# Bill James Applies His Science to Serial KillersMay 5, 2011 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Bill James, a pioneer in the field of baseball statistics, has now turned his attention to serial killers and their methods.
posted by reenum (38 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Psychometrics!
posted by chavenet at 6:57 AM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

In the book, for example, James outlines a loose mathematical system for judging a defendant’s guilt or innocence. Jury trials, he says, are “like a basketball game where nobody keeps score.” His solution—which he applies to the infamous 1893 trial of Lizzie Borden—is to break down each piece of evidence, judge its accuracy, and grade it using a predetermined point scale, with a total of 100 points needed to convict. Let’s say a defendant had a history of violence toward the victim; if proven, it would be worth 35 points. In the case of Borden, James claims it’s unclear whether she was violent—only that she despised her stepmother. So the evidence would earn only 12 points or so. (Borden’s final “score,” according to James, would be a mere 20—nowhere near enough to convict.)
The problem, though, is that if you have a simple system like that it would be easy for criminals to add up the variables and calculate the likelihood of conviction and then take steps to reduce the likelyhood of their conviction, or they could frame people.
posted by delmoi at 7:09 AM on May 5, 2011

Caption: James has amassed an extensive library of true-crime books.

Yet the photo appears to show only the very top of a small selection of books and chooses instead to focus on his collection of busts.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:10 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Soooo, would the statistical analysis of incidents in which victims were hacked to bits with a sword be termed "sabremetrics"?
posted by Bromius at 7:12 AM on May 5, 2011 [15 favorites]

Sorry to be so gimme gimme, but the full-page link doesn't work for me. Anyone have a link to a print page?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:12 AM on May 5, 2011

I'm going to get in ahead of the curve and start a website for fantasy serial killer teams.
posted by Zed at 7:14 AM on May 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Wait a minute. That link is the full page. Oh my. Please let's not speak of this.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:15 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

it would be easy for criminals to add up the variables and calculate the likelihood of conviction and then take steps to reduce the likelyhood of their conviction, or they could frame people.

They try that already. Worse is that the system would work exactly as described, nobody would manipulate the scoring system, and innocent people would still be convicted.

It sounds light years better than what we're doing now, though. It also sounds like a professional task, full of detail work you need education and experience to perform correctly. Not something to be left to the clumsy misapplication of random citizens who've been locked in a room for a week. Especially not the ones who weren't bright enough to get out of jury duty.
posted by clarknova at 7:20 AM on May 5, 2011

Soooo, would the statistical analysis of incidents in which victims were hacked to bits with a sword be termed "sabremetrics"?

I would think that sabremetrics would be all the minute calculations that would allow that statistical analysis. As opposed to rapiermetrics and broadswordmetrics, which are different fields whose practitioners resent each other.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:43 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this link - I'm always looking to expand my nerd powers, and I just bought the guy's book. Very interesting stuff (though I understand it's not absolute, etc).
posted by FunkyStar at 7:51 AM on May 5, 2011

PS, I would like to see a Catalog Living - type caption for that bookshelf-with-busts. Hilarious shot.
posted by FunkyStar at 7:53 AM on May 5, 2011

Especially not the ones who weren't bright enough to get out of jury duty.

Believe it or not there are people who believe in honoring their civic duty to serve on a jury if/when called. And some of us are reasonably intelligent.
posted by headnsouth at 8:02 AM on May 5, 2011 [21 favorites]

Next up, Michael Lewis is going to write the book about James' studies, entitled "Murderball", and police departments everywhere will decry the book as taking out the human element from investigations. Meanwhile, a small-town police department will start catching every single serial killer in the country.
posted by mark242 at 8:02 AM on May 5, 2011 [20 favorites]

I actually have a PhD in Zweihanderometry from Landsknecht College which is an internationally recognised course, not one of those silly new "Rapieristics" degrees that one can get from any old crap hole like De Carranza Polytechnic. Fucking pretenders.
posted by longbaugh at 8:05 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

James also posits a way to reform prisons, which he dubs “violentocracies.” His proposal: smaller facilities that house no more than 24 inmates and are part of a larger, incentives-based system. At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease. The idea, James says, is not only to reduce the paranoia-fueled violence in large prisons but to encourage prisoners to work their way up the ladder.

This is a really good idea, and I wish Americans weren't so bloodthirsty about punishment so we could try it.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on May 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

I admit that I skimmed the post and when I saw Bill James and serial killer in the same statement, I nodded my head and said "that makes sense."
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 8:08 AM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Whacks Above Replacement?
posted by klangklangston at 8:08 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just had jury duty, and while it was an insane amount of work to be out of the office for two weeks, I quite enjoyed it. Apparently that makes me misguided, stupid, or both?
posted by FunkyStar at 8:09 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

"James’ wise-beard status can be traced to a series of self-published books he wrote in the late ’70s while working at a Kansas pork-and-beans factory."

So many jokes, so little time....
posted by tomswift at 8:26 AM on May 5, 2011

James also posits a way to reform prisons, which he dubs “violentocracies.” His proposal: smaller facilities that house no more than 24 inmates and are part of a larger, incentives-based system. At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease. The idea, James says, is not only to reduce the paranoia-fueled violence in large prisons but to encourage prisoners to work their way up the ladder.

Gamification really is everywhere these days.

"Achievement Unlocked: Parole!"

(The grindy sidequests are a pain though.)
posted by kmz at 8:28 AM on May 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

I lost faith in Bill James back in the 80s. In one year's edition of his Baseball Abstract he mocked Ozzie Smith and gave him a low score, pointing out the relative lack of importance of defense. The next year, Ozzie was on top of the shortstops. The difference? James had become a paid consultant for Ozzie's contract negotiations (which he failed to disclose in his book). Oh, the betrayal.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:40 AM on May 5, 2011

At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease.

Sounds like an office job. But given how prisons and businesses are merging, it sounds we are headed in that direction, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:52 AM on May 5, 2011

James also posits a way to reform prisons, which he dubs “violentocracies.” His proposal...

Three Strikes and You're Out?
posted by hal9k at 8:52 AM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

But is there a Clint Hartung award for each decade?
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on May 5, 2011

Most of James’ research is drawn from his mammoth library of true-crime books.

Uh oh.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:03 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

like a basketball game where nobody keeps score.

What's it like to... what's it like to kill someone, Pete?
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 9:22 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease.

Sounds kind of like what I've got now.
posted by Zed at 9:44 AM on May 5, 2011

There needs to be a flag for TBotRKR's comment for 'reminding me ever so painfully that Achewood hasn't updated in 3 months.'

i still check daily, just in case... i can't quit you achewood
posted by FatherDagon at 10:34 AM on May 5, 2011

I once crunched some numbers from what I found in Wikipedia and calculated that in the publishing industry, fictional serial killers outnumber real serial killers by approximately 10,000 to 1.

(And that's just books! I couldn't begin to count the number of fictional serial killers portrayed on television and in movies.)

Props to this guy for putting his thinking hat on w/r/t real-life serial killers, instead of fabricating another fictional one. But in real life, serial killers are relatively rare.

I get that our intellect follows our imagination, and that our imagination is often sparked by serial killers. But there are a lot of crimes out there that need solving. Maybe next he can work on catching serial rapists or child pornographers or something.
posted by ErikaB at 10:45 AM on May 5, 2011

James has amassed an extensive library of true-crime books.

Most true crime books eventually get to the part where police discover the disturbing fact that the suspect possessed a sick and twisted mind, as evidenced by their possession of some particular true crime book.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:56 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love crime fiction, but I've got no interest in reading true crime. To paraphrase Mark Twain or somebody, crime fiction has to make sense.
posted by box at 10:56 AM on May 5, 2011

His proposal: smaller facilities that house no more than 24 inmates and are part of a larger, incentives-based system. At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease. The idea, James says, is not only to reduce the paranoia-fueled violence in large prisons but to encourage prisoners to work their way up the ladder.

If education were approached that way, we'd be less likely to have such a lucrative crowded prison system.
posted by headnsouth at 11:26 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting article, thank you
(this comment is bland, yes)
Big props to Bill James, Kansas-Proud
posted by J0 at 11:52 AM on May 5, 2011

There's an obvious joke in here somewhere about Murderer's Row, but I've been brooding about it all day and can't get to it. Anybody?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:58 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bill James was on the Colbert Report tonight, talking about this book. James is a big, shaggy guy with a beard. If we were all on a television show, he would definitely be a serial killer, and everyone would be fooled except the attractive female investigator and the rogue cop, who would so see right through that, "I'm just fascinated by the statistical side of crime" line he's trying to pull.
posted by misha at 9:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would think that sabremetrics would be all the minute calculations that would allow that statistical analysis. As opposed to rapiermetrics and broadswordmetrics, which are different fields whose practitioners resent each other.

Sabremetricians are cool but the real heat is bewteen epeemetricians and foilmetricians. Ask any fencer-- those foil guys are dicks.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:04 PM on May 5, 2011

Psychometrics!

Qu'est-ce que c'est?
posted by Sutekh at 5:33 PM on May 6, 2011

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