A Science for Everyone, Demography

Wells-Barnett Becoming Barbie

I note that Mattel is making a Barbie doll that honors Ida Wells-Barnett.

They note that she was a journalist, suffragette, and had a role in founding the NAACP – to me, her unusual strength was the use of statistics in her research on lynchings.  She deserves mention in her early role in social research and reliance on statistics.  Still, the article doesn’t include the quote that I find easy to remember:

I’m a Montanan.  My state’s legal tradition begins with vigilantes hanging a crooked sheriff and his minions.  In 1884, Granville Stuart organized another vigilance committee – now known as Stuart’s Stranglers – to end rustling.  In a short time, Stuart’s Stranglers killed at least 20 rustlers, and numbers up to 100 are written in some accounts.  By the end of the Summer, Granville Stuart was president of the Stockman’s Association.  Stuart’s activities, despite the poor record keeping, made 1884 the highest year for lynching white men in the US. (My readings suggest that the first recorded use of the numbers 3-7-77 was by Stuart’s Stranglers and not by the Vigilantes of Montana 20 years earlier)

Douglas Linder has published the data series Ida Wells started (maintained at Tuskegee) on lynchings by state and race. Clicking the link will give you an idea of how solid the lady’s research was – and how racist it was in some areas.

I’ll be looking for the Barbie – but I want mine to be holding a lever action Winchester.  She may not have been granted a graduate degree – but her work was important in developing American Sociology.

Demography

Defund the Police and Legalize Marijuana

I never liked teaching criminology.  Usually, sociology departments get a former or off-duty cop to teach Crim.  It works pretty much OK – he or she teaches the science of criminology to a room full of undergraduates.  The problem is getting a scientist to teach criminology.

Criminology is a moving target.  Last November the people of Montana voted to legalize marijuana.  Harry Anslinger was appointed to head the Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, responsible for cocaine and heroin, and it just wasn’t enough to keep a bureau busy.  In what we now term “mission creep” Anslinger managed to outlaw marijuana by 1937.  Nobody cared before that.

In 1636, the Plymouth Colony made five crimes punishable by death:
1) willful murder, 2) making a compact with the devil by witchcraft, 3) arson (ships and houses), 4) sodomy, rape, and buggery, and 5) adultery.  Well, Massachusetts still frowns on murder, rape and arson – but the rest are pretty much mainstream.  It’s difficult to call it science when things change so much – in 1637, John Alexander was branded and banned from the colony for homosexual conduct.  From 1981 to 2013, Barney Frank represented his part of Massachusetts in the US Congress.  Nothing personal, but it’s hard to do science when the definitions keep changing.

Teaching Criminology did convince me that the whole concept of deviance is socially constructed.  I could have probably got into teaching the social construction of deviance – but we had a good, reliable deviance guy in the department.  He was still married to his high school girlfriend when he retired.  About the only thing I could see deviant about Bob would have been what the texts call positive deviance.

When faced with losing federal highway funds, Montana’s legislature made the 55 mph speed limit state law, then fixed the fine at $5.  It was a time when breaking the law wasn’t considered particularly deviant. 

I can’t see where criminology is good science. That’s OK.  Defunding the police seems even less scientific.  In either case, politicians define crime and politicians determine police funding.  Both change with the political winds.