November 19, 2007

The Right Profile

The man behind Ideofact most likely has an IQ between 100 and 145, is either a university graduate who enjoyed his liberal arts educations so much he wants to keep up with the things he studied as a student or an autodidact who deeply resents university culture. He is probably the sort of fastidious person who shelves all his books by dividing them into subject and then alphabetizing them who nevertheless may so abandon himself to his intellectual passions that he allows unread books to pile up on his desk, his bar, by his bed and even in his bed...

And so on. Malcolm Gladwell has a fascinating piece in the New Yorker about the inadequacies of profiling, the art of looking at a crime scene and deducing from it useful information about the perpetrator. Gladwell writes of a UK group that tested some of the FBI profilers' most cherished assumptions:

...the Liverpool group selected a hundred stranger rapes in the United Kingdom, classifying them according to twenty-eight variables, such as whether a disguise was worn, whether compliments were given, whether there was binding, gagging, or blindfolding, whether there was apologizing or the theft of personal property, and so on. They then looked at whether the patterns in the crimes corresponded to attributes of the criminals—like age, type of employment, ethnicity, level of education, marital status, number of prior convictions, type of prior convictions, and drug use. Were rapists who bind, gag, and blindfold more like one another than they were like rapists who, say, compliment and apologize? The answer is no—not even slightly.

“The fact is that different offenders can exhibit the same behaviors for completely different reasons,” Brent Turvey, a forensic scientist who has been highly critical of the F.B.I.’s approach, says. “You’ve got a rapist who attacks a woman in the park and pulls her shirt up over her face. Why? What does that mean? There are ten different things it could mean. It could mean he doesn’t want to see her. It could mean he doesn’t want her to see him. It could mean he wants to see her breasts, he wants to imagine someone else, he wants to incapacitate her arms—all of those are possibilities. You can’t just look at one behavior in isolation.”

It turns out that the art of profiling isn't much different than the art of the sideshow fortune teller. Gladwell summarizes the profile the FBI came up with for the BTK killer:

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 Ideofact at November 19, 2007 11:42 PM