, only those on welfare run to ERs 1st.
And gang-related injuries are morphed into cop caused ones by lying to mom.

Like the Atlantic story, the left doesn’t mind lying to foment hatred for cops. Like the Atlantic, the New Yorker doesn’t really care if it’s true or not; they love printing left wing propaganda, especially if it demonizes authority.

It is encouraging that they have to make up so many lies to try and demonize the police. That means the fact of the matter is that they are doing a really great job.