The newspapers in the United Kingdom are now full of reports about the abuse of teenage girls by gangs of predatory men, most of them Pakistani, some North African. They make dreadful reading, and it is tempting to turn the page. Aside from the obvious failings of care to the young, it is notable that neither Police nor social worker,s nor most politicians, did very much about it. There have been honourable exceptions: researchers called in by local Councils who then wrote scathing reports which were ignored, and at least one senior politician, Jack Straw, giving warnings about White girls being seen as 'easy meat' by Pakistani rapists. All these were either set aside or came late in the day, after years of abuse.
One under-current theme seems to have been an implicit denigration of “slags”: poor white girls from disturbed backgrounds who were only too vulnerable to anyone who seemed to be treating them with kindness. There was also a hesitancy in political commentator circles to point the finger at the racial and cultural character of the gangs. It seemed as if Class trumped Race as an organising principle: almost as if it was argued that the working class bring their misfortunes on themselves and no exertions are deemed necessary to protect them. The primary interpretation was about morals, not about race or religion. It remains a moot point what attention would have been given to older white men who had abused Pakistani girls, or to Pakistani men who had abused Pakistani girls. In the former case I assume that the white abusers would have been seen as racists as well as rapists, and the interpretation would be that it was a racially aggravated crime. In the latter case I am unsure what the cultural interpretation would have been: possibly something about repressed male sexuality.
Although there are no shortage of people who need to be called to account I want to restrict myself to researchers, since most of my comments are about research publications: lauding the best ones, and encouraging the others to do better. Almost two years ago I looked at the official sounding “The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups”, and found it difficult to understand their calculations about a) the extent of the problem and b) whether the racial composition of the gang members was out of the ordinary.
In May 2013, with regard to the latter issue, I said:They did not properly compare the race of perpetrators with the racial composition of the country so as to get a crime rate per racial group. They have still not replied to my enquiry about their statistics and methods, but are still trotting out the same old line about “different models”. The differences between different ethnic groups are considerable, and should be discussed (see posting “Reporting on child abuse Part 2”). The whole report is due for a thorough statistical re-analysis.
The gang operating in Oxfordshire were 5 Pakistanis and 2 North Africans. No Sikhs or Indians or Chinese in this particular case. By the way, the accepted phrase used now is “Pakistani heritage”. One cannot estimate crime rates from a single court case, nor necessarily from several such cases, but the Commissioner’s own statistics would place the “Asian” perpetrator rate at 5 times the expected population value. Statistics like that, if found in cancer research, would trigger a health warning, and the usual flurry of articles suggesting we all needed to change our diets or lifestyles.
Incidentally, after the newspaper reporting about Pakistani gangs there have also been cautionary articles warning about the dangers of “stereotyping” which lead me to repeat my words in concluding that post:
At heart this is disproportionately a problem about policing some minorities within minorities. We need to be able to say that only an infinitesimal segment of those ethnic minorities commit such crimes, whilst also reporting that that very small rate varies significantly from one group to another. Open reporting of ethnicity and other background details should be the norm in a free society.
Oddly enough, my interest in these research omissions in studying the sexual abuse of girls was raised by the prospect of “designer babies”: children whose genetic characteristics have been altered in some desirable way. I am not immediately attracted by this prospect, but it led me to muse as to whether we had already achieved “designer researchers”, in this case by cultural rather than genetic means, and that we should object to both.
A designer researcher is a “safe pair of hands” who can be relied upon to come up with a particular set of interpretations, without being actually bribed or bullied to do so. They are drawn from a culture in which “sensitivity” is more highly valued than honest reporting, and where a cloud of obfuscation covers up anything which is considered “off message”. I should make it clear that most researchers can fall into this category at some time, because many of our findings are uncertain, and, worse, because we think that some findings are intrinsically better than others. Far from being a conspiracy, this attitude of mind is generally based on unexamined assumptions, the inherent merit of noble mistruths, or more plainly an unwillingness to state any opinion which causes any fuss, or ruffles the feathers of grant giving bodies.
It goes against human nature, whatever that is, to expect all researchers to be fearless in their search for truth. Turning that stricture on myself, for example, whatever my misgivings, would I encourage parents to use genetic methods of improving their children when they became available, because improving children is a good thing? Parents hope for the best for their children (and, apparently, often hope that their child will be intelligent), so why not help them achieve the best?
The general sequence is as follows: First, edit the genes of stem cells using one of the new methods like CRISPR. Second, turn those cells into an egg or sperm. Third, produce an offspring. This would let parents determine when and how they have children and how healthy those children are actually going to be. Assume just for a moment that it proves possible to do this. Then a mother carrying breast cancer genes could have them edited out of her eggs. Autism enhancing genes likewise. Infertile women would become fertile with their own DNA and chose the healthiest of many embryos. All mutations get corrected before the child is generated.
An indication of public reactions is that half of US respondents willing to express an opinion are willing to consider this for serious diseases, but only 15% to make the baby more intelligent.
Some have argued that intelligence is exactly what should be designed into the new, highly selected and enhanced generation, because human problem-solving ability is a factor in every challenge we face. Our genomes are not perfect and often, as the political phrase has it “not fit for purpose”. Evolution protected us against threats no longer facing us, often at great cost. Why not take the obvious step and cut out the sloppy mischance of nature, replacing it with the sparkling genes of pure reason?
I suppose I should end by repeating the earnest injunction always given at the close of children’s TV programs: “Don’t try this trick at home”. However, it is not my place to determine what you do of a Sunday night, so I will trust your judgment in avoiding designer researchers and making very intelligent designer babies by all means open to you.