They are the three kinds of lies – that is, lies, damned lies, and statistics. I don’t know who actually said it (Mark Twain claimed it was British PM Benjamine Disraeli, but evidence points to Sir Charles Wentworth), but my dad used to put it another way: Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. You see, it’s fairly easy to take some raw data, analyze it, and get it to support your hypothesis. And that brings us to the latest work of the grandiose-sounding group, The Institute for Economics and Peace (who could be against that, huh?), and their fresh off the printing presses “U.S. Peace Index.”

Any time you see the words “International Think Tank,” it’s a good idea to slow down, calm down, and think about it. (Words I used to use with my baby daughter when she was but a slip of a girl.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the whole “think tank” concept, they are organizations funded by grants, bequests, foundations, or DRWGs (Dead Rich White Guys), where people that generally speaking couldn’t earn a legit living wage other than this on a bet get to sit around and think great thoughts, come up with your garden variety a priori propositions, ruminate on the relevant reactions, and Come Up With Some Conclusions, which somehow always seem to reinforce the mission statements/beliefs/deeply held biases of the organization to which they owe their livelihoods.

Make no mistake about it – this is not (always) a “liberal” thang. There are right-wing think tanks just like there are those on the left. It’s a sad fact, however, that the ones on the left seem to get a lot more press. I expect this one’s work to “go viral” Really Soon Now.®

So what is the Institute for Economics and Peace pedaling? Wellsir, I’m glad you asked. They pulled data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the FBI, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (!) What did they find, you may ask? Well, they compiled a ranking of the most peaceful/least peaceful states in our great nation. As you might expect, this has resulted in not one, but TWO “Top Ten” lists (thus doing David Letterman’s heavy lifting for him). The top ten LEAST peaceful states are as follows:

  1. Louisiana
  2. Tennessee
  3. Nevada
  4. Florida
  5. Alabama
  6. Texas
  7. Arkansas
  8. Oklahoma
  9. South Carolina
  10. Maryland

And, of course, this is followed by the Top Ten MOST peaceful states:

  1. Maine
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Vermont
  4. Minnesota
  5. North Dakota
  6. Utah
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Iowa
  10. Washington (state)

And with a organization name like theirs, you’d expect to see some correlation with economics, now, wouldn’t you? Surprise! They founded that “peace-yness” had a MAJOR impact on the economy, and that if only the U.S. of A. could become as peaceful as Canada, there would be a “positive economic effect” of over #361 billion and would generate 2.7 million jobs.

Okay. Let’s pause for a nanosecond, and take stock here.

Some organization with a grandiose name comes out with a report that makes some rather bold statements and draws some interesting conclusions, connecting some dots that you might not have connected otherwise. Again, who’s going to argue with anyone who’s saying “Give Peace a Chance?” (Well, Mark David Chapman, for one, but he’s in prison.)

Let’s see if I can get out my Bovine Fertilizer Detection Device and determine how this survey will be used by the mainstream media to further their agenda, shall we?

  • Peace-yness goes hand-in-hand with “positive economic impact” so it is not only more peaceful, but generates more money!
  • More money = more jobs, so bring on the peace-yness!
  • Aren’t most of those states on the naughty list RED states? Don’t they allow concealed carry and open carry and stuff like that?
  • Clearly, gun control is not just a safety issue…it’s an economic issue! Think of all the jobs we’ll create, if only we ban guns!

Now, in fairness, the report didn’t get into this granular detail. Reports like this don’t. Ever. They have to have at least take a stab at looking impartial and credible. Nope. They leave most of the connecting of the dots to the pundits and pols. It’s what they do best. And connect ’em they will. But before we all run down to get our candles for the big Peace-In, why don’t we stop and ask a few salient questions of the Institute, namely,

  • Who are you people?
    What’s your agenda?
  • Who funds your organization?
  • What’s their angle?

After that, I’ve got some others, more study-specific questions I want answered:

  • What methodology did you employ when compiling the data into your conclusions?
  • What specific data did you use, and what data did you ignore or overlook?
  • Can we see the raw data you used?

As I’m an analytical (and admittedly snarky) sonofabitch, I wanna know the answers to all these questions before I take this thing with anything more than a grain of salt. And I’d feel the same way about a right-wing study (or a group who claims to be politically neutral, for that matter). My dad taught me critical thinking, and dagnabbit, it’s a habit I can’t seem to shake.

How did they weigh the data? Did they give some data more weight than other factors? Why did they include data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention? It would appear their methodology goest past just crime stats? Why? How? Did they factor in populations (per capita) factors? Did you take into account the gun laws in each state? What about climate? (It’s a fairly well-established fact that temperature extremes have an effect on crime, i.e., when it’s cold as Hell outside, you’re less likely to have a bunch of crime committed outdoors.) Come on, guys – inquiring minds wanna know.

So who are these guys? Well, as you might expect, they’ve got a sugar daddy, and an agenda. The Institute for Economics and Peace was founded by Stephen Killela, an Australian IT entrepreneur. Wikipedia says:

Killelea is the creative force behind the Global Peace Index study, launched in May 1997, that attempts to rank the world’s nations’ and regions’ peacefulness.[3] The Index is endorsed by the Dalai LamaDesmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter.[2] He is the founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace which is “analysing the impact of peace on sustainability, defining the ‘Peace Industry’, estimating the value of peace to the world economy, and uncovering the social structures and social attitudes that are at the core of peaceful societies”.[4] He is also notable as being Australia’s largest individual donor to overseas aid.[1] He also sits on the advisory board of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

In 2008, Killelea was the producer and chief financier for the documentary Soldiers of Peace, which was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where it received The Club of Budapest World Ethic Film Award.[5] The documentary also won Best Feature Film at the Monaco International Film Festival.[5]

The problem with things like this is few people are willing to ask the critical questions, and simply take these reports as gospel. And it’s waaaay too easy for these things to become “accepted science” and then you’ve got a situation where entire nations are rewriting laws and abrogating civil rights, in order to Make Things Better – even if the entire thing is nonsense. Don’t believe me? You have but to look at the colossal cluster that is the Global Warming Climate Change movement to see that something that began as a deeply flawed, biased, and not-so-credible study dominoed into bans on incandescent light bulbs and taxes on exhaling.

When you take the macro view, things like this fall into place like puzzle pieces, or to use another analogy, part of a magic act. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for it’s all misdirection that makes the trick work. But if you have a seat backstage and get to see the act more than once, you can work backwards, and see how some seemingly innocuous story like this, can be one vital piece of “evidence” in an international effort (a.k.a., the U.N. treaty) on banning guns.

So before we get all Chicken Little about this thing, let’s get some answers this time around, shall we? And instead of blowing this off as ‘no big deal,’ perhaps we make it a big deal. After all, if they do to guns what they did to lightbulbs, we’re all gonna find ourselves left in the dark.

34 Responses to Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.

  1. Why is it that both European and Australian “fat” cats feel the need to analyze the United States. Maybe they should start in some place where there is legitimate unrest, say, I don’t know, in Northern Africa, the Middle East in general, some Southeast Asian countries, etc… there are legitimate crimes against humanity – yet they focus on the United States. Me thinks there is another agenda that has nothing to do with peace, but rather “If we can fix those at the bottom, maybe we should tear down from the top”…

    • Perhaps they are studying these other areas of the world. Just because they release one study about the US does not mean they are ignoring everywhere else. Considering the information that Brad has posted about the organization, it is a safe bet they are concerned about more than just America.

      And, just because you don’t agree with their aims does not mean they aren’t doing good work. Perhaps we should be looking at the contexts of “peaceful” nations and see if perhaps there are important aspects that have gone unstudied. I don’t think that anyone here would be outraged if the world could be made a more peaceful place.

  2. And it’s waaaay too easy for these things to become “accepted science” and then you’ve got a situation where entire nations are rewriting laws and abrogating civil rights, in order to Make Things Better – even if the entire thing is nonsense. Don’t believe me? You have but to look at the colossal cluster that is the Global Warming Climate Change movement to see that something that began as a deeply flawed, biased, and not-so-credible study dominoed into bans on incandescent light bulbs and taxes on exhaling.

    The funny thing is apparently this phenomenon exists even in hard sciences. I read an article a while back where physicists were lamenting (and remaining anonymous for fear of damaging their careers) that the only projects they could get funded and the only dissertations that were being accepted were ones to support string theory. String theory may turn out to be correct, I have no idea. However, I do know that science is supposed to start with a question, not an answer.

    • And here is where the “few bad apples” argument comes into play. To discredit the entire science because there are some scientists who are playing “cover my ass” is a fallacy. To be sure, some gun-control advocates do the same when some dumb-ass with no idea of firearms safety shoots up a range, however, I am sure that their would be many raised voices here and else where pointing out that a few spoilt apples don’t ruin the whole barrel.

    • If you wanna read something that’s both entertaining and kind of scary, get a copy of State of Fear by Michael Crichton. While best-known for writing Jurassic Park, ER, and other thrillers, he was an M.D. and a scientist. This work of fiction is heavily footnoted, and goes into exactly how and why hard science is corrupted, and how it happened with the whole Global Warming thing.

      • Yeah, I have read it. Crichton didn’t do his reputation a lot of good with that book. Regardless of the truth of climate change, he really alienated himself from his peers, and, in my opinion, threw more gasoline on the fire rather than helping the situation.

        • I like that he brought the whole numbers massaging thing to the forefront in that book. He did make a couple of very good points, such as the need for double blind control on studies that are going to affect the world in a major way.

    • String theory may turn out to be correct, I have no idea. However, I do know that science is supposed to start with a question, not an answer.

      String Theory is embraced by Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”, thereby settling the question for any rational person.

  3. So, if their data and methodology were answered to your satisfaction and their interpretation turned out to be accurate, how would this affect your views? You are asking all of the right questions about their study, for which I applaud you. However, what if it turned out they were correct? How would you go about balancing gun rights versus public safety/peacey-ness? How does the debate about gun control change? What happens if it is shown that guns don’t make people safer, but more dangerous?

    It’s not that I am going to completely agree with this study, I myself would like to see the answers to your questions, but in the interests of fairness, you have to at least consider the impact.

    • Exactly. I actually agree with you. The problem with the way humans are wired is that we all tend to find a dogma we like, and then discard the facts that don’t fit our theory. I like to think I’m pretty open-minded. Keep in mind that, back in the early 80s, I wasn’t exactly “anti-gun” but I admit I thought the “ban handgun” crowd was probably right. A lot of this had to do with the Lennon shooting, and how the media reacted. I was a product of the kind of input I was getting from the evening news. It wasn’t until I started thinking things through on my own, that my position changed.

      There’s a UCLA professor that has written a book (drops on June 15th) with an interesting premise, that because the news media is largely (and demonstrably) left-leaning, that the entire country is more biased towards the left than they would be if the news media were actually neutral. My point is that we are ALL products of the input we get. But if we employ critical thinking skills, we can will ourselves to think things through, and make up our own minds.

      • Agreed. There is a problem with the way that many people will take as gospel what some study concludes. An aspect of the confirmation bias, in my opinion. People should employ more critical thinking than they do. But this is a charge that can be laid at the feet of both pro-control and anti-control advocates. There are just as many people who will jump to the conclusion that the study is complete bunk as there will be claiming it to be eternal truth. All of us, pro- and anti-control would be better served by cooler heads and a greater appreciation for how such studies are carried out, identifying not only the biases in the arguments, but our own biases as well.

        It is interesting that you bring up Lennon. Here in Canada we had the Ecole Polytechnic shootings that were our galvanizing incident in the gun-contol debate. Because of that, certain types of long-arms were made prohibited (Lapine, the shooter, used a Ruger Mini-14 with high capacity magazines). I remember being shocked when the news came through in our class room. Many anti-gun people were created that day.

  4. I’m curious as to what they are actually measuring when they say this. I find it laughable to see that New York, Illinois, California, and Massachusetts are all ranked higher than Arkansas, my home state. I’ve traveled a bit in our great nation and I have to admit that I feel safer (less likely to be on the receiving end of unpeaceful behavior) in the bad areas of our state than I have in seemingly nice areas of California.

  5. It’ll be a real reach (not that they won’t try) to claim that the peaceness comes from gun control.

    Not when the “most peaceful” states are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa, Washington (state) .

    That’s what 7 Shall issue states, 1 Constitutional Carry State (Formerly Vermont carry), and 2 may issue states.

    Neither Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, nor New Jersey are on the “good” list.

    Also Maryland an obnoxiously restrictive May issue state is on the “bad” list.

    • Interesting. Note also that while Massachusetts is “may issue,” the really restrictive towns and cities are Boston and nearby locales. Much of the state takes a very enlightened attitude toward concealed carry. Rhode Island, which is “shall issue” in theory but “may issue” in practice, is a blue card state that is not restrictive when it comes to long guns or to handguns kept in the home for defensive purposes.

    • Their argument seems to be less about gun-control than other issues. Most crime and violence stems from systemic poverty and and other factors. Gun-control is more of a way of mitigating the lethality of violence rather than a cure (I am not claiming it is efficacious or necessary). I don’t see anything in Brad’s article about the study claiming that gun-control creates peace. Certainly it will be used as ammunition (!) by gun-control advocates, however, the study itself does not seem to be concerned with guns in particular.

      • That’s correct, MS, but since the survey is concerned with crime, and any discussion of crime will surely involve a discussion of guns, and any discussion about guns will sooner or later revert to a discussion about gun control . . . we’re just conencting the dots. Maybe The Institute for Economics and Peace had no such intention, but it’s going to happen.

        • Yes, I am sure that gun-control people will use this study to advance their cause, but if the study does not state that gun control creates safer societies then they are using it disingenuously. However, don’t dismiss the study or claim its conclusions are wrong, just because they may do so. That would be a straw-man and does nothing to support your own stance.

          Sorry for the tangent. Your post about the direction of CC in the Massachusetts state is interesting. It looks to me that more and more states are heading to the so called constitutional carry.

        • Mouldy, I wasn’t really focusing on the antis using this study or it’s acuracy. To the contrary, some of us pro-gun guys are citing this study right now, so I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be just another bone of contention in an already contentious debate.

    • It would be interesting to see a correlation between the peacefulness scale and firearms ownership. I lived in Maine for 55 years. I suspect that we have about the highest firearm rate per capita in the Nation.

  6. my issue is that on their website, zero context is given to these stats they list, this “peace index” is comprised of numbers, not analysis. how about a D- in sociology for The Institute for Economics and Peace. It is interesting that the second bluest state in the country (MD) is on the least peaceful list.

  7. it is not all that bad! maine just elected a conservative repb governor, a republican state senate and house; we have “shall issue” cc and open carry is legal. we have a constitutional carry bill in the hopper… so we may join vermont in that area.. see… there is a reason we are most peaceful… being 99.9% caucasian is also thought by the local talking heads to be a reason… now if the ecoonomy would just follow the think tanks bs.. then we would be all set!

    • Whether it “sounds bad” or not, it would indeed be interesting to see these states broken down by demographics.

      I don’t get the “availability of small arms.” Maine ranks 29th out of 50 but Alabama ranks 48th out of 50? That might be true, I don’t know, but it sure Sounds backwards.

  8. @ damDoc
    “see… there is a reason we are most peaceful… being 99.9% caucasian is also thought by the local talking heads to be a reason”

    great thing to be so proud of, btw the “%99.99” of mainers being caucasian registers maximum on the “Bovine Fertilizer Detection Device”.

      • The states with the least amount of poverty should be the safest. Unfortunately for African-Americans, poverty is a burden they’ve carried on their backs for hundreds of years. While that’s certainly changing, it’s not changing fast enough and it’s not changing everywhere. Yes, I’m a bleeding heart. But African-Americans are Americans first, last and always whether some people choose to acknowledge that fact or not. And for the record, I am NOT putting damdoc in that category.

  9. I re-read damdoc’s post – he didn’t make the Caucasian reference, he quoted the local talking heads as thinking it. “being 99.9% caucasian is also thought by the local talking heads to be a reason” – I would prefer if he clarified, but let’s slow down on the reverse race-baiting for a moment…

    I have seen in this thread that African-Americans are in a constant state of poverty, disadvantaged economically, etc… I don’t think anyone here can stand up and say that the African-American community, specifically in the urban areas (where there are a larger percentage of the population), are not burdened by crime more so that Caucasians. Just about every study bears this out. Without getting into the MANY reasons this may be (take your pick from poverty, slavery, civil rights, welfare state, single mothers, etc, etc, etc…) – I think we jumped the gun (pun intended) on what I think damdoc was trying to say…

  10. Let me help you a bit: top 10 “peacy”states: #1. White #2. Also very white. #3. Really white. #4. Hmm, white. #5. I’m detecting a trend here…white….Etc.

    Bottom 10: #1. Lots of, er, non-whites, um, I think I will stop here.

    I’ll help this peace group with their initials: KKK.

  11. Damn! There HAD to be input from my ex-wives! There I am on the Bad List as usual- in South Carolina…Hell, I never was that peaceful anyway…

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