CRIMINOLOGY 101, CRIMINAL JUSTICE 101 AND CRIME SCIENCE 101
Introduction to causality and explanations for crime: for Crime Opportunity Theory, Routine Activities Theory and Situational Crime Prevention
The Crime Opportunity Theory (Routine Activities Theory, Situational Crime Prevention and Crime Science) notion of opportunity as a cause of crime is 100 per cent wrong because good scientific explanations of the physical world are (1) easy to refute (2) difficult to vary and (3) their explanation is a mere truism. I have demonstrated point (3) in my peer-to-peer paper Opportunity Does Not Make the Thief.
Crime Scientists, having abandoned social science and criminology, claim now to be natural scientists. I think, therefore, they should perhaps take a look at what scientific reasoning actually is. Oxford scientist and expert in quantum computing, David Deutsch, has recorded a superb video lecture where he explains that easy to vary and impossible to refute thinking such as ratortunity is no better than saying about crime “a wizard did it” because it does not tell us how crime happens with a theory that is either true or false. Ratorunity, therefore, is a hopeless post-hoc explanation that tells us nothing more than that crimes happen because they can and the classic RAT crime triangle, which is a description of the essential elements of a successful crime in commission, amounts to a useless causal explanation that every crime caused itself to happen. Crime opportunity theory (ratortunity), which underpins Crime Science, is not about opportunity, it is not a theory, it cannot rationally be a cause of anything – never mind a cause of crime – and it certainly is not scientific.
Combined with Karl Popper’s definition of pseudoscience as being something underpinned by theories and hypotheses that are irrefutable, Deutsch’s own unique reasoning about good explanations being those that are difficult to vary allows us to demonstrate quite clearly that ratortunity (Crime Opportunity Theory) most certainly cannot be a cause of crime. Because the only way that ratortunity could be refuted for crimes in everyday life is if guardians could be both present and capable of preventing crimes that, somehow, happened anyway.
Criminology students, criminal justice students, crime science students, policy makers and police officers – this video is essential viewing for you, your professors, and those pseudoscientists that you are paying to play around with inefficient rule-of-thumb crime reduction and policing models based upon demonstrably irrational premises.
Read how so called ‘Crime Opportunity Theory’ cannot be a cause of crime
Can something that has not yet happened make you do it?
Of course not. This means that the Routine Activities Theory (RAT) premise that the characteristics of a successfully completed crime are the cause of that crime is a spuriofact.
RAT is the pet theory of many police forces in the US and UK and is promoted by both governments as veracious and useful.
Read how this myth was busted on the Dysology site
Government websites of four different countries promote my Market Reduction Approach the Theft. And yet it has never been proven to be effective. See the page on the impact of my research on policy here.
Is Hot Clocking ( a new explanation for cold fusion) a bad explanation for something that probably does not exist? View the comments section of this article to see the arguments put to Nobel laureate, and Cambridge professor of physics, Brian Josephson where Josephson weirdly (but understandably) declines to take up the Dysology Challenge. Will Professor Simon Birkovich, the author of Hot Clocking have the conviction to put his reputation where his brain is?
I begin this short essay by asking what is a good explanation for any phenomenon? We might wish to consider Newton’s Law of gravity as an explanation for why apples fall out of trees rather than fly upwards. But I’m actually interested in the social phenomenon of crime? Can science explain crime?
In his latest book, the world’s leading quantum computing scientist Professor David Deutsch (2011) of Oxford University tells us that good explanations are:
(1) Hard to vary – in that you cannot alter them after your experiments or observations in order to make them fit your data post-hoc.
(2) They are refutable. In other words, they can be shown to be either right or wrong.
Let’s move on now to Crime Science, while bearing these two crucial points in mind.
Here I refer the reader to Professor Gloria Laycock’s (2003) online publication, by the Department of Security and Crime Science within the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at University College London (UCL), which is entitled “Launching Crime Science” and is published on the UCL website with its own ISBN number. Google Scholar reveals that this paper has been officially cited in several scholarly articles. This is the paper that launched Crime Science. It has an incredibly optimistic and glowing foreword written by the broadcaster Nick Ross and is likely to be of major interest to all criminologists, scholars of the history of scientific progress, policy makers, police officers, and Crime Scientists.
In her (2003) paper, Professor Laycock’s main explanation for crime is that the single most significant cause of crime is opportunity (see also Tilley and Laycock 2002 to find the exact same claim). She, her fellow crime scientists, and some criminologists such as Professor Marcus Felson (Cohen and Felson 1979), define the existence of crime opportunity as comprising three necessary elements that all come together in one place. These essential components of the crime act occurring in a place are:
(1) A suitably motivated and capable offender
(2) a suitable target (person, place or thing) for that offender and
(3) the absence of a capable guardian to protect the target or keep the offender in check
This ubiquitous crime as opportunity explanation seeks to explain every kind of crime known to mankind – from someone opportunistically keeping the £50 they just happened to spy sticking out of an ATM, burglaries carried out by prolific opportunity seeking burglars, to the most audaciously and carefully planned and executed jewel robbery.
With all crimes, there must have been a crime opportunity for it to have occurred. Therefore, with all crimes – at least once they have been committed – it is obvious that the perpetrator exploited an opportunity. How else could the crime have happened? This is what is known in philosophy as a truism.
The opportunity explanation for crime is very handy because it is easy to vary.
In order to handily explain the reason for any crime, Crime Scientists simply vary the extent to which the offender is deemed to be motivated, the target suitable, or the guardian incapable. In other words, if the crime happened it was because the guardian did not have sufficient ‘capability’ to defend the object or target against the infinitely variable degree of motivation and/or infinitely variable capabilities of the offender and the related infinitely variable degree of ‘suitability’ of the target. If the potential crime never happens, then that is because of the relative capability of the guardian to one or both of the other elements. This fool-proof post-hoc ‘matter of fact’ variation makes the explanation for crime occurring and not occurring impossible to refute. In short, the opportunity explanation is always tweaked by itself to perfectly fit the data it is used to explain.
Mistakenly, those naming themselves Crime Scientists appear to think that it is these easy to vary and impossible to refute self-tweaking characteristics that make opportunity the best explanation for crime because that means that no one can refute it. Of course, real scientists would, I think, very much disagree.
Crime opportunity, however much you might seek to vary its three integral parts, is an essential characteristic of all crime and as such it is in fact not an explanation at all. It is actually the crime data that Crime Science is seeking to explain. As a mere truism, crime opportunity explains nothing we do not already know. Put simply, data (of any kind) cannot explain itself.
In real science, the fact that hydrogen and oxygen are essential parts of water does not explain why water is what it is, or how it came to be. For that you need an explanation of causes. Explanations for causality of a thing are not descriptions of the characteristics or behaviour of that thing. Saying that opportunity is a cause of crime is like saying hydrogen and oxygen are the cause of water. Whereas knowledge about what causes water is the explanation embodied in the discovery of the physical law that governs the way atoms stick.
The crime as opportunity explanation merely describes, albeit to an extremely limited extent, the behaviour and characteristics of people and targets at the scene of a crime, or crime prevented. But it does not explain what it is in society that brought them together as offenders, defenders and targets. It does not explain what motivates, rewards or causes someone – such as a prolific burglar – to set out and look for these so called opportunities. The crime as opportunity explanation does not explain, partially or wholly, the cause of crime. Therefore, it is erroneous to state as Laycock (2003: p.5) does that: “The most significant and universal cause of crime is opportunity.” And it is, therefore, naïve to believe that the opportunity element of Routine Activities Theory (Laycock 2010 p.227) provides some kind of underlying principle to explain crime.
My own position on criminology and a natural science criminology
This brief essay is totally concerned with the fact that Laycock’s – and by default Crime Science’s perception of science does not take account of what most natural scientists think science is. For example, the same type of ‘mistake’ (Laycock’s Mistake) of confusing (or mixing together) of explanations (theory) with the data to be explained was deemed unscientific by an amicus curiae brief of 73 Nobel Laureates in the earlier Louisiana Creation Case (Shermer 1991). I throw my hat in with them. So that my position is that the notion of science is in fact governed by a number of broad “principles” that have their roots in the philosophy of science. And the one just stated is arguably the most fundamental principle of the natural sciences. Laycock writes that she wants crime science to be like the natural sciences. The launch of crime science failed in that direction and her entire ship now orbits the world of pseudoscience until it can break free from its antigravitas pull.
I think that crime as opportunity – combining the Brantingham’s (1991) five necessary components of crime: law, place, offender, target, victim with Felson’s (Cohen and Felson 1979) description of the crime act: capable offender, suitable victim./target in the absence of capable guardian for a crime in commission (or thwarted) is in fact an excellent observation and description of the data. And since it always occurs it is a truism (like H2O is water). But it does not explain its causes. Therefore, it is not an explanatory theory or hypotheses of causality. And even if you wanted to break that fundamental principle of the physical sciences that you should not confuse your explanations with the data you seek to explain, just to weirdly argue that crime as opportunity is an explanation – then the fact that in criminology the notion of opportunity is an infinitely post-hoc variable truism makes is a useless explanation in science – and much better suited for post-hoc rhetorical story telling. Ironically, such ‘making of stuff up’ after the event in order to be wise after it is the sort of thing that crime scientist criticise as being mere rhetorical fallacy.
Regarding whether I think criminology in particular may one day predict the future of crime. My answer is that I don’t know. Even Popper’s work on the fallacy of induction had to rely upon past and current failures to refute the usefulness of such induction as a predictive method. So who knows, one day an Antiswan might replace his white and black swans? After all, Popper’s black swans are the unimaginable and unimagined future. And Popper never imagined the possibility that one day man might overcome the problem of induction. In short – I keep an open mind. Who knows what man can achieve in the next 1000 years. I wrote a blog on my open minded Antiswan (Sutton 2011) that considers the possibility. If I had to bet on it I’d say that accurately predicting what will happen next in the affairs of man is a problem to be solved and that man may one day solve the problem. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but perhaps a 100 or 1000 years from now. Ultimately, because I am an optimist, I think Real Crime Science is a worthwhile project.
Real science does not confuse its data (such as crime) with the theories (ideas) that seek to explain it. It keeps them separate. Good explanations are easy to refute and hard to vary. The crime as opportunity explanation is impossible to refute and infinitely easy to vary. In fact, varying it is what is necessary in order to make it fit the data. Contrary to what Crime Scientists weirdly believe, this makes it a bad explanation for crime.
Simply naming something science – such as Crime Science, Christian Science, or Creation Science – does not make it science.
What we might call Laycock’s Mistake of launching Crime Science from an irrefutable and infinitely variable explanation of causality, which is the same thing as the description of the data it seeks to explain, provides us all with a powerful reminder of the importance of knowing and understanding basic scientific principles and understanding the importance of refutability and inflexibility as key characteristics of good explanations with reach.
Thank you for reading this essay – which is also published on the peer-to-peer webiste BestThnking.com Click Here to reach it.
Brantingham, P. J. & Brantingham, P. L. (1991). Environmental Criminology. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press
Cohen, L. E. and Felson, M. (1979) Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach. American Sociological Review, 44, 558-608.
Deutsch, D. (2011) The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that transform the world. London. Penguin Books.
Laycock, G. (2003). Launching Crime Science. Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. University College London. ISBN 0-9545607-1-X
If for some reason this publication remains weirdly removed from the Internet, despite its having an ISBN number and having been cited in several scholarly texts, anyone unable to obtain a copy can get a free copy of the original by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and simply asking for it to be returned by email.
Laycock, G. (2010) Crime Science. Encyclopaedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention. Thousand Oakes. Sage
Shermer, M.B. (1991). Science Defended, Science Defined: The Louisianan Creationism Case. Science Technology and Human Values. Vol 16. No. 4. 517-539. http://www.jstor.org/stable/689806
Sutton, M. (2011) On the Antiswan. BestThinking.com. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton: http://www.bestthinking.com/thinkers/science/social_sciences/sociology/mike-sutton?tab=blog&blogpostid=12179%2c12179
Tilley, N. and Laycock, G. (2002). Working out what to do: Evidence based crime reduction. Crime Reduction Series Paper 11. London Home Office.