Much Data On Drugs, Human Trafficking, Porn Called Phony

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Be skeptical of some of the numbers used in stories about crime subjects, says Slate media critic Jack Shafer, quoting a new book of essays, “Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict,” edited by Peter Andreas and Kelly M. Greenhill. Andreas notes how the U.S. drug enforcement bureaucracy routinely manipulates figures about drug seizures to “fend off political attacks” that would bruise their budgets. An increase (or decrease) in drugs interdicted at the border may have little relation to how well U.S. Customs is doing its job because most drugs still clear the barriers. Because the public doesn’t understand what interdiction numbers mean, the drug bureaucracy spends money to produce bigger numbers because the public associates “more” with “better.”

Mythical numbers about the size of the worldwide illicit drug market, the number of human beings trafficked across borders, the magnitude of the trade in counterfeit goods, and the amount spent on Internet child pornography are accepted unquestioningly and repeated by credulous media, Andreas says. He cites the work of Carl Bialik in the Wall Street Journal untangling the 2006 assertion that Internet child porn was a $20 billion-a-year business. The figure was in a press release for a congressional hearing and published in the New York Times and the Journal. A congressional staffer said the number came from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which credited consultants at McKinsey & Co., which credited an advocacy group called End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes. They claimed that the source was the FBI, which denies it.

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