Good Data, Safe Streets?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 15 2002 11:00 AM


Dear Natalie,


What a pleasure to be perusing the news this morning with you, whom I've read avidly for years but never imagined actually getting to quiz myself. (What are you working on for this week? But I know you'll never tell.)

This has to be an all too brief start. Patient on the table. Problems cropping up too early this morning to think much at all. Nonetheless, at least one matter in the news today that seems worth considering: This strange and wonderful and puzzling continued drop in crime in New York. Murders down another third so far this year from last, which was already below London levels. And there are drops in assaults, robberies, larcenies (but not rape?). In Boston murders were up from 39 to 66 in all. They were up in Los Angeles and Chicago, too, apparently. What gives? Interestingly, the papers this morning point to the simple matter of data. The New York police computers, the reporters say, track trends and patterns in crime block-by-block, day-by-day—while elsewhere, and until recently in NYC too, crime data came at best monthly. Do you buy this idea? I myself don't know what to think. But I can tell you that in medicine getting data to doctors—on how many complications you have, on what kinds of results you're getting—is enough to drive surprising and unexpected improvements.

Then, in the news, there's that Illinois death penalty panel that proposed sweeping changes after looking at all the data about how capital punishment works. And I don't even know where to start thinking about the dismal spiral in the Middle East. We'll have much to talk about from the papers. And yet, with a New York Times reporter on the other end of this e-mail, I can't help but wonder what you know about how all this news gets put together.

There is, for example, almost no typical science news in the papers today. And that always seems to be the case Why is that? It's seems like all the news comes out on Thursdays when the journals all come out. And then there are those Tuesday sections, but they really don't have breaking science news. Surely, new and brilliant things in science are popping up every day. Do the journals and their embargoes really have such a stranglehold on when and how news about science comes out?


Atul Gawande, a surgical resident in Boston, is a staff writer on medicine for The New Yorker and author of the new book Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows


The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?