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On Bugs and Irrational Fear of Crime 'Knowledge' : Another Possible Supermyth?

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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
Posted in Science / Social Sciences / Sociology

On Bugs and Irrational Fear of Crime 'Knowledge' : Another Possible Supermyth?

Aug. 18, 2012 3:56 am
In today’s news in the UK, Danielle Eccles, a British woman, suffered pain and deafness for three years until she was cured when a perfectly preserved ladybird (ladybug) fell out of her ear. So what? you might ask.
Well, for a start let's approach this story with rational skepticism, because the very newsworthiness of this story teaches us that the chance that any one of of us who lives in a city, town, village or suburb suffering the same fate is extremely small. But what of those people who are rough sleepers, campers or agricultural workers – are their risks greater?
Danielle Eccles’s husband is a landscaper. Whether the insect entered her ear inside her home is not known. Whether her husband accidentally brought the creature inside the home on his person is also not known – but it’s a possibility. And whether the ladybird hitched a lift from Mr Eccles's person to the inside of the family car is not known. Whether agricultural workers or gardeners are more likely to bring insects inside the home - or transfer them via the family car to family and friends - is also not known, but these possibilities seem like plausible hypothesis.
So where is this leading? Well, counter-intuitively, it is not a myth that earwigs enter human ears    , or that ants may get into your pants    , but it is very unlikely to happen to you inside your home or while walking about outside. Hence, we tend to say that the risk of either of these events happening to anyone is extremely low. If however you were to fall asleep in a flower bed of dahlias or beside a nest of ants then the risks of personal earwig or ant infestation would be significantly increased. To provide another example, my wife's friend dated a chap for a couple of weeks. She said he was a nice man but there was a dreadful smell coming from his ears. He agreed to go to his doctor and it turned out he had an ear infection caused by an accumulation of brick dust. He is a builder. I presume that my own chances of brick dust accumulating in my ears are much less than his. And so it is with crime. The chances of being robbed, burgled or murdered may be relatively low – across the board - at a national level. But the risks faced by individuals living or working in high crime areas will be significantly higher.
Even for those living in high crime areas, the orthodox criminological view, adopted by national governments in the west, that fear of crime is greater than the reality of crime    could well turn out to be another super myth that affects thinking and diverts attention away from tackling real problems and from identifying effective crime reduction and policing practice. Muddled academic and official thinking can occur in this area because at a national level, at least in the industrialized western world, the overall level of fear of crime, or incidences of specific anxiety of crime is greater than the actual risk. That said, people living in particularly notorious high crime areas may have an overall level of anxiety     or individual incidences of fear of crime that are more commensurate with their actual risk    of being victimised.
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By failing to sample and survey within real high crime areas the British Government’s message that fear of crime is greater than the reality of risk, and it’s the credulous dissemination of that orthodox ‘knowledge’ in the spirit of skeptical enquiry could well be another supermyth.
More on this topic, and the way forward to see if the irrational fear of crime message is a supermyth can be read on my Supermyths blogspot:   

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