Genetics and Crime: Shoddy Journalism in the New York Times

by jeeg 23. June 2011 22:09

What kills socially useful journalism is an ideological agenda and a stupid hunt for "news" often manufactured at the news desk.

In the New York Times of June 20, 2011, buried in the Arts section (at least in the Midwest edition), you will find a sterling example of one reason why print newspapers will soon be dead meat: the prevalence of news distortion without immediate rebuttal and commentary.

The story in NYT is about genetics and crime, the "news" provoked by a meeting of criminologists in Arlington, Virginia.

The headline of the story is: "Genetic Basis for Crime: A New Look."

The boxed-off subtitle is: "Ideas that once caused an uproar have a new life."

A casual reader, after reading the headline, subtitle, and the first few paragraphs, walks away with the misinformation that criminologists are now returning to the idea that genetics determines criminal behavior -- which implies that criminality is inherited. Which raises for the journalist who wrote the piece various questions about whether people should be genetically tested for criminality, or genetic evidence introduced in courts, blah blah blah.

Welcome to insidious slanting of news by the New York Times -- specifically by the journalist and editor of this piece. A gem of crap journalism.

Buried in the middle of the article is the following:

[John H. Laub] and others take pains to emphasize, however, that genes are ruled by the environment, which can either mute or aggravate violent impulses. Many people with the same genetic tendency for aggressiveness will never throw a punch, while others without it could be career criminals.

John H. Laub is head of a criminology institute and winner last week of the Stockholm Prize in Criminology.

At the end of the article there's a quote from another criminologist: "The more sophisticated the genetic research, the more it will show the importance of social context."

So the headline for this article could just as well have been: Causes of Crime: Importance of Social Context Reaffirmed."

But of course that would not sit well with anyone at the NYT who favors the archaic 19th century rotten idea that criminality, poverty, and other forms of social misalignment are based on genes and inheritance.

The consequence for the American public is another example of crap journalism by people who ought to know better. Is it class-war ideology or stupid greed in the hunt for "news"? Whatever it is, it's a disgrace.

Dan Agin, Huffington Post

 

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