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November 8, 2007 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Malcolm Gladwell takes a look at the effectiveness of criminal profiling.
posted by graventy (13 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
You forgot the "obvious" tag.

Gladwell's really slipping IMO. His premise here is totally straw-man -- I can't believe investigators place as much emphasis on the input of profilers as he implies they do. More likely they put them in the same league as psychics, who they also use, because...why not? It's not like the Mad Bomber investigators were putting on their chips on the psychologist -- they were also doing the hard work of going through years and years of personnel records, which eventually is what turned the case. And which is eventually what turns every case.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2007


"Seven pages of me debunking something other people find useful and not offering an alternative!" is my least-favorite kind of article, even though I like Gladwell a lot.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:35 AM on November 8, 2007


I liked the article. This passage sums it up:

Brussel [the profiler] did not really understand the mind of the Mad Bomber. He seems to have understood only that, if you make a great number of predictions, the ones that were wrong will soon be forgotten, and the ones that turn out to be true will make you famous. The Hedunit is not a triumph of forensic analysis. It’s a party trick.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:43 AM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The disorganized killer is unattractive and has a poor self-image. . .He’s too strange and withdrawn to be married or have a girlfriend. If he doesn’t live alone, he lives with his parents. He has pornography stashed in his closet. If he drives at all, his car is a wreck."

That's me in high school! Except, ummm, you know, for the killer part.

Well, I mean, I killed orcs and stuff...
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:43 AM on November 8, 2007


The Metafilter user:
Look for an American male with a possible connection to the military. His I.Q. will be above 105. He will like to masturbate, and will be aloof and selfish in bed. He will drive a decent car. He will be a “now” person. He won’t be comfortable with women. But he may have women friends. He will be a lone wolf. But he will be able to function in social settings. He won’t be unmemorable. But he will be unknowable. He will be either never married, divorced, or married, and if he was or is married his wife will be younger or older. He may or may not live in a rental, and might be lower class, upper lower class, lower middle class or middle class. And he will be crazy like a fox, as opposed to being mental.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:49 AM on November 8, 2007 [4 favorites]


"The disorganized killer is unattractive and has a poor self-image. . .He’s too strange and withdrawn to be married or have a girlfriend. If he doesn’t live alone, he lives with his parents. He has pornography stashed in his closet. If he drives at all, his car is a wreck."

ESR must get really tired of interrogations.
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Gladwell's a fucking smarty-pants.

But this part, I thought, really summed up the article,
Douglas took off his suit jacket and draped it over his chair.

!
posted by From Bklyn at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2007


“He will be either never married, divorced, or married, and if he was or is married his wife will be younger or older. He may or may not live in a rental, and might be lower class, upper lower class, lower middle class or middle class.”

Bin Laden is either alive, or dead.
You are interested in the future, you will meet a tall, dark stranger. Who is “John”?
They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.


Yeah, folks do that party trick all the time. I got quized a bit during a blowjob festival (meeting) on a detail within a field I know pretty well by someone higher up. Guy said “What do you think of (xyz) Smed?” I said “I don’t know. I haven’t had experiance with that detail.”
People looked at me like I was nuts. Like how dare I not b.s. my way through the topic.
I agree investigators don’t put a lot of emphasis on profilers’ stuff, but it’s in the mix. People not doing the actual grind like to pretend there’s some kind of voodoo - whether it’s general science or forensics or whatever. You need the discipline of examining the evidence and keeping what you know separate from what you anticipate (I learned this at the knee of the bitch goddess that is shooting, but lab scientists have it down.) But the real danger is thinking you know something and getting into that whole self-fufilling prophecy party.
Folks just plain hate to say, and hate to hear “I don’t know” for some reason. But it’s much more useful. Think you know something and you miss seeing something for what it is.

(And I don’t know if I buy this “likes to masterbate” stuff. Sure I masterbate, but I consider it an arduous task filled with angst and undifferentiated loathing. Plus it scares the dog.)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:16 PM on November 8, 2007


I was terribly impressed with Blink, despite not being sold on the commonality of its subjects. Here, his choice and description of these two cases, in which the profilers were made to look so foolish, makes this seem more like the sort of borderline-malicious Randian skeptic crusading that's become hip in the last few years.

If it's true that Ressler's method of profiling is based on the sort of singular cases he wrote about in his books, then that could be problematic. But Ressler and the organized/disorganized system is not all there is to profiling.

From my reading, in the older case here, the police were confounded through a lapse in more traditional detective work; in the newer case, they faced an unusually careful and proficient perpetrator. That wasn't the fault of profiling... and the BTK killer wouldn't be familiar to us already if it wasn't an extremely unique case.

At any rate, I wonder if something like the NCIC could be developed specifically to study this further. It seems logical that there would be a homology of behavior, and maybe this science could be honed somewhat.
posted by zebra3 at 2:57 PM on November 8, 2007


Look out guys, I'm apparently a textbook disorganized killer.
posted by Reggie Digest at 3:39 PM on November 8, 2007


Mr. Gladwell benefits from a lot of good press and the fact that most people can't get their brain hemispheres to communicate with one another.
posted by SaintCynr at 5:29 PM on November 8, 2007


DU: I'd been intending to clean my monitor off with coffee one of these days; cheers for giving me that opportunity!
posted by barnacles at 6:21 PM on November 8, 2007


Good article, thanks.

"Seven pages of me debunking something other people find useful and not offering an alternative!" is my least-favorite kind of article, even though I like Gladwell a lot.

Huh? So back in the days when all doctors used bloodletting, you wouldn't have been interested in someone debunking it if they had nothing to offer as an alternative? Weird.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on November 9, 2007


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