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:
- South Carolina
And, of course, this is followed by the Top Ten MOST peaceful states:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- 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. The Index is endorsed by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. 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”. He is also notable as being Australia’s largest individual donor to overseas aid. 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. The documentary also won Best Feature Film at the Monaco International Film Festival.
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.