Silence that kills

Posted: May 16, 2005 12:00 AM

This morning, I logged on to to check out Neal's daily reading assignments. The first thing that caught my eye was a story about Newspeak magazine-or, Newsweek, as they prefer to be called. It seems their story about the desecration of the Koran by US troops isn't exactly flushing out upon closer examination.

In light of this apparently monumental lapse of professional judgment, many are asking a very serious question: Did Newsweek, in its zeal to attack the Bush administration and the Iraq War, run a false story that has sparked violence, murder, and anti-American sentiment around the world?

In other words, do the people at Newsweek have blood on their hands?

I frequently ask myself a similar question about my colleagues in the so-called social sciences. In their reporting of the news (or "research") in the social sciences, they frequently fail to run with stories, which might save a lot of lives. I often ask myself whether social science professors have blood on their hands as I think about some of the following taboo subjects:

Black on White Crime. A couple of years ago, a student of mine was beaten within an inch of his life while walking alone after midnight in downtown Durham, North Carolina. At first, the police thought he had been a victim of a hit-and-run incident that crushed several of his bones and punctured his lungs. He barely survived.

Later, the police (realizing it was a bat that hit him, not a car) concluded (based on an outbreak of similar cases in the area) that he had probably been attacked by a minority gang that required the maiming or killing of a white person for initiation. What if the student, a criminal justice major, had been told the truth about inter-racial crime? What if his professors taught him that blacks-though outnumbered six-to-one in the population by whites-actually attack whites many times more often than whites attack them?

Would white students be more likely to avoid minority neighborhoods while walking alone and late at night? More importantly, would this information save lives?

Homosexuality and Health Risks. Recently, an economics professor at UNLV was accused of sexual harassment for stating that homosexuals were less likely to invest in the long term because their lifestyle shortened their lifespan and because they were less likely to have children. If students were told the truth about homosexuality, would they be as likely to choose a homosexual lifestyle? If homosexuality is not a choice, why would anyone want to suppress this information? More importantly, would an honest discussion of the risks of the gay lifestyle save lives?

Black Illegitimacy. A few years ago in class, I mentioned the fact that the black illegitimacy rate is nearly 70%. Several students were shocked. One even asked me to repeat the statistic. When I asked the class whether anyone had ever heard the statistic from a professor, no one raised a hand. There were several senior sociology majors in the class. If we are unwilling to discuss the problem of black illegitimacy, how can it be reduced? How can we ignore the relationship between the crime rate and the illegitimacy rate of different racial and ethnic groups, given that the correlation is perfect?

If we were willing to discuss this openly, would we save lives?

Marriage and Violence. Several years ago, my university had a commencement speaker who had once compared the institution of marriage to the institution of slavery. She harped upon the prevalence of domestic violence in order to legitimate the comparison. Since then, I have often heard feminists-usually sociologists-say that the institution of marriage is of benefit to men, not women. How many of these anti-marriage activists are aware that married women are less likely to be victims of violence than single women-not to mention married men, and single men as well? If aware, how many would be willing to discuss the relevant statistics in class? In they did, would they encourage marriage? More importantly, would this information save lives?

Black on Black Violence. Another criminologist in the UNC system once shocked me when he called the death penalty a "genocidal mechanism" to control blacks through "extermination" or "the threat of extermination."

This was based on his claim (made several years ago and not challenged here) that of the last 120 people executed in the US, 61 were white while 59 were minorities. In other words, he was decrying the disproportionate execution of minorities.

Is this professor aware that blacks and other minorities actually do commit murder at a rate higher than whites? Is he aware that the victim of minority violence is usually a member of the same minority group-on average about four out of five occasions? Does he know that thousands of blacks are killed by other blacks every year? Is he aware that several times in the past more blacks have been killed by other blacks in a single year than have been lynched by the Klan in the course of American history? Does the suppression of this information help minority criminals? Or does it hurt minority victims? If we were more honest and open about this topic, would we save lives?

Illegal Aliens and Crime. I sometimes hear social scientists blandly state that "not all illegal aliens are criminals." When I point out that 100% of them actually are criminals (hence the term ,"illegal") many say that amnesty would cure the problem. But, by the same logic, the legalization of murder would put an end to the classification of certain people (those who kill with malice aforethought) as criminals. Do we really want to do that?

If we were more honest and open (and serious) about this topic, would we save lives?

Abortion. A friend of mine had two painful miscarriages, years after having two abortions as a teenager. If her parents were aware of her decision to consider abortion, would she have learned more about the history of miscarriages in her family and how that might be relevant to the decision to abort? If she had been exposed to different perspectives in her "Marriage and family" class, would she have made different choices? Would those choices have saved lives?