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.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.