Thursday, 29 December 2011

Skeptical Dysology? Surely not.

What is the most effective way to challenge orthodoxy, knowledge consensus, pseudoscience, junk science and apparently simple claptrap?

Michael Shermer is the founder and Editor in Chief of the Skeptic magazine. Shermer’s position has long been that the most effective way to challenge fallacies and myths is to publish from a position of seeking to understand rather than ridicule (Shermer 1997). The same conclusions have been put forward by Hyman (2001) and Loxton (2011). But how do they know they are right? This is a strangely unexplored area and it is surely perverse that these leading and acknowledged healthy sceptics should accept their own intuitive and appealing beliefs in this area albeit supported in part by anecdotal evidence possibly gathered from an unintentional position of confirmation bias. For all we know, sceptics in their aim to be effective myth busters have created a braced myth. Because ridicule, done the right way, might possibly turn out to be the most effective way to spread the word that certain myths are busted and to stop others from publishing claptrap. More research is needed. And from that cause I have created as a sibling site to

Mike Sutton (2011)


Hyman, R. (2001) Proper Criticism. The Skeptical Inquirer. Volume 24. 4th July. Available free online from The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

Loxton, D. (2011) What Is the Most Effective Way To Be A Skeptic: The Great Debate Between Confrontational Activism v. Educational Outreach. Skeptic. Vol 16. No. 4. pp. 13-17

Shermer, M. (1997) Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition and other confusions of our time. London. Souvenir Press.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Implementer Versus Implementor Failure

Acknowledged and Ignored Interlocking Contingencies in Social Interventions

(Reprinted from my criminology blog).

In any field that tackles social issues with 'schemes' - such as crime reduction and policing Intervention schemes, strategic applications, templates, frameworks and approaches – success will be contingent upon the skills, motivation, intelligence, gravitas and all round mettle of the staff involved in implementing them. And yet due consideration of the importance of the personal abilities of implementors is weirdly absent on official government websites promoting ‘what works’, ‘promising’ and effective practice.

A well designed crime reduction scheme may be reflexive and adaptive so that it can be tailored to a specific crime problem in a particular place, and adaptive to unique variations in the social setting of the problem. But can any such scheme possibly be so powerful that it can adapt to the mediocrity, or worse, of those hired to manage its implementation?

David Kennedy (2010), the originator of the famously ‘successful’ Boston Gun Project (Operation Ceasefire) describes how his scheme was successfully re-applied in some places but failed in others. When it failed, Professor Kennedy explains that this happened because the scheme was not implemented properly. What Kennedy fails to address is why it was not implemented properly. Was it :

1. Implementer failure (component or rank and file staff inadequacy) because the scheme cannot be implemented properly in particular settings or time and/or with particular ranks?
or was it

2. due implementor failure (key managerial inadequacy)?

Failure to consider the importance of the individual abilities and the behaviour of implementors (managers) charged with making a success of any social intervention leaves us with a menu of ‘best’, ‘recommended’, ‘good’ or promising practice schemes that will simply fail to deliver in the wrong hands.

The fact that this issue is not addressed on those official websites that promote these menus of social interventions is a serious handicap to knowledge progression. By way of example, my own Market Reduction Approach to theft (MRA) is recommended as good, promising or effective ‘best practice’ by official government websites in the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand (Sutton 2011) – and is praised in many academic texts . And yet the only time the MRA was ever evaluated the results were inconclusive - due to the reported failure of the two English police forces involved (Kent and Manchester ) to implement the scheme according to official guidance (Hale et al 2004) .

Can it be implemented properly? Perhaps the MRA is badly desinged and so will be forever doomed to implementer (component failure/inadequacy). Alternatively, it might be potentially good practice that has failed to date simply as a result of manager (implementor) inadequacy. We don't know. And that is all there is to it.

Until we begin to seriously address this question for schemes – such as Operation Ceasefire, the MRA and other templates for social action - they should not be promoted as ‘best’, ‘promising’ or ‘effective’ practice.

Today the British Government is seriously considering the option of funding the implementation of Operation Ceasefire's template to tackle gang crime (Travis 2011). If it does then the Prime Minister David Cameron would be wise to address in advance the issue of implementor inadequacy. Because all too often in life mediocre and inadequate individuals are recruited to perform functions that are beyond them – often for no other reason than that they look and sound like the general public thinks an ideal leader should (Gladwell 2005).

Conclusion and the way forward

Unless future research reveals that certain social intervention templates are so well designed that they are powerful enough to ameliorate the problem of mediocre and/or incompetent implementors then we need to know more so that we can seek to avoid the harmful effects of implementor failure on knowledge progression regarding what works to make the world a better place.


Gladwell, M. (2005) Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York. Little Brown and Co.

Hale, C. Harris, C. Uglow, S. Gilling. L and Netten, A. (2004). Targeting the markets for stolen goods: two targeted policing initiative projects. Home Office Development and Practice Report 17.

Kennedy, D. (2010) . David Kennedy . In Fox, A. and Gold, E. (2010) Daring to Fail: First-person Stories of Criminal Justice Reform. New York. Center for Court Innovation.

Sutton, M. (2011). Impact of my research is much greater than I thought: thanks to Google. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton:

Travis, A. (2011) What policies lie behind Cameron's 'all-out war on gangs'? The Guardian. Monday 15 August.

Monday, 31 October 2011

On Veracity and the MRA

I was required last week to prove the impact of my research on policy making. What I found was quite remarkable. My Market Reduction Approach to theft is recommended by government websites for the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. What makes this fact remarkable is the the MRA has never been shown to be effective. Clearly the MRA presents a plausible and compelling method for seeking to tackle crime. But surely we need to evaluate such schemes before so boldly recommending them as effective, good practice or otherwise promoting them as promising.

Evidence of Policy Impact of my research.

I am the originator of the Market Reduction Approach to theft (MRA), and my research in this area has, for more than a decade, influenced government policy advice and policy making in Britain and elsewhere. Several British police forces have sought to reduce theft with the MRA.

In 1999, the MRA was implemented for the first time when Kent Constabulary sought to use it in its Operation Radium to reduce high levels of burglary and other theft in the Medway Towns of Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, Rainham and Strood, which were given the collective pseudonym South Town (Home Office 2004). This initiative led to the passing of several local Acts of Parliament throughout England to regulate trade in second hand goods, with an aim to reduce Supply by Theft (Sutton 1995) including the Kent Acts (2001) and the Nottingham City Council Act (2003).

The MRA was mentioned at National Government level, along with my work in Parliamentary debate (Hansard 2000) and the Kent Acts later in Parliamentary Business (Hansard 2004). In 1999, the British Home Office funded the implementation of the MRA in three police forces: Kent, West Mercia and Stockport in Greater Manchester (Home Office 2006), followed by a Government funded evaluation by the University of Kent of the implementation and impact of the MRA in Kent and Greater Manchester (Harris, Hale and Uglow 2003; Hale et al (2004).

Other MRA schemes have been implemented in Britain in Nottinghamshire and Derby City constabularies. In 2011, the MRA was defined as a core policing practice and as a performance indicator by both Nottinghamshire Constabulary and the City’s Crime Reduction Partnership. I continue to publish in the area of tackling stolen goods markets (e.g. Sutton 2010) and advise police at local, national and international levels. I occasionally act as an unpaid ad-hoc informal ‘sceptical friend’ (academic advisor) for various police forces through meetings, email and telephone conversations. In 2011, I addressed a British audience of chief police officers through the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO National Burglary Reduction Working Group) on the subject of the MRA and the importance of veracity to inform policy in policing and crime reduction (7/9/2011).

Although the MRA has been promoted as ‘good practice’ by the British Government and has been used by several police forces, it has not proved possible to evaluate its impact in reducing crime due to a number of factors, not least the extent of confounding variables that impact upon crime rates at both the local and national level. Despite lack of evidence of its effectiveness in reducing crime, the UK Government, US Government, Australian Government and New Zealand Government (somewhat surprisingly) promote it as good ‘effective’ policing and general crime reduction practice:

UK Government website promoting my MRA See page 9

USA Government’s Department of Justice COPS programme international problem-oriented Practitioners policing guide for tackling stolen goods markets to reduce theft. The US Department of justice also added my Home Office MRA guide to its website and an influential briefing note.

My report on tackling stolen goods markets is also recommended reading in US Department of Justice “Mayors’ Guide to effective policing and crime prevention and the MRA is recommended as one of the 60 steps for crime problem solvers.

Australian Government’s Institute of CriminologyNew Zealand Ministry of Justice and also here .Wider Influence of my MRA on Criminology.

The MRA has been quite widely cited in the peer reviewed literature on crime reduction by criminologists. The MRA is also covered in many textbooks, e.g.:Felson and Boba (2010)Hagan ( 2010)Chamley (2003)Bullock and Tilley (2003)Hopkins Burke (2004)Sheptycki and Wardak (2005)

See Wikipedia 2011; 2011a; 2011b for a reasonably comprehensive list).

Here are just a few examples of how the MRA has influenced and/or been cited as important research in other areas beyond the theft of high volume consumer goods:

Wildlife crime and endangered species:

Schneider JL. (2008) ‘Reducing the Illicit Trade in Wildlife: The Market Reduction Approach’.

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 24:274–95: And here. Trafficking in Ivory: Lemieux, A.M. and Clarke, R.V. (2009) The International Ban on Ivory Sales and its Effects on Elephant Poaching in Africa. British Journal of Criminology. Vol. 49.

Trafficking in people/Reduce human trafficking:

Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe Report (e.g. see page 1) Combating Trafficking in Humans: Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe Report (e.g. see page 1).

Art and Cultural artifact crime

Theft and Trafficking of Art and Cultural Artifacts:

Manacorda, S. and Chappell, D. (eds.) (2011) Crime in the Art and Antiques World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York. Springer.

Some Examples of the Impact of My Other Work on Crime Reduction and Bias and Prejudice Reduction Policy Guidance and Policy Making

Within England

Publication of Sutton, M. Perry, B. Parke J. and John-Baptiste, C. (2007) Getting the Message Across: Using media to reduce ‘racial’ prejudice. Department of Communities and Local Government. London. (Peer reviewed national government research report). Led to keynote speaking engagement with National and local government representatives and members of anti-racism organisations: at a forum held in Scotland and funded by the Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance (GARA). Subsequently, the Getting the Message Across report also used in a Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights submission to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Newcastle City Council relied upon the Getting the Message Across report to shape its policy making .

Within Scotland

On 26 August 2011, The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (formerly known as the Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance) sent a written submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee regarding the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland). Bill. The submission informed Parliament of the dangers of implementing uninformed racism reductions measures that are likely to backfire and make the problem worse. The submission cited the myth busting research contained within the ‘Getting the Message Across’ report (Sutton et al 2007). Policy making advice within the ‘Getting the Message Across’ report inspired the Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance (Now Coalition for Racial Equality and Human Rights - CREHR) to successfully apply for funding to test its recommendations. They wrote:"The project was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and used recommendations from the Communities and Local Government report “Getting the message across: using media to reduce racial prejudice and discrimination” (Sutton et al., 2007) as impetus to undertake a local research project.”

US Government Office of Justice

Click on ‘evidence base’ and ‘additional references’ at the end of the section in the report link given below to see how work I conducted in 1996 is used to construct a current US Office of Justice effective solutions guide . These sources were used in the development of the program profile, which lists: (1) Ekblom, P., Law, H. and Sutton, M. with assistance from Paul Crisp and Richard Wiggins. (1996). Safer Cities and Domestic Burglary. Home Office Research Study 164. London, England: Home Office; and (2) Sutton, M. (1996). Implementing Crime Prevention Schemes in a Multi agency Setting: Aspects of Process in the Safer Cities Programme. London, England: Home Office.

The US Government Office of Justice currently publishes a series of abstracts on my work. E.g.:

1. Crime Surveys in the 21st Century

2. Internet Crime

Other Academic Roles

Founding General Editor of the Internet Journal of Criminology.

Member of the editorial board of the Security Journal.

Founding Director of the Nottingham Centre for the Study and Reduction of Hate Crimes, Bias and Prejudice.

External Examiner for BA (Hons.) Criminology – Birmingham City University

Within place of current employment (Nottingham Trent University):

Course Leader MA Criminology
Module leader for High Tech Crime
Module Leader for Crime Reduction and Community Safety
Member of Post Graduate Research Degrees Committee
Director of Studies for several PhD students


Notable Alumnus

Outside of the natural sciences, I was the first to be awarded a PhD at the University of Central Lancashire(UCL), where I am recognised as a notable alumnus due to my MRA concept. UCL use my notable work on the MRA as a prestige indicator in their promotions overseas. E.G: and here .

My Research Reports in the UK National Archive

Several of my policy oriented research reports have been placed in the UK Government’s National Archive Collection. These include:

1.The Unit Fines Experiments
2. Safer Cities Evaluation
3. Handling Stolen Goods and the MRA


Hansard (2000). 1803-2005. 17th May. Kent County Council Bill (Lords) Commons Sitting – orders of the day. Vol. 350 cc.388-418. See also an extended debate in the House of Commons.Hansard (2004) Written Answers. Bound Volume. Parliamentary Business. May 13, 2004. Column 573W—continued: Stolen Goods.

Harris, C. Hale, C and Uglow, S. (2003) Implementing a Market Reduction Approach to Property Crime. In: Tilley, N. and Bullock, K., (eds). Crime Reduction and Problem Oriented Policing. Devon, Willan.

Hale, C. Harris, C. Uglow, S. Gilling. L and Netten, A. (2004). Targeting the markets for stolen goods: two targeted policing initiative projects. Home Office Development and Practice Report 17.

Home Office (2004) Secure Design. Targeting the Markets for Stolen Goods: Two targeted policing initiative projects.

The National Archive: Home Office (2006) Tackling Burglary: Market Reduction Approach. Crime Reduction. The National Archive.

National Deviancy Conference (2011) Sutton, M, Hamilton, P., Long, M. and Hodgson, P. The Problem of Zombie Cops in Voodoo Criminology. National Deviancy Conference York. July/Aug.

Nottingham City Council Act (2003)

Sutton, M. (1995) Supply by Theft: does the market for second-hand goods play a role in keeping crime figures high? British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 38, No 3, Summer.

Sutton, M. (2010) Stolen Goods Markets. Problem Oriented Policing Guide No. 57. U.S.A. Department of Justice COPS Programme. (Peer reviewed international policing guide.

Sutton, M. Perry, B. Parke J. and John-Baptiste, C. (2007) Getting the Message Across: Using media to reduce ‘racial’ prejudice. Department of Communities and Local Government. London. (Peer reviewed national government research report).

The Kent Acts (2001). A Case for National Legislation: Report to the Secretary of State in compliance with section 20 (1) of the Kent County Council Act 2001 and section 20 (1) of the Medway Council Act 2001

Wikipedia (2011) The Market Reduction Approach.

Wikipedia (2011a) Criminology.

Wikipedia (2011b) Mike Sutton (criminologist)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Dysology Challenge

Is Hot Clocking ( a new explanation for cold fusion) a bad explanation for something that probably does not exist? View the comments section of this article to see the arguments put to Nobel laureate, and Cambridge professor of physics, Brian Josephson where Josephson weirdly (but understandably) declines to take up the Dysology Challenge. Will Professor Simon Berkovich, the author of Hot Clocking have the conviction to put his reputation where his brain is?


Monday, 25 July 2011


We humans are pattern recognising creatures. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon where the watcher or listener perceives an image or sound to be significant.

In this video that I took while on holiday in Jamaica this year, it looks like a demon appears in the window glass. In reality it is no more than a weird looking random stain left by condensation. The 'demon' first seems to appear because the light refracting through the glass renders it invisible until I walk around to capture it at the right angle with my handy HD camera.

The Skeptick's Dictionary has more information on pareidolia

For more Dysology you might like to visit my website:

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Imagining The Anti Swan

Karl Popper essentially falsified the idea that knowledge about something can be obtained from past observations (events). Famously, he used the example of what we once thought we knew about swans. If the only swans that had ever been observed by those classifying them were white was it correct to say that all swans are white? No. Because after black swans were discovered in Australasia those previously unimagined swans overturned existing knowledge. Popper essentially demonstrated what is today known as the fallacy of induction.

The impact of the improbable, based on Popper’s (1959) fallacy of induction, is a theme that has been very successfully exploited by many authors. One, whose best selling book I am currently reading, is Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Taleb’s book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Allen Lane/Penguin Books 2007), develops the black swan example in many areas of life to assert that social science and economic experts essentially know little more about their subject than the man in the street. The reason for this is that they fail to take account of chaos and uncertainty in the world. In the affairs of man there are too many possible and complex ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ for us to predict what will happen next. Yet, surely, if you cannot say what something will do next then you really don’t understand it at all.

Terrorism experts, for example, failed to predict 9/11. Economists failed to predict the economic crash. And in my own field we criminologists all failed to predict the 15 year crime drop in the western industrialized world.

The point of this blog post is that I have an issue with Popper’s fallacy of induction. One that the self-admitted black swan obsessive Taleb has, as far as I can tell, failed to see. My issue is that Taleb, among other Popperians, does not allow for the possibility that the entire fallacy of induction would be falsified itself if a mega black swan event came along (e.g. something as improbable as progress in quantum computing serendipitously making it possible to accurately predict future ‘black swan-type events’ in the affairs of man by analyzing past events.

My key argument here is that Popper's refutation of induction is in fact, ironically, based on induction because the falsification of induction is itself based on past knowledge of the failure of the inductive method to know the present and predict the future.

If a new discovery does overturn existing orthodoxy so that induction becomes a good method of knowing the future we should be prepared to name such an event The Anti-Swan.


I would like to thank Professor Michael Smithson for kindly sharing his thoughts on my ideas on this issue: Click here to see our brief discussion about this issue on his blog.


Popper, K. R. (1959) The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London. Routledge.

Taleb, N. N. (2007) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Allen Lane/Penguin Books.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Quantum Physics and a Possible Infintiy Paradox: My Personal Dysology

I published an article recently about my own personal confusion regarding David Deutsch's thesis that good ideas have infinite reach. You can read it over at the Best Thinking peer-to-peer website:

The Meme Muncher. By Mike Sutton 2011 (All Rights Reserved)

Under certain conditions, it seems that quantum mechanics predicts that good ideas if they are stored on physical objects such as paper, in books or on electronic devices - even though they have potential for infinite reach - can be annihilated into a singularity if they are moved at a particular rate into infinity. From this, it seems to me that on the face of it at least, that David Deutsch's theses has at least one interestingly ironic exception.

However, I expect that I am missing something important that is either not fully explained by Deutsch, or else it was but I simply failed to understand it in his excellent book (Deutsch 2011), which is aimed at everyone including quantum physics duffers, such as me, as well as experts.

Let me explain my confusion

What if a good idea was transcribed only once, the author died and the device it was recorded on was transported at the necessary rate into infinity? If that idea was the best explanation for how such an idea would be annihilated into a singularity and it could be annihilated in that way by the process of being sent into infinity how can our best ideas be said to have infinite reach?

I expect that I've got this wrong, but given the explanation Professor David Deutsch provides in his book regarding how a puppy vanishes from the universe in Herbert's Grand Infinity Hotel does not explain - to me at least -why the puppy vanished. I can't debunk the idea that if infinity deletes a good explanation then good explanations do not necessarily have infinite reach. And if only Deutsch had used his book as an analogy rather than the weird example of a puppy in a rubbish sack then he would have needed to address this 'threat to theory'.

Of course, one answer to my conundrum is that anyone could destroy a good explanation before it became a meme. We might wonder, for example, how many good explanations were wiped out by the Nazi holocaust before they could be published.

I would welcome any comments that can help me to clear up this matter in my mind - by way of the comments section on this blog would be most appreciated.

Mike Sutton 13th June 2011


Deutsch, D. (2011) The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that transform the world. London. Penguin Books.

Sutton, M (2011) Explanations Annihilated in Hilbert's Grand Infinity Hotel. Best Thinking.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dysology the Blog Site of

What is Dysology?

Dysology is the study of orthodox bias, academic blind spots, irrationality, pseudo scholarship and fraud influencing bad social science research, bad science, bad policymaking, quackery, counterknowledge, 'voodoo histrories', 'voodoo criminology' 'flat earth news' and other ignorance.

Visit to learn more.

On the dysology web site I am exploring the usefulness of developing a multidisciplinary approach to the discovery and understanding of bad research and strange lack of research in some key areas of scholarship and policymaking.