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  #1  
Old 10-11-2004, 06:07 PM
MLS MLS is offline
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Did mediation reduce crime in Washington in 1993?

The recent movie "What the <bleep> do we know?" contains the allegation that in 1993 a large group meditated in Washington DC after predicting that they could thereby make the crime rate drop. According to this movie (and other sites, all referencing one another) the crime rate did in fact drop drastically during the meditation.

One example is this site, which says

Quote:
In 1993 we held a demonstration project in Washington D.C., then known as the "murder capital of the world" for its high homicide rate. Prediction of decreased violent crime was posited in advance of the study with an independent project review board, which participated in the design of the study and monitored its progress. The result was a 23% decrease in violent crime.
The site footnotes this allegation thus:

Quote:
25) Hagelin, J. S., Orme-Johnson, D. W., Rainforth, M., Cavanaugh, K., & Alexander, C. N. (1999). Results of the National Demonstration Project to Reduce Violent Crime and Improve Governmental Effectiveness in Washington, D.C. Social Indicators Research, 47, 153-201. http://www.mum.edu/m_effect/dc_md.html
That site claims

Quote:
This National Demonstration Project to Reduce Violent Crime and Improve Governmental Effectiveness brought approximately 4,000 participants in the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs to the United States national capital from June 7 to July 30, 1993. A 27-member independent Project Review Board consisting of sociologists and criminologists from leading universities, representatives from the police department and government of the District of Columbia, and civic leaders approved in advance the research protocol for the project and monitored its progress.
Quote:
Analysis of 1993 data, controlling for temperature, revealed that there was a highly significant decrease in HRA crimes associated with increases in the size of the group during the Demonstration Project. The maximum decrease was 23.3% when the size of the group was largest during the final week of the project.
Now, I would think that had this actually occurred, it would have been acknowledged somewhere other than in the various other TM publications. A Google search brings me only links that circle back to the same place.

Please forgive me if this bleeds over into IMHO territory, but I would really like to know if it's possible to verify what these folks claim. What's The Straight Dope?
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  #2  
Old 10-11-2004, 06:08 PM
MLS MLS is offline
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Dam. I did preview. Should have been "Meditation," not "mediation." Can a mod change the title so it's not misleading?
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:24 PM
hajario hajario is online now
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We have one single event that could easily be due to coincidence. Let me see a study where this is done in 100 cities. I'll even take 10 cities if the trend in those cities is the opposite of the entire rest of the US.

Haj
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:36 PM
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I agree, but what I'm questioning is if it can be verified that even the one event actually happened. The folks involve claim that the results were far beyond any statistical margin of error or coincidence. I'm not enough of a statistician to verify or refute the claims.
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:40 PM
hajario hajario is online now
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I don't believe it can.

I went to Nepal in 1993. It was my only time in that country. How do we know for sure that that wasn't what caused the drop in crime?

Haj
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:43 PM
friedo friedo is offline
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Violent crime in general has been declining for the past 10-15 years all over the country. New York City's murder rate peaked at over 2200 per year in 1991, and now it's around 600, the lowest rate in nearly 50 years. Other cities have seen less drastic decreases. The reasons are very complex, and trying to correlate one event notoriously difficult statistical trends is not a valid argument. Correlation does not imply causation.

In order to prove that meditation reduces murder rate, you'd need a set of cities to experiment on and a set for control purposes. Of course, all cities are completely different, so there's a confounding factor right there. How about meditating for six months, and not meditating for the rest of the year, and comparing the results? This does not account for seasonal variations in crime rates and general unrest.

You could meditate one year on and one off, but as NYC shows, crime rates will fluxuate anyway regardless of what you do. In short, it's nearly impossible to scientifically substantiate a claim such as this.
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:46 PM
MLS MLS is offline
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I agree completely. Is there anyplace where the ordinary citizen can acquire the actual crime statistics, though? I would love to be able, for example, to have a chart of the entire year, not just the few days of the "study" and to show that the alleged decrease was just a part of normal variation (which the authors claim it is not).
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Old 10-11-2004, 06:50 PM
friedo friedo is offline
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The Bureau of Justice Statistics is a good place to start.

Here are homicide rates by region. (DC is in the "South Atlantic" group.)
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Old 10-11-2004, 07:27 PM
Ravenman Ravenman is online now
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A quick Google search found that DC had its third most murders post-1960 in 1993. The same site says that violent crime reached its peak in DC that year, at 2,921 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants. Cite.

So, did TM keep the murder rate lower than it would have been otherwise?

I'm betting that there may have been a blip in those months, if indeed the claim is true. But I can't find month-by-month stats.
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  #10  
Old 10-11-2004, 08:30 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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I don't know about this particular instance but the TM folks have made similar claims before. James Randi has a chapter about them in his book "Flim-Flam" with statistics showing that they haven't brought about peace and lower crime rates by meditating on it. Be happy to provide references if anyone wants them.

They also don't fly by meditation.
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Old 10-11-2004, 08:34 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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Oh, here's a couple of responses to his review of this movie in Roger Ebert's "Answer Man" column, basically it's a commercial and the "experts" in it are not exactly Richard Feynman when it comes to physics.

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/...&date=20040919

(3rd question)

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/...&date=20040919

(1st question)
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  #12  
Old 10-11-2004, 08:38 PM
Valgard Valgard is offline
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One more thing...

Your cites are from a TM website and the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi's university website. I have no doubt that they know some great relaxation and meditation techniques but I'll take any claims of scientific evidence from them with a fairly large grain of salt based on their track record.
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Old 10-12-2004, 06:04 PM
MLS MLS is offline
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Valgard, I tend to agree. I'm looking for stuff that would bear one way or the other on the alleged facts. If you have other references, I'd love to have them if it's not too much trouble.

The Ebert site had a couple of good points, although I was only able to find one Q/A that had to do with this movie.

freido, thanks for the link. It provides, as far as I could find, stats per year, but not for time periods within the year, as Ravenman reports. The study mentioned prominently in the film claimed success based on week-to-week occurrences, and actually has a scientific-looking graph. I wonder if they just made the numbers up? Or if they had a special source for the more detailed information?

A very spirtually-minded friend took me to this movie, and found it to be highly significant and full of meaning. I'm not sure if it's a good idea or not for me to burst her bubble; she's a person with a lot of difficulties and problems, and if she sincerely believes meditation will help the world, who am I to discourage her?

Well, I think I'm moving down a slippery slope into Cafe Society or IMHO, so thanks to all for the facts.
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