Do Immigrants Cause Crime? The Facts of the Swedish “Refugee Crisis”

Since President Trump released his recently-suspended executive order against the entry of Middle-Eastern travelers and Syrian refugees into the United States, many Americans have cited the reported increase of violent crime across Sweden to defend the policy and the hostility of the Trump administration towards immigration. Conservative think-tanks and news sources, including the Gatestone Institute, the Express, the Daily Caller, and Breitbart, have asserted that countries with Middle-Eastern immigrants have unusually-high crime rates because foreigners, particularly refugees, commit crimes at much higher rates than native-born citizens. These news outlets frequently reference a sudden rise of the crime rate of Sweden over the past two years to prove that its relatively permissive immigration policies have placed the entire country at risk. Reports from Gatestone, the Express, and Russian national media outlets have even claimed that some neighborhoods in Sweden have become “no-go” zones where law and order has completely collapsed. While cursory research shows that the Swedish organization supposedly responsible for the secret report documenting these “no-go” zones, the National Criminal Investigation Service, does not exist, the question remains: has Sweden experienced abnormally high crime-rates over the past two years because of its admission of Middle-Eastern immigrants?

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If we consult Swedish crime statistics from 2014-2016, the answer is probably not. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention has released preliminary data that show that the number of reported crimes decreased from 2014 to 2015 and then rose slightly from 2015 to 2016. Overall, the crime rate and the frequency of violent crimes have actually fallen from 2014 to 2016 during the peak of the supposed “refugee crisis.” For example, 6,700 cases of rape were reported in Sweden during 2014 compared with 5,920 in 2015 and 6,560 in 2016. Despite the publicized increase of the overall crime rate, the entire country only experienced 6,500 more crimes in 2016 than in 2015 out of 1.5 million crimes total (an increase of less than half of one percent). If we examine long-term figures from the Swedish Crime Survey, the murder rate has remained steady between 2-4 cases per 100,000 citizens since 2000 (the highest rate, ironically, appears for the year 2010). Since the middle of the twentieth century, the number of convictions for all crimes across Sweden has decreased significantly, from 300,000 during the 1970s to 110,000-130,000 during the 2000s. The only violent crime with any evidence of an increase over time is rape, an offense that the Swedish government has redefined since 2005 to include not only physical sexual assault but also sexual harassment and unwanted gestures and glances. Sweden now records every separate instance of harassment as its own count of rape, which makes its national rape figures higher than some other European countries (if an offender makes one sexual comment every day for a month, for example, he or she may be prosecuted for thirty counts of rape). Reports clearly show that Sweden has not experienced any short-term or long-term crime increase because of its immigration policies.

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The Danger of Alternative Facts

Over the past few weeks, supporters and opponents of the Trump administration have fought over the constitutionality of his immigration order, the appointment of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, and the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Whether we agree or disagree with these decisions, we should not let our politics overshadow the most worrisome result of the Trump administration: the presentation and circulation of “alternative facts.” Kellyanne Conway, the Counselor to the President, coined the term when she asserted that aerial photographs, public transportation records, and statistical estimates could not disprove the claim from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that more Americans attended the Trump inauguration than that of any other president. The possibility of “alternative facts” has become one of the primary defenses of the Trump administration, and many Americans who support President Trump believe the media has misrepresented facts with the explicit objective of undermining his actions. Those who have sided with Conway present two related arguments: 1) We cannot completely remove subjective biases from our perceptions of reality, so all facts contain some bias. 2) If facts cannot escape bias, then one set of “facts” cannot have any more validity than another set of “facts.” Therefore, what we consider the truth and the truth itself are more or less the same, and we can counter any fact with an “alternative fact” backed with any amount of evidence, research, or subjective belief.

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How to Detect Bullshit

Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, two professors from the University of Washington, have recently developed a course which teaches college students how they can recognize and challenge everyday bullshit. Fact-checking seems particularly relevant given our current political climate, and Bergstrom and West have focused their syllabus on the misuse of statistics and graphs which directly contradict empirical facts. When we hear outright lies from friends, family, elected representatives, advertisers, corporations, teachers, etc., we can normally uncover the truth with careful research. Bergstrom and West ask how much this situation changes when data itself becomes one of the basic means of warping reality. If scientists, politicians, news outlets, and spokespersons misrepresent and bury facts with rhetoric, statistics, and graphics, then we must consider when, how, and why others might manipulate us. Bergstrom and West themselves claim that bullshit does not end with news and politics: it enters academic journals, TED lectures, published books, and (perhaps most problematically) classrooms nationwide.

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The course website includes specific case-studies of statistical bullshit, academic essays about the spread and detection of bullshit, and clear statements of purpose from its two architects. I highly recommend the site for instructors concerned with how well their students analyze evidence, and the cases from the website can spark useful discussions about why even 99% caffeine-free products still contain high doses of caffeine and why over $70 million of fraud should not end the national food stamp program. Students can then locate and discuss their own examples of popular and academic bullshit, and the authors of the course have requested more case-studies and articles for future versions of their syllabus. You can find the website here: Calling Bullshit Course Website.

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Recent Study Finds Handwritten Notes Improve Retention

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I recently came across this NPR article (one of my former coworkers from OU posted the link using Facebook) about the cognitive differences between handwritten and electronic notes. The article summarizes the results of a recent study from two psychologists from Princeton and UCLA showing that handwritten notes significantly improve how well students synthesize complex information. Notes serve two primary functions: they help us process material while we write down critical details and later provide records of these details when we study for exams and translate face-to-face meetings into products and documents. The authors of the study believe that although electronic notes help students and professionals transcribe more content than handwritten notes, these verbatim records actually prevent note-takers from identifying the main ideas and possible applications of lectures, conversations, etc. Even having more electronic notes did not help most of the students from the study, who took short exams after hearing various Ted Talks; the students with handwritten notes received higher scores regardless of whether or not the two groups studied for the tests beforehand. Click the link below for more information: NPR Handwritten vs. Electronic Notes Article.

NewsELA: Science and Current Events Written for K-12 Students

Since I started working with AJ Tutoring over the summer, I have regularly needed fiction and nonfiction material designed for middle-school students so I can provide diagnostics, reading comprehension exercises, and writing assignments for my clients. Whereas high-school students can generally read political and scientific news from sources including The New York Times, Time, The Economist, and Scientific American, these periodicals sometimes cause difficulties for younger students who would clearly benefit from their real-world content. Unfortunately, some media outlets specifically directed at children either oversimplify complex problems or focus upon trivial subjects which do not accurately represent current events or recent scientific discoveries.

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The education website NewsELA has solved this problem with its own writers who read and revise articles from credible journals, newspapers, and magazines for multiple grade-levels. Each NewsELA article includes three or more difficulty settings so teachers can choose the reading-comprehension level most appropriate for their students, and these settings range from elementary school to high school. My students and I have successfully discussed the recent Tesla autopilot accidents, the controversy over whether or not athletes with prosthesis should compete against their “able-bodied” counterparts, and a scientific study concluding Greenland sharks may live for around 400 years. While you cannot read full articles from the site without registering your email address, the investment more than repays the cost of another weekly newsletter. The site also follows one of the central principles of technical communication: it evaluates the needs and capacities of its intended audiences and designs its content accordingly. You can explore the website yourself using this link: NewsELA Homepage.

How to Increase Your LinkedIn Traffic

Online social networks have become increasingly significant for professionals searching for employment opportunities and accruing social capital, but the recent graduates and young professionals who need these networks the most usually receive the least traffic from potential employers. I have compiled eight recommendations for the content of LinkedIn profiles and the activities of highly-visible users that can help you increase the amount of visitors you receive and the quality of the matches between your own objectives and those of your viewers.

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Why We Never Read Mass Emails

My last post discussed the characteristics of successful emails, and my comments helped me recognize why students and employees seldom read organization-wide messages. If we briefly review the principal criteria for audience-centered emails, we learn useful emails should:

  1. Provide clear subject lines.
  2. Include the expected conventions.
  3. Use short paragraphs and minimize length.
  4. Quickly summarize their objectives.

Mass emails, particularly company newsletters and university event messages, do not satisfy any of these requirements. Because mass messages usually supply information from multiple sources, including different employee teams and campus organizations, these emails generally provide generic (ex. “OU Mass Message” or “Hewlett Packard October Newsletter”) or overlong subject lines. Those who receive mass emails often cannot anticipate their content from reading these subject lines and accordingly either scan any relevant information too quickly or discard the email altogether.

These emails also reject most expected conventions; mass messages rarely have clear senders and recipients and often leave out the salutation and polite close expected from other online correspondence. This impersonal style makes the audience of these emails review their content even less carefully, and mass messages worsen these problems with unclear subject lines and disorganized first paragraphs. Students and employees will read most emails with relevant content, but mass messages bury their information inside several unstructured paragraphs with different intended audiences.

Perhaps organizations should invest the infrastructure, personnel, and time so students and employees can filter the content of their mass emails. While this plan would reduce the coverage of these emails, more of their recipients would probably read and hopefully act upon their content. Sometimes, especially with business correspondence, fewer words and fewer readers means improved communication.