When It Doesn’t Matter that 2 + 2 = 4
Statistical analysis is a great tool for objective research. Numerical data can often provide useful insight when making policy decisions. But not everything is a math problem. And sometimes the statistically improbable course of action is the best one.Nevertheless, economists sometimes address unquantifiable concerns about the social and cultural effects of unchecked mass migration with numerical analysis. Alex Nowrasteh, of the Cato Institute loves reducing complex immigration issues to misleading mathematical equations, then proclaiming that he has led us all from darkness into the light of unerring truth.Now, in an essay that is offensively insensitive, Mr. Nowrasteh argues that the recent murder of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez is not a valid reason for building a border wall or increasing spending on border security.Why? Because, according to Mr. Nowrasteh, before we do anything rash, like securing our borders against foreign incursion, we must assess “how many Border Patrol agents are murdered in the line of duty” in order to determine “how deadly [their] occupation really is.” Translated into English, that means it’s okay to gamble with the lives of our immigration enforcement officers, as long as only a few of them die while doing their jobs.That’s an absurd proposition. There should never be an acceptable number of Border Patrol agents killed in the line of duty – ever! It’s also a proposition derived from a series of false comparisons:
- Border patrol agents are overwhelmingly male and fit. And 100 percent of them are armed and trained in self-defense tactics. Therefore, comparing the number of Border Patrol agents murdered in the line of duty to the general homicide rate for the entire U.S. – without any attempts to correct for age, health, defense training or involvement in criminal activity – is like comparing apples to elephants.
- The assertion that Border Patrol agents are less likely to be killed at work than other law enforcement officers is based on a comparison of the line of duty death rates for all law enforcement officers in the U.S. with the Border Patrol death rate. However, large urban police agencies such as the NYPD, LAPD, and Chicago PD tend to skew the statistics, as they work in unusually violent environments. A much more apt comparison would have been between the Border Patrol (which works mostly in austere, low-population, rural environments) and rural sheriff’s departments that operate in similar terrain.
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