In spring, hearts turn to baseball, so stay with me, please, as I show you how some supposedly objective social science research is not worth a broken bat or a coming-apart-at-the-seams ball.
Imagine a social scientist, with a large research grant, studying baseball players drafted each year by the 15 American League (AL) teams and the 15 National League (NL) teams. Imagine that all AL pitching coaches stress throwing a strike with the first pitch, but all of their NL counterparts have “nibble around the corners” as their mantra: They advocate throwing the first pitch wide of the plate on the assumption that overeager batters will swing at it anyway.
Imagine that young AL pitchers respond in one of two ways to that teaching. Half absorb it, practice it, and stay with it—and they give up fewer runs than NL pitchers. The other half ignore or rebel against the teaching and give up more runs than the NL hurlers. Thus, on average the AL and NL results are virtually the same, and a social scientist concludes that the “make your first pitch a strike” perspective doesn’t work.
But, of course, it does, because AL and NL pitchers are not hermetically sealed off from each other or the world around them. Some NL pitchers read a best-selling book that advocates first-pitch strikes. Others watch how their AL buddies are faring. Others get tired of falling behind in the count by nibbling at those corners rather than being a confident, purpose-driven pitcher. Everyone finds a different path—via genes? environment? x factors?—to success or failure.
Via a “Washington Post” blog on Feb. 11, 12, and 13, Emory professor Alexander Volokh thrice attacked faith-based prison programs. Volokh was summarizing his “Alabama Law Review” article from late last year, “Do Faith-Based Prisons Work?” He was kind enough to give readers the executive summary—“Short answer: no”—even though some lengthy studies have given a longer answer: yes.
For example, a Michigan faith-based prison program had a recidivism (rearrest) rate of 18 percent for graduates compared to 57 percent of inmates with similar backgrounds and offenses who were not part of the program. In Texas, most ex-cons also get rearrested, but a Christian program showed a rearrest rate of 17 percent and a reincarceration rate of 8 percent among those who stuck with the program. And so on.
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