Ah, the “tripwire vet = criminal” crock of crap again

This one is a bit long in the tooth — it dates from late March — but we’ve got so many balls in the air right now, that our AO is going to look like the dark side of the moon when they all crater down. So we’re trolling the drafts folder to entertain all y’all. -Ed.

Inspired by a paper in the British medical journal The Lancet — the same Lancet. a commenter points out, that published a laughably inflated Iraq casualty count as a political jab at the US — there’s apparently a paper that says soldiers aren’t made more criminal by combat zone service, except, of course, that they are. Dr. Theodore Dalrymple weighs in:

No one thought in those [Napoleonic -Ed.] days of the psychological effect upon the soldiers of witnessing so much violence — more than 30,000 were killed during the battle [Waterloo – Ed.], about one in six of those who took part in it: nor could anyone have done so if he had thought of it. But it is now accepted wisdom that active military service leads men subsequently to commit crimes of violence, though the reasons for this are unknown.

It might be “Accepted Wisdom™” among the chattering classes, but objective and factual evidence is lacking. Always has been, and when the anecdotes are examined they often don’t hold up. All of the “Vietnam Vets,” for example, in the original “Tripwire Vet” segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes turned out to be phonies. The Boston Globe threw its prestige and power behind a “Vietnam Vet,” Joseph Yandle, and never pulled his actual military record even as they excused his record of drug abuse, bank robbery, and murder. Pardoned thanks to the Globe’s publicity offensive, Yandle murdered again. He was never anywhere near Vietnam, but modern reporters don’t let facts impinge on the storytelling. Neither, it seems, does The Lancet:

A recent paper in The Lancet examined the association of military service and subsequent crimes of violence, which turned out to be much weaker than suspected. The authors examined the criminal records of 8280 British soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with that of 4080 of those who had not. When controlled for such factors as age, level of education, pre-service record of violent offences, rank and length of service there was no significant difference in the criminal records of those who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who had not.

via PJ Lifestyle » Does Military Service Cause Men to Become Criminals?.

That’s barely comprehensible, but basically it says, soldiers who served in combat zones are not materially different, in terms of whether they commit crimes, than soldiers who did not. (For some reason, The Lancet shrank from comparing the vets to their non-veteran cohort. I think we know why).

Since Dalrymple’s explanation of the study was clear as mud, we pulled the actual study [.pdf] and found  that his unclarity was a fair reflection of the study itself. There are, to put it charitably, some big conclusions resting on questionable interpretations of data, and on numbers that stand on a quickstand of self-selected reporting.  But from this thin gruel, the authors draw the conclusions that  “deployment or aspects of deployment act to increase offending and violent offending in the military” and “serving in a combat role and exposure to an increased number of traumatic events on deployment conferred an additional risk of subsequent violent offending.”

Only in passing do they mention that the veteran population was vastly more law-abiding than British males in general. We thought the numbers, particularly the notation that 17% of service veterans have a criminal record, were alarmingly high, until we saw the really alarming number: 28.3% of men in the UK have a criminal conviction of some kind!

We guess they come by their football hooliganism honestly.

But if you look at those numbers again, you’ll see the interesting fact that British men who’ve taken the Queen’s shilling are almost twice as law-abiding as the population as a whole. (The non-veteran population, then, must have a rate of criminal convictions higher than 28.3%, because the relatively more-law-abiding vets are included in those totals and their 17% rate would bring the average down). The difference between offenders in the non-combat-deployed and combat-deployed soldiers, the only place where these so-called scientists could tease out a (barely) statistically significant difference, has a laughably low n (number of individuals in the sample) and indicates far lower rates of offending than British civilian samples, for both the combat-deployed and the merely deployed. Bear in mind, too, that soldiers are drawn, necessarily, from the cohort of the population most prone to offending: young, single males. There’s also no attempt that we saw to control for psychometric or socioeconomic status differences between the deployed, noncombat group (which would be heavy with technical specialists) and the deployed, combat group (which would be heavy with knuckle-draggin’ riflemen like your hosts here). But with all that, even the knuckle-draggers come in less law-breaking than the median Briton.

However, “British veterans better citizens than average” is a headline Fleet Street would not write. So instead, they make a splash about the news that a methodologically shaky survey finds a nearly invisible difference in the conviction rates of combat vs. noncombat vets — never mind that both groups are more law-abiding than the average British subject.

Social science is to science as rap music is to music. Yo.

2 thoughts on “Ah, the “tripwire vet = criminal” crock of crap again

  1. Medic09

    As you alluded, The Lancet is notorious (except among their writers and readers) for gratuitously mixing political and social policy commentary with medical writing. They are incapable of sticking to hard science.

  2. Aesop

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” was the lesson of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

    The lesson of the Sixties is “When the myth becomes exposed as myth, lie, obscure, obfuscate, deny, dissemble, and shout the myth louder.”

    Those exact young single males, who should be pure criminality wrapped in a miasma of testerone, and surrounded by a yet-to-grow-in brain cortex of undeveloped critical thinking, commit vastly less crime than the average 18-25 year old yobo.

    Anyone who’s ever seen an NJP delivered for a traffic ticket knows why this is so.

    The only thing that makes veterans more dangerous than the average lumpenproleriat, is their tendency to want to grab idiot lying politicians by the short hairs, and kick them around a good bit, which was true in the States in 1789, in France throughout Napoleon’s in-out-in reigns, after our Civil War, during the Bonus Army marches after WWI, and after WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now, after 3 wars in SWAsia.

    The short lesson for politicians is “Don’t mess your veterans around, especially if while you were taking graduate courses in lying to constituents, they were doing post-doctoral work in regime change, which works whether the object is George III, Napoleon I, Saddam the Horrible, or PM Dipwad or Congressman @$$wipe.” Nota bene.

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