Racial Bias in Police Shootings Not What You'd Expect, Shows Controversial New Study
A new study by a Harvard University economist shows surprising results about whom the police are actually more likely to shoot.
As the police brutality debate has dominated the hearts and minds of Americans (sudden Pokémon Go diversion notwithstanding), a new study has come out that shows some unexpected results. While it shows a racial bias in how the police use force, this doesn't seem to be the case with regards to shootings.
The study was conducted by the Harvard University economist Roland G. Fryer Jr., an African-American, who said it produced "the most surprising result of my career." His team studied over 1,300 police shootings in 10 major police departments over the 2000-2015 span.
The study concluded that blacks and Hispanics were "more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police," but no such differences exist in officer-involved shootings.
When encountering a suspect, police officers were about 16-19% more likely to use their hands on the suspect, push the person into a wall or to the ground, use handcuffs, and draw their weapons, if the suspect was black. They were also 24-25% more likely to point their weapons or use pepper spray or batons on a black suspect.
— The Upshot (@UpshotNYT) July 12, 2016
But when it came to shooting the suspects, police officers were more likely to fire without having first been attacked if the suspects were white. Additionally, the study learned that black and white civilians in the shootings were equally likely to be carrying a weapon.
And while zeroing in on the police department in Houston to get a more detailed picture, Mr. Fryer found that in situations of justifiable use of force, when, for instance, the officer is being attacked by the suspect, officers were 20% less likely to shoot at a black suspect. Accounting for other control factors in tense situations, Mr. Fryer saw similar results that there was either no difference between how blacks and whites were treated or that blacks were less likely to be shot.
A woman holds up a sign during a rally at Justin Herman Plaza to denounce recent police shootings around the country, in San Francisco, California on July 8, 2016. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in US cities on July 8 after a black extremist shot dead five cops during a peaceful march against police brutality in Texas. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mr. Fryer is the first African-American to win a John Bates Clark medal, given to the most promising under-40 American economist. Angered by the high-profile deaths of African Americans like Michael Brown and Freddy Gray at the hands of the police, he explains why he was driven to conduct the study to New York Times:
“You know, protesting is not my thing. But data is my thing. So I decided that I was going to collect a bunch of data and try to understand what really is going on when it comes to racial differences in police use of force.”
The study has been criticized for using police reports, filled out by police officers as potentially self-serving and unreliable. Mr. Fryer countered that the results his team found were the same whether officer-generated narratives were used or not.
The study's critics also point to the volume of police incidents studied as inconclusive and cannot represent every city in America. Mr. Fryer himself calls for more data to be analyzed before a nationwide conclusion can be drawn, especially as he admits that there is more prejudice in whom the police chooses to stop in the first place and the disproportionate use of other forms of violence.
“Who the hell wants to have a police officer put their hand on them or yell and scream at them? It’s an awful experience,” said Mr. Fryer. “Every black man I know has had this experience. Every one of them. It is hard to believe that the world is your oyster if the police can rough you up without punishment. And when I talked to minority youth, almost every single one of them mentions lower-level uses of force as the reason why they believe the world is corrupt.”
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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