Sturgeon’s Revelation states that 90% of everything is crap, so I immediately detected odor (not the first whiff in the commission chambers that evening) when our highly respected city judge proposed that his Kentwood court host a sobriety court, you know, the contrivances imposing substance-abuse interventions and treatment on defendants who plead guilty of driving while intoxicated or impaired.
Some background; I had served on the Grand Rapids Mayors Task Force on Drugs 15 years ago and researched the scientific literature. There was only one good clinical trial and it showed that even a well funded alcohol rehab trial was no better than threatening the miscreant with severe punishment if he were caught drunk again. Our judge cited some “case-control” studies (close to worthless, but convincing enough for the commission) to put me down. Some other political body would provide the $160k, and it was a partial return to Kentwood of taxes that would be sent elsewhere. I voted “yes” with everyone else and he implemented the hustle. The judge was told that he should not expect ongoing funding from Kentwood when the 3 year grant ran out.
Not content with the status quo, the judge recently sent out a widely noised study funded by “The Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals” which touted the Ignition Interlock Systems that detect alcohol on the breath of drunks and prevents them from starting their cars. He misinterpreted it as showing the effectiveness of sobriety courts. The actual research focused only on Interlocks, commercial products imposed on clients in sobriety courts as allegedly diminishing recidivism as well as other crimes. The authors, trying to bolster their argument, included not just one but two comparison groups, one from a sobriety court and the other from a court using traditional probationers. On page 40, you’ll notice that there is scarce difference in alcohol recidivism between these two groups at 1,2, and at 3 years.
My point is not especially that sobriety courts are useless (although they are.) The main researcher, (a professor from GVSU, my old haunt) was doing marketing work on Interlocks, a series of commercial products. He never gave the data comparing sobriety courts with standard probationers’ courts a second glance; it supported his objective on Interlocks, so he innocently reported raw data on sobriety courts. His job was to “Evaluate Interlocks. What are these sobriety courts?” Like many social science “studies” that get reported, this one showed a favorable result for Interlocks, just like previous studies that compared standard probationers courts to sobriety courts showed the superiority of the latter.
This study illustrates the degradation of enquiry in colleges and universities; most of what the social sciences investigate is thinly disguised marketing research done to please someone in business, the press or for our purposes, government. Tools used to investigate human affairs, surveys, experiments with students as subjects, retrospective looks at large data bases and the like, always require investigator interpretation on input variables, what criteria and tools to use in analysis and what studies to report. Negative studies never get reported. Publicity always gets a better deal than integrity, and a researcher who finds unfavorable answers, even once, loses funding.
Social science researchers tout their probity in the daylight. At night and in the dim lights of academic offices, the prostitutes want their money.