William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

But what about the children!

Satan is eating your babies! Well, not Satan himself. The Beautiful Red Master is obviously too busy for such detail, so the work has been farmed out to his willing minions, who as we know, by the very definition of the word, are a dedicated bunch. Why dedicated? Lucifer is the wisest of the angels, and he starts minion training early; most recruiting efforts are focused on nursery schools, girl scout packs and the like.

Don’t laugh. A not dissimilar version of this story was widely believed in the States back in the 1990s. A very large—a disturbingly large—proportion of people convinced themselves that Satanic rituals were being conducted right under their noses, by their quiet neighbors, by the seemingly diligent people who ran preschools, by even themselves!, though they couldn’t remember partaking. Bodies, and lots of them, were not just being eaten, but they were being sacrificed by nude covens and the bones buried under full moons. Sheriffs were dispatched, indictments were issued, sentences were passed. People actually went to jail! The Satanic Panic, it was later dubbed.

It was brought about by the highly dubious medical theory of recovered memories. Advocates (they never called themselves anything less) assured the public that traumatic memories, such as roasting an infant alive, were routinely repressed, but never lost. Horrors were tucked away in deep recesses of the mind, but they could be dislodged by the application of hypnosis, or through chatting with an earnest therapist trained for the work.

Legions of women trudged to their therapist to discover the evils in which they participated but couldn’t remember. Others wondered if they were victims of the foul play—because who doesn’t want to be a victim? The perquisites are endless. Anyway, these adventurous women were rewarded with tantalizingly lurid memories by the boat load. Tellingly, the longer the contact with the therapist, the more spectacular the recollections.

Blood rituals were a common theme, but the bulk of the memories were accounts of abuse, paederasty, and rape. Untold numbers of women discovered that they had repressed how old dad regularly had his way with them. Not a few females were encouraged to confront and accuse their now aged relatives, to cut off all contact if the family refused to ‘fess up, and, this being America, to sue, sue, sue. Others…

But it’s too depressing to continue. Luckily, however, one bright Spring morning, people began to wake and told themselves that widespread Satanic worship couldn’t be as likely as they had, just yesterday, thought. Besides, it was exhausting having to believe and track all those rumors! Sure, they said to themselves, all this was nonsense, but it was done with the best intent. Children were involved! We must do anything we can to protect the children, and since we went a little loopy in their holy name, everything is copacetic.

I retell the sad story of this epoch to admit that America has, at times, lost its mind. It has of course done so more than once, and will surely do so again: bouts of insanity are well known symptoms of democracies. We’ve already demonized (and resanctified) alcohol, and the Enlightened now equate smoking as being on the same moral plane as being a conservative, but since smoking has not yet been made illegal, there is still room left for some solid excoriation. So it is difficult to say what mania is next at bat, but be assured that the masses will fix on something.

At least we can take pride that we have exported the thrilling fear of child molestation to England, where it has been embraced by a grateful public who were tired of discussing the consequences of the European Union. Much more fun to point and whisper at a neighbor who was seen to smile at a child who wasn’t his. Laws and custom are being modified rapidly, all under the theory that anybody could be a child molester! That, incidentally, is a true statement: anybody might be, but hardly anybody is. No matter. It is the truth that counts—anything for the children!—and all the signs and marks of insanity can be found in that once great nation.

For example, there is now a legal requirement that adults who drive kids to soccer (football) games, or to boys outings and the like, must be registered and undergo a criminal check. Want to shuttle your neighbor’s kid to school? Don’t get caught! “Unregistered adults could be fined up to £5,000 under scheme to prevent paedophiles getting access to children” (link). Sobbing articles are being written in the best papers about how adults are pathologically frightened of kids; not scared of the pre-adults themselves, but of the lunatic grownup who is ready and perversely happy to infer the worst.

My advice: buck up, England. This insanity will pass: these manias only last a decade or so. That’s the outer limit of the mob’s patience, after which it will retire exhausted, lie dormant for a year or so, whence it will emerge, recharged and on the prowl for something new to fret over.

51 Comments

  1. ” Throughout the 1990’s tens of thousands of families were torn apart as psychotherapy patients began reporting “recovering repressed memories” of abuse by once trusted and beloved parents, spouses, teachers, and others. Some of these reports included
    abuse in “past lives”, abuse by “international satanic cults”, and even abduction and mistreatment by “space aliens.”

    Source: The Paul Shanley Amicus (august 2009)
    http://ncrj.org/Shanley/Shanley%20AMICUS%20as%20FILED%2009z.pdf

    Many innocent people are still in jail because of this hysteria:
    http://ncrj.org/

    Other bad news: Martha Coakley, now Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is a candidate for the now vacant Senate seat of Ted Kennedy.
    She was responsible for many wrongful convictions:

    “The media is making much of her “stellar” record in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. Let’s look at that record.

    First, there is the case of Ray and Shirley Souza. These were the Lowell grandparents falsely accused and convicted of molesting their own grandchildren. The case was spurred by a daughter who was victimized by a recovered-memory “therapist.” The testimony was manufactured by the same discredited methods used in the other high-profile cases of the day. Ray Souza is now deceased, but Shirley — a very fine woman — is saddled with living her life out as a registered sex offender.

    Coakley was also the prosecutor in the case of Louise Woodward — the nanny accused of murdering a child in her care. There was no reliable medical evidence supporting this. Woodward was convicted, but the judge changed the verdict to manslaughter, sentenced her to time served, and released her to return to her native England.

    Then there was the Fells Acres case. The Amirault family was falsely accused and wrongly convicted of abusing children at the daycare school that they ran. This was one of the classic daycare cases, along with the McMartin case, Bernard Baran, the Little Rascals, and many others. While Coakley was not one of the original prosecutors, she fought the appeals tooth and nail. And when Gerald Amirault was pursuing a commutation, she orchestrated a disinformation campaign against the Amiraults.”

    http://www.bobchatelle.net/09/10/innocents/we-must-stop-martha-coakley/

  2. Currently in Massachusetts, all teachers including Sunday School teachers have to go through a similar background check. Frankly, I do not see this as a big deal – though I do not see it as being particularly effective – and it may have some deterrence value and reduce the vulnerability of “soft targets’.

    On the other hand, the recovered memory scam is extremely destructive. I agree with Jepe – that Massachusetts politicians did a lot to fan the flames of this Salem-like vendetta.

  3. Don’t start me off. For every contract I have to have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Every six months it expires, this costs me, or usually my agent, every time. It was taking so long for the reports to come back at one stage that some people missed a chance at a job because they didn’t have their form. This is just in case I turn into an axe-wielding psychopath between jobs! Of course I’d be honest on my form if this transformation should occur. They want you to tell them your address for the last five years amongst other things. Parents aren’t allowed to take photographs in their children’s nativity. So little Johnny’s ‘bit part’ as an onion will be lost forever. The worst part is that you are correct when you say parents become fearful. They become less inclined to help out. My Dad has the same trouble with the colts in the chess club.

    Now the police have new linked computer systems all this is really nonsense and is carried out to placate a few neurotics. The public is more aware than in the seventies. My gymnastics teacher ‘liked’ little girls. Most of the little girls liked him too. One of the boys had stolen my favourite magic pen and thrown it down the back of a counter, lost forever! Instead of punishing the boy, the teacher MR Miller, let’s name names, made me stand on my chair for the rest of the class and let all the other children catch the swimming bus. Urgent to catch the bus and incensed at the injustice I said,
    ‘you’re a stupid pig and I hate you’. To my surprise, this outburst was met by his letting me go to catch the bus and not another word to the head, no letter home. It later transpired that he was having his way with some of the girls. He was just sacked and advised never to get another job in Education again. We would have been nine or ten.

  4. Bernie,

    Yeah not a big deal. Complaining about this is like complaining about shoe inspections to prevent the least likeliest and least effective means of attacking an airliner. Who cares about any possible erroneous check destroying a reputation if it can save one child? So what if it’s efficacy is impossible to prove? The goal worth any cost and inconvenience.

  5. Briggs

    19 September 2009 at 4:11 am

    Joy,

    You, and other UK populants, can correct me, but I think I have underestimated the extent of the paranoia. I have read dozens of stories over the past year or two from England. One involved a teacher who patted a student on the back. Abuse? Sexual? Endless discussion of idiocy.

    Anybody else confirm that?

    Background checks, as DAV hinted, aren’t perfect. What mechanism exists to protect against false positives? And at best, they only filter out the perverts who got caught, prosecuted, and sentenced. They cannot find those who haven’t got caught. Like airports screening, it provides a false sense of security. Mr A passed the security check? He must be ok!

    Anyway, the situation is even sillier than that. Most abusers of kids are parents, guardians, relatives, and trusted family friends. Until we enlighten ourselves to the point of, say, a Logan’s Run situation, no amount of public paranoia is going to help eliminate that risk. The other way is the old standard: increase the punishment, increase the deterrence.

  6. Re: How BA bans men sitting next to children they don’t know

    I call this gender profiling to the fullest. I am not sure if it is worse than racial profiling though.

  7. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

    It is this slow erosion of liberty that leads to tyranny. First it’s a background check, that “protects the children.” Then it’s a shoe scan, “to make air travel safe.” Slowly it becomes “Your papers!” [Apply thick German accent like a bad WWII movie.]

    Yes, that last bit may be hyperbole, but it I hope it makes you think “No, it can’t go there, not in America.” But it can, because it will “protect someone or something” even if the vast majority of the time it is a waste of time AND it’s “efficacy is impossible to prove” because the “goal [is] worth any cost and inconvenience.”

    The only reason to fight against these stupid actions is to preserve our liberty. Once lost, it is difficult to recover.

  8. DAV:
    This is the type of issue where it is easy to criticize the silliness and the actual and potential negative consequences of a policy but much harder to suggest a better alternative.

    Ron C
    IMO, the Franklin quotation should be reserved for more egregious and less equivocal losses of liberty. What is the difference between checking your luggage for explosives and checking your shoes? I am as irritated as anyone at the delays and the overall apparent silliness of the shoe inspection – but the reality is that the guy did have exploding shoes. Again we need to come up with alternatives.

    Briggs:
    While I can imagine that in rare instances a false positive in this area may have nasty consequences, it seems to me that they are rare and likey de minimis. (I am open to empirical data that suggests that this is a bad assumption.) As you note, most abuse is outside of formal interactions with teachers, coaches, etc. Addressing this one would likely legitimate the use Franklin’s warning.

  9. Bernie,

    The fact that it’s easy to criticize should be a clue. The first step in solving a problem should be ensuring that it’s well-defined. As Briggs pointed out, what exactly is inappropriate behavior? anything that’s suspicious? And further: how likely is an incident likely to arise due to a stranger? Ron C has it right. Complete loss of liberty starts with a number of baby steps. When the “less equivocal losses of liberty” occurs it too will be a baby step. Talk about child abuse! Do you really want to live in a world where the straight and narrow is defined by 0.001 mm pencil line?

    Yep, there really was an idiot with exploding shoes. I guess there’s no point in explaining how ineffectual that would have been in bringing down an airliner. I guess there’s also no point in explaining how ineffectual current air travel security methods are. A case in point though: two months after 9/11 a flew from Baltimore to San Francisco carrying a knife with a four-inch blade on-board. I did this inadvertently (it was part of a tool kit in my laptop case). It went through all of the security checks. Imagine how easy it would be if I was determined. To illustrate the capriciousness: on the return flight, I had carefully ensured that the knife wasn’t in the laptop case. Nevertheless, the contents of the laptop case were unceremoniously and literally dumped onto a table because it was “suspicious”. FWIW: apparently my belt buckle had set off the metal detector but a person with a magic wand allowed me to pass. Strangely, El Al, likely the most hijacked airline in the world, lets me carry a penknife on-board.

    Some examples of those rare and nasty consequences using air travel checks. There are people who have a lot of difficulty travelling because of a name similarity to “known” terrorists or have a name similar to outspoken critics. Suppose there was a test for identifying a terrorist that was 99.99% accurate (True positive rate = True negative rate = 99.99%). That means 1/10,000 people will be incorrectly identified as a terrorist and 1/10,000 terrorists will slip through. Now apply that to some real numbers. There are roughly 8 million airline flights in the US every year carrying say 300 persons each. Opportunity for a huge number of false positives, no? Now, how many terrorists are there? What’s the ratio of reputation-damaged, grossly-inconvenienced individuals to stopped terrorists? You do the math. Also: what if you were one of the false positives. Would that affect your opinion about “rare”?

    Why do you think similar measures against child molesters would have different results?

  10. Another example:

    The Labour government of Australia wants to censor the internet to battle child-pornography.
    http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/rudds-internet-nanny-plan-targets-the-wrong-enemy/

    Of course every decent human being agrees with the goal of battling child-pornography and pedophilia, but censoring the internet won’t work AND could be extended to other moral issues like abortion, suicide, euthanasia and AGW- skepticism.

    I do agree with Ron C that a slow erosion of our liberty has been taking place. Another airplane example: A Dutch (local) politician on a KLM flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam had to change seat because a female Muslim passenger did not want to sit next to a male.

    Had it been the other way around, the politician would probably have been indicted for discrimination.

  11. DAV:
    “The fact that it is easy to criticize should be a clue” – A clue to what? I can think of no public policy measure that cannot be subject to second guessing. False positives do not negate a procedure, they just point to its insufficiency – unless the costs of the false positives are greater than the true positives. What are your solutions? Ineffectiveness does not mean that we don’t make an effort. Jeepers, by that logic why have police since they clearly do not deter all kinds of crime and the solution rate is frequently pitiful?

    El Al and the Israelis have developed very intrusive and redundant procedures to protect their planes that undoubtedly generate many false positives. Are you suggesting that because of the false positives and the burdens imposed on air travellers these practices should be dropped?

    Just to be clear, I hate the pettifogging rules and the enormous costs that bureaucrats imposes on us. The WSJ today has a great example of how the imposition of large fines to cure tax avoidance through setting up scam pension funds is causing major issues for those who have innocently set up pension funds. Here, according to the story, the false positives are clearly creating significant costs among those who are largely innocent and not the principle targets of the original legislation. That said, we still need to develop policies, practices and procedures that ensure greater fairness and defend us, to some meaningful degree, from cheats, criminals and child molesters.

  12. Bernie,

    “Are you suggesting that because of the false positives and the burdens imposed on air travellers these practices should be dropped?”

    In a nutshell: a resounding YES! They are totally ineffective, feel-good measures.

    “False positives do not negate a procedure, they just point to its insufficiency – unless the costs of the false positives are greater than the true positives”

    No kidding? Keep in mind that 99.99% accuracy is hopeless unachievable in real life and that many so-called measures are often less accurate than a coin flip. When do you think the ratio of false positives to true positives outweighs the benefit? 10:1? 100:1? 1000:1? 10000:1? 1000000:1? 1:0?

    Just how prevalent do you think child molesting really is? I mean real child molesting not back pats and “suspicious” looks. Isn’t it possible that all of this is to protect against essentially a relatively non-extant problem?

    BTW: your apparent lack of empathy for victims of false positives is interesting. Seems you somehow think you will never be one yourself. You seem willing to subject others to living hell without any assurance whatsoever that the cause of that living hell has greater than zero advantage beyond sounding like it might work. I’m reminded of a quote from Pinky and the Brain: “Why, Pinky that plan is absolutely BRILLIANT! But WAIT! Why not use a plan that WORKS!?”

    I do know one thing. Government measures to cure social problems invariably become perverted. A particularly egregious example: the Mann Act to prevent the very real problem of kidnapped young girls being enslaved in prostitution (and not very effectively either) was subsequently used to prosecute couples (the men really) for adultery if the adulterous couple travelled together out of state. If you wait until the background checks are perverted in turn then you will have waited too long.

    I don’t have a solution really. But so what? Does that mean that every harebrained scheme is somehow better? If it can’t be proven that any proposed solution will stop even one incident then that is tantamount to placing zero at the bottom of cost/benefit ratio — IOW: infinite cost.

  13. There is a paranoia about this topic with I feel people confusing the seriousness of crimes with justification to respond in any way,. £65.00to check not whether someone is a pervert, but whether someone has a criminal record. Surely this is extortion. It simply does nothing to ensure anyone of anything.

    What is sad is for adults, mostly men I suppose that they can’t show genuine and innocent interest or even comfortably touch a child without the thought that they might be accused of something terrible. I know of men who say they don’t like smiling at a child on the train in case they get a filthy look from an over anxious passenger. If adults can’t relate in a natural manner to children I don’t feel this is healthy. Trouble is, the public ccan be made to feel guilty very easily without good reason. So the guilty concience starts to affect behaviour.

    Esther Ranson has said that she feels partly responsible for ‘creating a monster’, she was the founder of child line, helping to increase awareness of child abuse. She was at an award ceremony and greeted or congratulated a child with a hand round their shoulder. She was taken aside by one of the other female officials and given a dressing down for touching the child in an inappropriate manner ‘you ought to know better.’ She was horrified at this and expressed her reaction on TV saying some of what has been said above. I haven’t met anyone yet who likes the CRB system. I’m hoping the ories will scrap or alter the system.

  14. Joy,

    Good point about Esther. No one is immune. I feel for Esther but the schadenfreude is simply too delicious. It’s rumored that the creator of the Brazen Bull execution device was its very first victim. Sometimes there really IS justice.

  15. and I’m voting for the ories next time round.

  16. Briggs

    19 September 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Gentlemen,

    It helps to recall the main statistical fact: the vast majority of abuse is done by fathers, then mothers, then other relatives, then “trusted” family friends. Abuse by actual strangers—such as those who happen to sit next to you on a plane (good tip, Jepe)—is, thank God, rare.

    It also helps to consider the real costs of false positives. Jail sentences, lost wages and dignity, etc., as in the Satanic Panic.

  17. Thanks for your compliment Briggs!

    But I am not sure if men are significantly more violent than women. It is a highly politicized issue (thanks to radical feminism).

    For example:
    “In FFY 2005, more than three-quarters of perpetrators of child maltreatment (79.4%) were parents, and another 6.8 percent were other relatives of the victim. Unrelated caregivers (foster parents, residential facility staff, child daycare providers, and legal guardians) accounted for less than 10.1 percent of perpetrators. Women comprised a larger percentage of all perpetrators than men, 57.8 percent compared to 42.2 percent. More than three-fourths of all perpetrators were younger than age 40.” (bold by me)

    Source:
    http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/society-builds-wall-between-men-and-children/2/

    Although we are not discussing domestic violence, the research shows that women are as violent (or more!) than men:

    “SUMMARY: This bibliography examines 256 scholarly investigations: 201 empirical studies and 55 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 253,500.”

    Source:
    http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm

    About the costs of false positives (in relation too repressed memory therapy):

    “Loftus (1997) reviewed 30 cases selected at random from 670 claims submitted to the Washington Victims Compensation Program. Twenty-six had ‘recovered’ a memory of abuse through therapy. All 30 were still in therapy after three years, 18 for more than five years. After treatment 20 were suicidal compared with three before treatment began, 11 were hospitalised (cf. two before treatment), eight engaged in self-mutilation (cf. one before) and marriage break-up occurred in almost all. It appears that in these cases, recovery and abreaction had serious adverse effects.” — Sydney Brandon, M.D., et al, “Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: implications for clinical practice,” British Journal of Psychiatry, April 98, p. 303″

    source:
    http://www.stopbadtherapy.com/myths/repress.shtml

  18. I went looking for data on the actual reported sex-related crimes against children. I had a hard time finding any official statistics. Does anyone have a reference to an official source akin to the DOJ/FBI statistics that lays out crime by relationship of the perpetrator to the victim for children and young adolescents – say under 15 or 16? Given the hot button type of issue this is, I am surprised that the data are not more readily accessible.

    As to the false positive issue, we should be clear about what the issue is. Clearly the repressed memory stunts leads to charges and major negative consequences. Filling out forms and having background checks to teach or coach children have far less immediate significant negative consequences. Though I would grant that (a) they are not much of a deterrent and (b) they do tend to raise the level of paranoia that may not be particularly healthy.

  19. Briggs

    20 September 2009 at 6:21 am

    Bernie,

    You’re right, we should find a better source for the stats. I’m going by what I was told by a worker in the field, and this was from many years ago. So it’s already stale and third-hand. It does smell right, though, and I’ll be surprised if the rankings change much: I mean, an inverting of the family/friend and stranger categories.

  20. I’d like to see plastic ID swipe cards which can be instantly checked in a central police controlled database. All new applicants for jobs could present this along with all the other bits and bobs. This is also in no way a more reliable system, but it is less hassle for the public as they won’t be able to justify charging every time checks are carried out and it’s instantaneous so preventing delay. If it’s good enough for banksthen it’s got some merit. Of course these will then fetch a price on the black market but the correct name needs to be on the card with a pin number, hologramme. At this stage, I thnk the employer can be said to have carried out reasonable background checks.

  21. Bernie, yes, criminal background checks are not much of a deterrent to sexual offenses… and to volunteers’ willingness to help. They don’t protect against false positive. My view is that they are only meant to filter out criminals and registered perverts, and they do serve such purpose.

    I remember the day care sex abuse hysteria that happened a while ago. My in-laws have been in day care business for more than 20 years, criminal background checks are imperative when hiring staff and teachers. The background checks help keep children safe, put parents’ minds at ease, and protect the business. Regardless of whether the laws require criminal background checks for anyone who works with children, to my in-laws, not running a criminal background check would simply be a crime of negligence on their part. And, of course, they could face possible negligent hiring lawsuits if something happens.

  22. Joy,

    Those cards have the aroma of Work Papers. They could do the same thing for travel and call them Travel Papers — an absolute must for travel. Nice idea but it solves the wrong problem.

    JH,

    A check to filter out criminals and registered perverts is the stated goal but never underestimate the power of the bureaucratic mind in inventing novel uses — requiring novel extensions of course. I personally detest ineffective, feel-good measures particularly when invasive. It’s nothing more than pointlessly allowing the camel’s nose under the tent.

    Bernie,

    Where do you draw the line? Any job placing a person near youngsters (like owing a MacDonald’s)? Why not require it for all jobs? Think of how safe everyone would be.

    So what about the British requirement for transport? You said “background checks to teach or coach children have far less immediate significant negative consequences” so it’s reasonable to assume you think the requirement OK as well. You really should try imagining yourself on the business end of one of these measures. What if it was YOU who applied for a job as a school bus driver and were erroneously identified as a pervert? Think your neighbors won’t find out? Do you think they would continue to associate with you if they do? Do you really think you could just explain it away?

    For that matter, the very fact that you were once named as an entry on the pervert list will haunt you forever. For example, one of the questions on many job and security applications is “were you ever arrested?” Never mind the concept of presumed innocence. The fact that you were once arrested (even if erroneously) could hamper or deny you a job or security clearance.

  23. DAV
    My wife teaches in the public sector and is also active in our church (RC). She had to register in both instances, so I am aware of the bureaucratic aspects of this.
    The possible negative aspects are real – I do not doubt it. But it seems to me that we should take a more objective view of these practices – both pros and cons. I see little benefit in most instances from operating from a precautionary principle. It is much better to put the facts as we know them on the table and make some kind of actuarial assessment. But in order to do this we need real data – not worst and best case scenarios.

    At the moment I feel like I am (and we are) trying to make decisions with totally insufficient information. The benefit of Matt raising the question, is that it is a question worth digging out the data in order to assess.

    One final note though somewhat OT. I used to design recruiting and selection systems for big companies. We always emphasized the need to spend the time and resources needed to check references as thoroughly as possible. You would be amazed at the number of organizations that do not even do cursory checks, let alone avail themselves of informal means of checking out someone who will be paid a lot of money and will have access to important and sensitive information. For example, we let one person go for serious ethical issues but have never once been contacted about that individual – even though in two instances the people who hired the individual knew us. The person lasted less than a year at each of the two subsequent positions and was let go for similar types of bad behavior. We checked this person’s references before we hired them – but we now believe that we were conned. That was a hard lesson and has made me much more diligent in obtaining “valid” references.

  24. Dear DAV,

    Criminal background checks (CBC) for coaches, volunteers, and teachers who work with children regularly are not pointless to me. Do you want a person with certain criminal records to work with your children? I don’t. NO, (a capitalized, boldfaced and loud no) no such person should be allowed to come into close contact with my children. Are there better and more effective ways other than a CBC?

    Are you implying that criminal records should not be public because it’s an invasion of privacy and CBC could lead to a more invasion of our privacy? I do think that, for example, a school principal who submits a CBC on a prospective applicant should share the CBC results with the applicant only.

    Thanks for the warning of the evil bureaucratic mind. Also, you have succeeded in making me paranoid! :) I shall run criminal background checks on my children before they graduate from college to make sure their identities are not stolen.

  25. Bernie,

    One of the difficulties with prophylactic solutions is that they are impossible to assess ahead of time. After all, how does one count something that Didn’t Happen but Would Have? See the difficulties? Now combine the inability to show effectiveness with some potentially nasty results (capriciously, let’s say a program of chemical castration to reduce homosexuality — don’t laugh, it’s been done). You still don’t see the problem?

    I’ve been involved in a lot of job evaluations myself. The best thing to do is assume every resume is puffed to some degree. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t done so. Usually there is absolutely nothing on a resume that is indicative of job performance. As far as references go, do you think your former employee will emphasize his time at your workplace or not? Do you think you will ever appear on his list of references? I certainly hope you aren’t actively approaching any of his next prospective employers as you suggest his previous ones should have done when he was applying for a job with your company. If you are I smell lawsuit.

    “We checked this person’s references before we hired them – but we now believe that we were conned. That was a hard lesson and has made me much more diligent in obtaining ‘valid’ references.”

    So then, checking references doesn’t work? Why do you want to continue with it then? (Definition of insanity: repetition with expectation of varying results) What’s left? A private detective agency? Just how much money does your company have that it can afford to throw it at away on prospective employees?

    JH,

    Please define criminal. Tax evader? Conscientious objector? Civil rights activist? Embezzler? Seller of medical marijuana? Bank robber? Seller of untested children’s books? Are each and every one of these on your list? Is your definition of OK the same as one which might be used officially? How would you know?

    “Are you implying that criminal records should not be public because it’s an invasion of privacy and CBC could lead to a more invasion of our privacy?”

    Irrationality is to be expected I suppose. What I’ve been saying is implementation of a solution which solves nothing is pointless and especially so if it provides opportunity for damage and misuse. One of those things not to be rationally discussed in polite company I also suppose. I guess it’s not pointless to you because it makes you feel better. Anybody who gets caught up in one of those things deserves what happens to them, eh?

    I believe in self-reliance and self-responsibility. Makes me far less likely to yell, “Somebody should DO something!” I’m also less likely to allocate blame if they don’t. Some people never outgrow the need for parents and this seems to apply a lot to late baby-boomers and their children — thus the recent spate of government surrogate nannyism. Maybe it’s inevitable fallout from the 60s. I dunno.

  26. OT. Mr Briggs.

    I got so annoyed by a contributor to WUWT and his idea of statistics I suggested he should consult, indeed hire you. I apologise for taking your name in vain since I don’t expect you will see a penny.

    Sorry for that.

    Kindest Regards.

  27. Briggs

    21 September 2009 at 5:06 am

    a jones,

    They say no publicity is bad publicity.

  28. DAV:
    I think I have acknowledged the possibility of severe negative outcomes from these various practices and procedures. The question is their relative frequency. I have no data. Hence my request for a valid data source on crimes against children by strangers.

    Your point to JH, “What I’ve been saying is implementation of a solution which solves nothing is pointless and especially so if it provides opportunity for damage and misuse. ” – is an empirical statement which, if true, would in fact be compelling. However, you have not demonstrated that it is true and “solves nothing” is a pretty low threshold while “damage and misuse” needs to have some meaningful threshold defined. All JH has to show is that someone with a criminal record such that the person would be unsuitable to work in a child-care facility applied for a job and the background check is justified.

    Your logic also appears to dispute the reasonableness of using credit reports and scores to make loans and financial decisions? Sure they are not 100% or even 90% accurate and their use imposes a potentially severe price on those with inaccurately low credit scores, but what is your alternative? If you have one, then I am sure a number of people here would be willing to invest – after we do the requisite background checks!!

    I doubt that anyone here disagrees with your emphasis on self-reliance and self-responsibility. However, in these cases of personnel screening and lending money, access to a relevant data-base makes it a whole lot easier to assume self-responsibility and self-reliance.

    Of course resumes are personal marketing pieces that have questionable accuracy and generally lack of specifics. We agree.

    I would not dream of contacting a former employees prospective employers in some form of pre-emptive strike. I thought the point was simple: Those making hiring decisions should invest significant time and effort in checking references. The diligence and thoroughness of reference checking is actually a competitive differentiator among major executive search firms.

  29. The Criminal Records Bureau check in the UK is not as straightforward as you might think. It is in fact a criminal offence to request a check on someone who does not work in one of the categories specified by the legislation. The law has been crafted to protect, not just children (and vulnerable adults) but also criminals in the process of being rehabilitated. For this latter reason there are also strict limits on who the results of the check can be shared with.

    That said, the CRB actually has a dismal record, not merely on turn-around times but on accuracy, with a significant number of false positives. Sometimes even a good idea driven by the best intentions can fail because no practical implementation is possible.

  30. Rich:
    When you say “significant number of false positives” do you have a citation and/or a specific number? Also is there a means for correcting these inaccuracies?

  31. Dav,
    My cynical suggestion solves many of the current complaints. The problem we all want solved is unlikely ever to be solved. While we’re trying to close down the avenues of possibility for the devious criminal who must be ever cleverer we also must look after the majority of the individuals that currently are pretty unhappy with the way things are working. If we must have such a system, why can’t it be plasticised and computerised. This would cost initially but only people requiring clearance would need a card, a one off application that would not need to cost the applicant again. The biggest issue at the moment over the CRB checks is the hassle and the money. People are not complaining that they have to be checked. When anyone works for the MOD they must be checked, it’s similar. However I think parents should take some responsibility when it comes to extra curricular activities. There simply won’t be volunteers if good will, trust and kindness is met with suspicious demands.

    As far as the false positives people are speaking of, I also would be interested in hearing how often this actually happens. It strikes me as overblown. As Bernie says, if the wrong answer comes back then it ought to be easy to find out why. No bad record, no problem.

    If we dealt with the individuals in the first place with proper sentencing there would be benefit not just in deterring but in making society safer and importantly making people feel safer. The ‘modern’ penal system has a lot to answer for.

  32. During the “Satanic Panic” I was a 4-H leader in a rural area of the West. As part of our professional training it became necessary for all 4-H leaders to take training in “recognizing” the signs of child abuse. A wacky sociologist from a nearby city came out to provide four hours of training. We got a lot of good advise such as abused children might be very friendly toward adults or they might be unfriendy–abusers might be gregarious people or shy people, and so on and so on. Lots of useful information. About two hours into this useless ordeal some of the participants began to discuss neighbors they suspected of child abuse and why they suspected them–the sociologist manufactured lots of amateur slueths on this day. All she seemed to accomplish was make neighbors more suspicious of one another, and become more unsecure about society in general. I quit 4-H not long after this session. It just seemed to me too troublesome to continue to interact with the children of nervous and suspicious parents.

  33. DAV,

    We both know very well what a criminal is. At this I-better-get-going-on-dinner moment, I think that a school should not hire a sexual offender or a drug dealer, and that pharmacies probably should not hire a person with a history of drug abuse, and so on.

  34. Sexual offender search is a must and is fairly easy to do (unlike UK?) since sexual offenders are required to be registered in the state in which they reside. No, there may not be any sexual offenders in the applicant pool, but how can you be sure? If there are, the search probably will catch them. Obviously, background checks are only as accurate as the criminal records. I don’t need 100% accuracy to convince me that a sexual offender search is a must for people who are exposed to children regularly.

    You see, I don’t have a time machine so that I could make it possible to give my children a second chance if something evil happens to them. However, I am all for giving people a second chance, and we are not talking about a second chance to commit a crime. So why don’t we give them a second chance by distancing them from an environment that could provide a temptation to crime? Criminal background checks can help us do so. No?

    Our opinions are not wrong, but mine is better in terms of what’s important to me. ^_^

  35. Bernie,

    “‘implementation of a solution which solves nothing is pointless and especially so if it provides opportunity for damage and misuse.’ – is an empirical statement ”

    Empirical means obtained through discovery (experiment in science). I would think any reasonable person would agree that a solution with no benefit and with bad side effects is not only pointless but a bad idea. A solution with no benefit is pointless by definition. In what way did I discover this?

    There can be no empirical data supportive or not of the premise that X prevents child abuse because they would require counting non-occurrences and might-have-been occurrences. Maybe you are omniscient but most statisticians are not. (Briggs excepted of course :) )

    The claim that a security check has benefit is to do so supported only by gut feel and that is emotional vs. objective.

    Joy,

    The only real world thing balancing the background check requirement is its cost. Reduce that and you will eventually see background checks being applied everywhere.

    I think it irrelevant how many false positives will occur. Since I don’t see any benefit from them except as a placation, ANY false positive then is one too many.

    JH,

    An interesting anecdote. Let me ask ahead of it, “Are you really sure you know all of the paths to being entered onto a sex offender list?”

    Recently someone in this state on the way home from the beach was refused entry to a service station restroom. Well, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so he went behind the station into a group of dumpsters. A woman next door to the station (the true pervert here) saw him enter the dumpster group and ran up to him with a camera. He is now on the registered sex offender list for public exposure. It’s marked a little differently on the list but do you think that matters to anyone using a background check? Is this the reason why such lists were enacted? Creative, no? It’s kind of like lumping speeding with bank robbery and serial murder. A criminal is a criminal don’chya know. (Oh yeah, you do; you said so). BTW: said mentioned person is no longer allowed to live near a school bus stop which pretty much means nowhere in my home city. All because of attending to a biological emergency.

    Since your opinions are better than any other by your definition one can only assume you are proselytizing instead of discussing. Why do you feel the need?

  36. JH:
    My instincts are the same as yours, BUT to be consistent we still need the data on the numbers of criminals who apply for these positions. It is, after all, possible that the screening at this point is essentially useless. I doubt it, but DAV’s position requires that we demonstrate that the policies and practices are in fact effective.

  37. Bernie, I wish I had to time to find some data. I do have access to many academic research tools.

    DAV,

    Judging from the lengths of all my comments, you should know by now that I am always ready to preach the gospel of JH. Those who follow me shall be forever saved from the satanic Paranoid!

    Though it was meant to be a joke, I do like the idea of mandatory criminal background checks for schools. That’s my opinion based on what’s important to me.

    Yes, a criminal is a criminal. How I view a criminal is a different story.

    No, I cannot be sure all the freaks are in the system, or they are really freaks. Can you be sure the story you described in your comment is accurate? Were you present during the incident?

    I know of unfortunate events that happened around me that could have been prevented with criminal background checks. One probably can find one with a Google search. I cannot tell you what I know because of, in short, my professional code of ethics.

    Do those unfortunate cases qualify as justifications for criminal background checks? My answer is yes. Just as you seem to renounce CBC based on some false-positive cases and their possible consequences, I am making my judgment based on what’s important to me, unfortunate events and possible consequences. Yes, they are subjective.

    I suppose that a CBC makes me feel better, which is different from “feeling good”. I rather look at it as something that helps me perform my responsibilities as a parent of young children.

  38. Bernie,

    Off the cuff, in assessing the efficiency of a screening process for repeat in preventing incidents you would need the following data at a minimum:
    1. the number of attempts by repeat offenders
    2. the total number of prior offenders
    3. the number of attempts by repeat offenders thwarted
    4. the number of non-thwarted attempts by repeat offenders

    You need 1 and 2 to establish a prior probability. 2 provides perspective. 3&4 are difficult to obtain ethically and you would still be faced with the problem of determining if the result would have been the same without the process.

    JH,

    You seem to be playing a woulda-coulda-shoulda game. 20-20 hindsight is great but not particularly useful for prediction. Too bad your professional ethics precludes you from explaining why we should accept your authority. Bummer.

  39. DAV:
    But this is not an alternative. It simply begs a cost-benefit or cost effectiveness analysis. I am pretty hard-nosed when it comes to policies to limit some ostensibly avoidable evil – but it is going to be pretty hard to suggest that maintaining a sex offender registry is not a worthwhile investment.

    It seems to me that as long as #3 is significantly greater than zero the screening works. How much greater than zero it needs to be depends on the cost of establishing and maintaining the system.

  40. If an applicant learns that his application for a job has been rejected because of his criminal records, he has the right to file a complaint and takes actions to correct errors. The number of false positives has dropped dramatically due to improvements in technology. Please consult your state’s law governing the use of criminal records.

    We cannot allow our children to fall prey to criminals. An incident is one too many. Their protection is in our hand. If something happens to them, legal complaints and actions can never bring them back. I support criminal background checks for schools without a second thought.

    http://www.qsrweb.com/article.php?na=1&id=8390

    http://gradworks.umi.com/32/93/3293164.html

  41. Colin and DAV:
    So here is the tough part. Instinctively I agree with Colin and JH – but this is an emotional response. DAV’s point is that if the costs of a procedure or practice are significant then one cannot simply assume the procedure or practice is acceptable. Hence we need some data to draw a conclusion.

  42. Bernie,

    No matter what, you need to determine if the measure IS effective and by how much THEN you assess the costs. What I listed should allow determination of efficacy but as I see it — and have been maintaining — is that #3 on the list (the number of attempts by repeat offenders thwarted) requires a fair amount of prescience in its measurement. It is for this very reason that I have stated that it is impossible to measure the efficacy. In my opinion, if it can’t be shown there IS a benefit then that places zero in the denominator of a cost/benefit ratio, which is tantamount to infinite cost.

    Colin,

    “We cannot allow our children to fall prey to criminals. An incident is one too many.”

    Think about that for a minute. That implies no matter what the cost, prevention is of the utmost priority. Surely, there is some cost of prevention that is too much? For example, what if the cost were execution of all criminals — including any inadvertent false positives? Possibly the maximum cost but this would surely guarantee no child will fall prey to a criminal. Would you say a this price is too high? If so, where is your line?

  43. I have no real problem with the concept of a criminal records check but do with the “enhanced” version currently being implemented and the scope of the legislation.

    Yes, it is useful to know if the person applying for a position teaching children has a criminal offence for kiddy-fiddling. But all the check says is that X person has not been caught doing it. It says nothing about whether he (or she) is a kiddy-fiddler.

    The scope of the checks is also too broad and invasive. My wife is a teacher and used to volunteer her summer weekends and a few weeks of her summer holidays doing outward bound type courses in the “wilds” of England. In order to spend time with her at these weekends I used to come along as a minibus driver. As I was deemed to be working with children (even though unpaid) I had to have a criminal records check; irrespective of the fact that at no point was I allowed on my own with the kids and that the majority of them were over 16 (the age of consent in the UK) anyway!

    Where the real issue lies though is with the new enhanced checks. Gossip and heresay can be used in these; likewise where you have been arrested for an offence but there was not enough evidence for prosecution (ie you are innocent as you have not been convicted). Where a child has accused you of kiddy-fiddling as a way of getting their own back on you for some perceived injustice (and this happens regularly in schools) then this also goes down on the register. So you can potentially not get that promotion / lose your job / be branded as a child molestor solely on heresay – which is completely and utterly wrong.

    But then it does create jobs in the, unpopular, Labour Party’s Northern homelands so there must be some more votes coming the way of Gordon “I saved the world” Brown.

  44. DAV:
    It is not unreasonable to assume that any child molester who applies for a job involving close contact with children and who is denied such access through a criminal check is a crime thwarted. Therefore, I do not see it as being a tough statistic to generate. Major school systems that run checks should provide an initial estimator.

  45. DAV,

    “For example, what if the cost were execution of all criminals — including any inadvertent false positives?”

    We are discussing criminal background checks for schools, aren’t we? A criminal background check can create havoc in your life, but the situation is rectifiable. Most employers only run background checks on qualified applicants. Our 20/20 hindsight is exactly the reason why there are mandatory criminal background checks for schools. I am appalled that you believe a simple, quick and free sexual offender search is not worth doing.

  46. Colin,
    Allow me to quote you once more: “An[y] incident is one too many.” That implies no cost is too large. I’m appalled that you think so. To stop all incidents would take infinite cost. In light of your statement, current costs are irrelevant as they will always allow that “one too many” incident so therefore must be escalated again and again. I find attitudes such as yours far more dangerous.

    Bernie,
    But an assumption nonetheless. Does making it mean hard data is unnecessary? Or that action should be taken regardless — if only because it sounds workable? If the “remedy” is implemented but later found to not work, would you favor it’s discontinuation? Would it ever be discountinued?

  47. Colin
    “Most employers only run background checks on qualified applicants… I am appalled that you believe a simple, quick and free sexual offender search”

    current UK government estimates are that 11 million people in the UK will have to be screened. The tests are neither simple, nor quick, nor free.

    Bernie
    “It is not unreasonable to assume that any child molester who applies for a job involving close contact with children and who is denied such access through a criminal check is a crime thwarted.”

    Child molesters are in a tiny minority, running at <100 cases a year in the UK, the vast majority of whom are relatives. The regulations encompass a vast variety of offenders, and also including people who have merely been gossiped about, and who have not been found guilty of, or even prosecuted for, a crime. The current number of people who are on the sex offenders register in the UK is ~30 thousand. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article2170382.ece). It must be obvious that the vast majority of people on the register are not child molesters.

  48. Briggs

    27 September 2009 at 4:52 am

    All,

    I guess we’re becoming just as paranoid here again (though this has a slightly different flavor): link.

  49. more potential paedophiles !
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8277378.stm

    but it is all OK; just think of the children!

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