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The advent of the internet has created a means for the rapid dissemination of information. The rapid dissemination may be used for both legitimate information and for information of little or no credibility, but the greatest benefit is to the latter group, as it permits the distortion to become "common knowledge" rapidly -- the only way such distortions may gather even the patina of credibility. An example....

Leiden University releases it's latest version of the International Crime Victim Study (but don't bother looking there yet. As of March 3rd, the newest edition hadn't reached their own web site.).

The news does reach the press -- including WorldNetDaily, which gives it a particularly... ah..... WorldnetDaily spin. (WND, out of California, still believes Ken Starr is part of the Vince Foster cover-up).

From there, the story is propagated outward, via the various fora on the web. See, for example, the NY Times Gun Control Forum (free registration required) or CNN Message Boards)

And what is the story WND propagates? That England and Australia have higher crime rates than the United States, with the subtext that "Rates Down Under increase despite strict gun-control measures":

    Analysts in the U.S. were quick to point out that all of the other industrialized nations included in the survey had stringent gun-control laws, but were overall much more violent than the U.S.

But what is the real message of the study? Here are some observations from the world press:

The Evening Standard
(London)
February 22, 2001

About 2,000 people in 17 different countries were surveyed about their experiences of crime in 1999. People were asked whether they had been victims of any of a range of 11 offences from violent and sexual assault to car crime, burglary and theft of bicycles.

A total of 26 per cent of the people surveyed in England and Wales had been victims some of two or more offences.

The last time the survey was carried out, England and Wales also topped the league with 61 offences per 100 people. We have retained that unwanted top position - even though rates have fallen under Labour - because the rest of the major industrial nations have experienced a matching drop.

The study says that the percentage of people who were victims of crime in a single year is "a simple but robust" way of comparing records on crime. The latest figures show the countries fall into three bands:

  • England and Wales, Australia, The Netherlands and Sweden had victim rates above 24 per cent;
  • Canada, Scotland, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, France and the US had rates between 20 and 24 per cent;
  • Finland, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Japan and Northern Ireland all had rates under 20 per cent.
AAP NEWSFEED,
February 23, 2001

MELBOURNE, Feb 23 AAP - Australia has more victims of crime than any other western country, a major international survey has found.

The 2000 International Crime Victims Survey has found 30 per cent of Australians were victims of crime in 1999.

Conducted by the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Criminality and Law Enforcement at the University of Leiden, the survey fond Australia ranked higher than even the United States and England.

But Federal Justice Minister, Chris Ellison said the survey should be viewed with caution because it was a small sample and excluded murders.

The survey interviewed 2,000 people by phone in 17 countries, asking everyone the same questions about their experiences of crime.

Despite Australia's top ranking, the survey found the overall level of crime in the country dropped in the 1990s from 49.5 to 44 per 100 population.

Now, a several of things are immediately noticeable:

  1. In spite of the claims by the Gun Lobby and WND that crime is running rampant as a result of the changes in gun laws in the two countries, crime has actually dropped in both.
  2. The WND claim that:
      Analysts in the U.S. were quick to point out that all of the other industrialized nations included in the survey had stringent gun-control laws, but were overall much more violent than the U.S.
    was less than honest. Look at the list of countries in the bottom band (according to the Evening Standard's story.
  3. As any number of articles note (including WND), the survey does not include homicides. (Victim surveys do not -- as one cannot survey the victim of a successful homicide) -- and there the United States is the clear leader.

But this story gets propagated (on the NY Times forum) as "I would suggest that the inability of Brits to defend themselves, since their near-total disarmament by their government, is an important factor in this." Apparently, the propagator missed not just the fact that British crime was falling, but that were it lead the world was in auto theft -- and unless he expects the Brits to sleep in their cars with their guns, it's hard to see how their "near-total disarmament" will help.


Note: The quotations used here are the copyright property of the respective publishers, WorldNetDaily, The Evening Standard of London, AAP Newsfeed and the New York Times, and the excerpts used here are used here under the Fair Use doctrine, which permits reproduction of limited portions of the cited works for educational, non-profit purposes.



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©Copyright, 2001, Mike Rosenberg
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