Sociologists Say Experiments Show that Looting, Crime Couldn't Have Been Bad at All

This week’s Boston Sunday Globe has an [article]( page=1) (needs free registration) that has me seeing red. The article cites several prominent sociologists who claim that there could only have been a minimal amount of looting and other crime in New Orleans after the disaster. The reason they give is that their “experiments” say that behavior just doesn’t happen.

Here are some selected quotes:

“In fact, if criminal violence were indeed rampant in New Orleans after Katrina hit (setting aside the taking of food, water, bandages, and other necessities of survival), that would contradict much of what sociologists have learned in a half century of research about such situations. ''The evidence is overwhelming,” says Enrico Quarantelli, an emeritus professor of sociology and the founding director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, '‘that in the standard natural disaster or technological disaster"–like a chemical spill–’'you’re not going to get looting. Unlike in some urban riots, looting in the wake of natural disasters, when it occurs, remains furtive and taboo."

I will be the first to admit that I hate sociologists with a passion. It seems that the only admission requirement into a Sociology Ph.D. program is a membership card from the Communist party.

This is over the top however. I, like many people on this board, have been reading about the problems in New Orleans for hours a day since it happened. I am skeptical about outrageous claims and I only start to believe them when they are cited by several independent sources including first-hand reports.

Sociologists are claiming that something didn’t happen just because they didn’t predict it would happen. What kind of science is that? Don’t they stop to think that this disaster may be different than others? I can think of a lot of reasons that might be? What kind of smug assholes are willing to call thousands of witnesses a liar just because they don’t want to contradict earlier data or admit that they may not know everything?

That’s a bit much ain’t it?

Well anyway, maybe the reports of Katrina and the looting associated with it is somewhat related to the fact that this is the first major natural disaster to strike a major American city in this age of televised news. The media may exaggerate the lootings because it’s the most dramatic thing to come from the disaster and drama keeps people watching. It is also possible that when such disasters strike other nations, their news agencies don’t have the technology or funding to get such extensive coverage.
Not to say that there wasn’t a lot of looting in New Orleans. Just maybe not as many as we’re led to believe.

The article as you have quoted it claims that there was a minimal amount of violent crime and specifically excludes the taking of food, water, bandages, and other necessities of survival. But the sociologist that is quoted contradicts that by speaking of “looting” in general. So it is difficult to understand the focus of the article from what you have chosen to quote.

I really don’t want to register. Could you explain the discrepancy or provide a connecting excerpt?

It’s the scientific kind. That’s what you do in science. You form a model to tell you what happened in those parts of the universe that you were not able to observe directly. If your model is strongly supported by all of the past data, then you start to become very confident that things played out in the present case in the way your model predicted. If the support of the prior data is really strong, you will naturally start to suspect that the reports contradicting the model in the present case are exaggerated or spurious. That is a reasonable position to take, especially at this early date when it’s not yet clear precisely how extensive the looting was.

That is, it’s a reasonable position if the “experiments” really support these models as strongly as claimed. But that’s a potential weakness of any scientific claim.

The article isn’t that clear on that. From the context of the whole article, it seems like they are excluding survival items when they talk about looting.

They do have a paragraph toward the end that casually contradicts the rest of the article. It mentions extreme looting (down to stripping buildings of light fixtures) on the island of St. Croix in the USVI after Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. My inlaws have a house on St. Croix and remember what happened after Hugo very well. St. Croix has several similarities with New Orleans (poor black majority, wealthy white minority, and cut off from the rest of the world). It shouldn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that the outcomes will similar. I even mentioned the similarity before the levees even broke. The sociologists just seemed to shrug that one off.

The same sociologist, Enrico Quarantelli, quoted in the OP is also favorably quoted in the following article in Reason (that Communist publication whose motto is “Free minds and free markets.”): Nightmare in New Orleans. I suggest that readers look to that article for a more accurate description of Quarantelli’s, and modern sociology’s, views than that provided by Shagnasty.

I think that is great for him if the Boston Globe misrepresented his position. However, the article was specifically about sociologists disputing the news coming out of New Orleans. It was disputing that New Orleans was an exception at all. Your cite shows that he already lists it among the exceptions. If that is the case, then the Boston Globe is the one to be pitted.

Feel free to read the article for yourself and tell us all if I misrepresented anything.

You’re a moron.

I agree that Reason and the Boston Globe attribute contradicting views to Quarantelli, and since Reason gives more extensive quotations, I’m inclined to believe their version.

But for me, the more interesting question is whether you will allow this new data point to affect your own theory that all sociologists are Communists.

I don’t understand what you think is communistic about the notion that people won’t loot during natural disasters anyways. If anything, I should think that this is a view that would be embraced by the Right, not the Left. The reason that Reason magazine likes the idea is that it argues that volunteerism should suffice to handle the after-effects of disasters, and that therefore Big Government mechanisms are unnecessary.

That was partially a joke but it was also born out of my own experience. I went to Tulane as did my stepfather. I took Sociology 101 and when I went home for break, I mentioned to my stepfather that I liked the class but the professor seemed like a communist. He said he had one like that 25 years before. Of course, it turned out to be the same guy. The next sociology professor I had was also a communist or at least a radical socialist. These guys weren’t shy about making their views known in class. Most of the other sociology professors I have met have been roughly the same.

It does seem like a bleeding heart or humanistic viewpoint though. People are inherently good, bad deeds are an invention of the media, and people won’t engage in those behaviors under most circumstances and all that. I don’t buy it especially after living in New Orleans. That is a special place with some, um, special people.

But the communist doesn’t believe that people are like that naturally, but rather that people must be forced to be that way through the rigid control of a strong state. The people who believe that society will spontaneously respond to problems in the maximally efficient manner when freed from top-down controls are called libertarians, the polar opposites of communists.

From the Boston Globe article, third paragraph:

Yet Quarantelli and a half-dozen other experts on disaster aftermaths and crowd behavior contacted last week insisted that follow-up investigations will reveal that the impression of Hobbesian violence in New Orleans over the past two weeks was created in large part by rumor and amplified by sometimes credulous reporters. The scholars’ suspicions are fueled by what they say is a well-documented history of misinformation during disasters–and a general human tendency to misread crowds, even violent ones, as more malevolent than they really are.

I applaud Dr. Quarantelli. He researches. He goes out on a limb and makes a prediction. If follow-up investigation finds that this Hobbesian violence did indeed occur, he will look like an ass for making these predictions in a high-profile newspaper. (Alternatively, I will look like an ass for swallowing these media reports whole and mouthing off on this board).

The real test will come 6-12 months from now, when the follow-up investigations are in.

I’ll also note that the reason article quoted Dr. Quarantelli as saying, “There are exceptions, but they are extremely rare.” I guess he did leave himself some wiggle room after all.

Knowledge advances.

If the looting stories are as accurate as the murder and rape stories, then according to this article, Quarantelli is probably going to be right on the money.

When it comes to academic communist belief of the type that exists in sociology departments, you couldn’t be more wrong.

You need to distinguish between communism as practiced in the communist regimes that exist or have existed, which are or have been rigidly governed states, and the type of communism that exists in the minds of (and perhaps only in the minds of) academic communists and socialists.

Back when I was doing my major in sociology (20 years ago admittedly) academic socialist/communist/marxist/marxians tended to believe precisely that The People, when the rigid control of their Capitalist Oppressors is lifted, will need no strong state but will rather naturally help each other out in a spirit of comradely love and co-operation, singing while they work. They believed that rigid so-called communist states like the USSR were not actually communist at all, but were rather State Capitalist regimes or some such excuse.

is this type of thinking common among the more conservative sectors? I am referring to sociology equating to a belief in communism. Hell, it’s not even socialism that you’re equating, which would also be wrong, but a more common mistake.

Maybe you need to take another soc class. Or learn to separate the prof’s views from the course material.

This is the most bizarre opinion I’ve ever read here (and that’s sayin’ something!).

I was pitting both the Boston Globe and the sociologists quoted. Tyrrell McAllister has already given us a cite that Enrico Quarantelli’s viewpoint was incorrectly represented in the Globe.

The Globe also casually mentioned that there are exceptions to the minimal looting law. St. Croix had extreme looting after Hurricane Hugo. Both St. Croix and New Orleans are virtually second homes to me and they have a lot of similarities. I don’t understand why sociologists just ignore that when they make broad statements.

What was represented was not good science. Real scientists would not brush off major exceptions to their model. Instead, they would try to figure out why those exceptions exist and expand upon or revise their model. Instead, they discount multiple sources of evidence because their flawed models say that it couldn’t happen.

I obviously don’t believe that all sociologists are “communists”. That was a bit of hyperbole. I do believe that many if not most cling to a worldview that is not realistic and they are stuborn in integrating conflicting information.

That’s why you can’t understand it. You’re assuming that sociology is a science. Sociology is a science only in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the word. It’s a lot closer to philosophy.

I took some sociology courses in college, and impression that stayed with me these many years later was that the field of sociology seems to roughly postulate that people are self-deluding hyprocritical dumbasses, which I tend to feel is pretty accurate. When the local team wins, people say “WE won!” When the team loses, they say “THEY lost!”. When surveys are taken where people rate themselves on a broad array of subjects, everybody seem to think they are above average (which is of course impossible). When there are shortages of a particular food and it becomes expensive, people throw away MORE of that food.

Well, no. The dictatorship of proletariat and the socialist state are supposed to be only temporary steps towards actual communism, where governmental control will become unecesssary and the state will wither away.

The USSR never stated it had achieved communism.

You’re making a broad assertion about the nature of sociologists that is both ignorant and incorrect. There are sociologists of every political stripe and while some are quasi-socialists, the large majority are not.

The overwhelming trend in sociology for some time has been in refining methodology to produce limited scope quantitative models of social behavior. If anything there is the argument to be made that sociologists have essentially become glorified statisticians, but to assert that they’re generally commies is asinine.