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  • Jan 24 / 2017
  • 0
Education, Gender, International, Public Health, U.S. Foreign Policy

The Mexico City Policy and abortion funding: International impacts

In January 2017, President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded a policy that forbids international organizations from using U.S. foreign aid to promote abortion or provide information about abortion as a form of family planning.

The policy, established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, is commonly referred to as the Mexico City Policy because it was introduced to the International Conference on Population held in Mexico City that year. Critics often refer to it as the “global gag rule.”

Reagan’s policy tightened restrictions on funds distributed through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 already prohibited non-governmental organizations from using federal money to pay for abortions or entice women to have them. Over the years, the Mexico City Policy has been reinstated and rescinded multiple times, depending on the party of the president who is in office.

Despite the controversy and amount of federal funding involved, there is limited published research on the impact of the Mexico City Policy. Journalist’s Resource has pulled together a few academic studies as well as other resources that we hope will be helpful to journalists covering this topic.



“United States Aid Policy and Induced Abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa”
Bendavid, Eran; Avila, Patrick; Miller, Grant. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2011. doi: 10.2471/BLT.11.091660.

Summary: Three researchers from Stanford University look at how the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in 2001 affected the probability that a woman in sub-Saharan Africa would have an induced abortion. The study, which focuses on 20 countries, suggests the Mexico City Policy is associated with an increase in abortions. “Overall, the induced abortion rate increased significantly from 10.4 per 10,000 woman–years for the period from 1994 to 2001 to 14.5 per 10,000 woman–years for the period from 2001 to 2008 (P = 0.01). Although the trend changed gradually, the timing of the rise is consistent with the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in early 2001.”


“Contraceptive Supply and Fertility Outcomes: Evidence from Ghana”
Jones, Kelly M. Economic Development and Cultural Change, October 2015, Vol. 64. doi: 10.1086/682981.

Summary: The author examines how cuts in U.S. funding for contraceptives affect pregnancy, abortion and births in one nation in sub-Saharan Africa. The study indicates that a smaller supply of contraceptives resulted in a greater number of pregnancies. Among rural women, the use of abortion rose by 2.35 percentage points.


Other resources:


    • Aug 15 / 2016
    • 0
    Culture, Gender, Health Care, Human Rights, Public Health, U.S. Foreign Policy

    Abortion services and modern contraceptives: Do women in Nepal use them interchangeably?

    The issue: Some academics, policy makers and advocates hypothesize that contraceptives and abortion are considered substitutes. The theory goes: In a society with widely available, inexpensive contraception, women will not have as many abortions. Conversely, if contraception such as birth control pills, IUDs and condoms are difficult to obtain, women will have more abortions. If such a relationship does exist, there could be major consequences for population policy and foreign aid programs targeting women’s health.

    An academic study worth reading: Population Policy: Abortion and Modern Contraception Are Substitutes,” published in Demography, July 2016.

    Study summary: Grant Miller, director of the Stanford Center for International Development and an associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, teamed up with Christine Valente, a lecturer in economics at the University of Bristol, to study whether women in Nepal use abortion and modern contraceptives interchangeably. For their research, they examined an unusual policy change adopted in Nepal in 2004. That year, abortion was legalized, but there was no significant change made to the supply of modern contraceptives.

    To understand Nepalese women’s reproductive behavior, Miller and Valente studied data collected during four waves of the Nepalese Demographic and Health Surveys. The surveys were conducted in 1996 and 2001 – before the policy change – and then in 2006 and 2011 – after the change. The analysis involved a sample of 32,098 women.

    Key findings of the study:

    • Each new legal abortion provider in a woman’s district of residence was associated with a 2.6 percent decrease in the likelihood of using modern contraception.
    • Each new legal abortion provider was associated with a 2.2 percent reduction in the odds of women undergoing sterilization. Centers have no effect on male sterilization, however.
    • The decrease in contraception use was driven primarily by decreased usage of reversible birth control methods such as injections. To a smaller extent, there was a decrease in the use of condoms and birth control pills.
    • The authors note that their estimates “provide evidence of true substitution between use of modern contraceptives and abortion.”

    Helpful resources for reporters writing about this issue:

    Related research:

    • A 2012 study from scholars at Washington University in St. Louis found a reduction in abortions and teen birth rates when women received free birth control as a part of the Contraceptive CHOICE Project.
    • A 2015 study published in Health Affairs found that the federal Affordable Care Act reduced out-of-pocket costs for multiple types of birth control.
    • A 2014 study by researchers from J.P. Morgan and Williams College found that early access to birth control can reduce the likelihood that a woman will live in poverty.


    Keywords: birth control, family planning, fertility, abortion clinic, reproductive rights, pro-choice

      • Jul 29 / 2015
      • 0
      Culture, Elections, Gender, Health Care, Public Health

      Does viewing ultrasounds affect abortion decisions? Research brief

      From the Scholars Strategy Network, written by Katrina Kimport, University of California, San Francisco.


      Health care providers who perform abortions routinely use ultrasound scans to confirm their patients’ pregnancies, check for multiple gestations, and determine the stage of the pregnancies. But it is far from standard — and not at all medically necessary — for women about to have abortions to view their ultrasounds. Ultrasound viewing by patients has no clinical purpose: it does not affect the woman’s condition or the decisions health providers make. Nevertheless, ultrasound viewing has become central to the hotly contested politics of abortion.

      Believing that viewing ultrasounds will change minds, opponents of abortion — spearheaded by the advocacy group Americans United for Life — have pushed for state laws to require such viewing. So far, 18 states require that women be offered the opportunity to view their pre-abortion ultrasound images, and five states actually go so far as to legally require women to view their ultrasound images before obtaining an abortion (although the women are permitted to avert their eyes). In two of the five states that have passed such mandatory viewing laws, courts have permanently enjoined the laws, keeping them from going into effect.

      As the debates continue to rage, both sides assume that what matters for an abortion patient is the content of the ultrasound image. Abortion opponents believe the image will demonstrate to the woman that she is carrying a baby — a revelation they think will make her want to continue her pregnancy. Ironically, supporters of abortion rights also argue that seeing the image of the fetus will make a difference. They say this experience will be emotionally distressing and make abortions more difficult. Paradoxically, such arguments from rights advocates reinforce assumptions that fetuses are persons and perpetuate stigma about abortion procedures.

      Does viewing change women’s minds — or cause trauma?

      What is missing from all of this is research on a crucial question: How do women planning abortions actually react to voluntary or coerced viewing of ultrasounds? As it turns out, seeing the ultrasound images as such does little to change women’s minds about abortion. What matters is how women scheduled for abortions already feel. Viewing an ultrasound can matter for women who are not fully certain about their plans to have an abortion.

      My colleagues and I analyzed medical records from over 15,000 abortion visits during 2011 to a large, urban abortion provider. This provider has a policy of offering every patient the voluntary opportunity to view her ultrasound image. In her intake paperwork, the patient can check a box saying she wants to view; then, when she’s in the ultrasound room, the technician provides her with the opportunity to see the image. Over 42% of incoming abortion patients chose to view their ultrasound images, and the substantial majority (99%) of all 15,000 pregnancies ended in abortion.

      Our research team looked at whether viewing the ultrasound image was associated with deciding to continue with the pregnancy instead of proceeding with the abortion. We took into account factors such as the age, race and poverty level of the women involved, as well as how far along their pregnancies were, the presence of multiple fetuses, and how certain women said they were about their abortion decision.

      As it became clear that certainty mattered, we looked more closely. Among women who were highly certain, viewing their ultrasound did not change minds. However, among the small fraction (7.4%) of women who were not very certain or only moderately certain, viewing slightly increased the odds that they would forego their planned abortion and continue with their pregnancy. Nonetheless, this effect was very small and most did proceed to abortion.

      Our findings make sense, because some women who are unsure about their abortion decision may seek experiences such as ultrasound viewing to help them make a final choice. Nevertheless, many previous studies have documented that women’s reasons for abortion are complex and unlikely to be negated simply by viewing an ultrasound image. Our study analyzed a situation where viewing ultrasounds was voluntary, but there is no reason to think that mandatory viewing would change more minds. Forcing women to view their ultrasounds could, however, affect patient satisfaction and sense of autonomy.

      Apart from whether minds are changed, many people imagine that viewing an ultrasound for an unwanted pregnancy is distressing; and in interviews with 26 staff members at an abortion facility that offers pre-abortion ultrasounds, my colleague and I discovered that many staffers believed viewing the image caused relief for women early in their pregnancies but was traumatic for those at later stages. However, when my colleagues and I asked 212 women throughout the United States about their reactions to viewing pre-abortion ultrasounds, we found no evidence that viewing was broadly distressing or that emotions depended on the gestational stage. All interviewees said their minds were not changed about proceeding with abortions. Just over one in five reported that viewing provoked negative reactions of guilt, depression, or sadness; 1 in 10 reported positive feelings such as happiness; and the largest group, just over a third, said they felt “fine,” “okay,” or even “nothing.” This common response that viewing did not matter was a surprise given the intensity surrounding political debates.

      Policy implications

      Our research questions the wisdom of state laws that force women scheduled to have abortions to view their ultrasounds prior to the procedure. Fewer than half of abortion patients want to view their ultrasounds, and there is no clinical benefit. More to the point, abortion providers already offer patients the opportunity to view their ultrasounds — and never turn down women’s requests to look at these images. When women already feel uncertain about proceeding with an abortion, viewing the image of the fetus may make a difference. But for the vast majority whose minds are made up, viewing does not matter — and trying to force this to happen in every case merely adds costs and indignities to the abortion process.

      Related research: Read more in Katrina Kimport and Tracy A. Weitz, “Constructing the Meaning of Ultrasound Viewing in Abortion Care.” Sociology of Health and Illness (forthcoming); Katrina Kimport, Tracy A. Weitz and Diana Greene Foster, “Beyond Political Claims: Women’s Interest in and Emotional Response to Viewing Their Ultrasound Image in Abortion Care.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 46, No. 4 (2014): 185-191; and Mary Gatter, Katrina Kimport, Diana Greene Foster, Tracy A. Weitz, and Ushma D. Upadhyay, “Relationship between Ultrasound Viewing and Proceeding to Abortion.” Obstetrics and Gynecology 123, No. 1 (2014): 81-87.


      The author is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, where this post originally appeared.

      Keywords: legislation, birth control, Planned Parenthood, abortion restrictions, Roe v. Wade, pro-choice, anti-choice, research brief


        • Sep 24 / 2013
        • 2
        Gender, Health Care, Public Health

        The Affordable Care Act, contraceptives, abortion and unintended-pregnancy rates

        This year marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision upholding a woman’s right to an abortion. While some — including President Obama — celebrated the ruling and pledged to defend it, a number of state legislatures continue to work to limit access to abortions. In June, Texas state senator Wendy Davis filibustered a bill that would have made abortions illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

        In addition to trying to make obtaining abortions increasingly difficult, some of these same states are also trying to limit access to birth control, especially for teenagers. Beyond the inevitable rise in unintended pregnancies that can result, such laws have also been shown to increase states’ financial burdens: A reseach project at the University of Texas at Austin found that cuts to the state’s family-planning clinics ended up costing the state $163 million it would have saved by preventing 30,000 unintended pregnancies.

        Research has shown that unintended pregnancies in the United States cost taxpapers as much as $12.6 billion every year. A 2011 study in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health found that states’ unintended-pregnancy rates vary considerably: In Mississippi there are 69 for every 1,000 women, more than twice New Hampshire’s rate, 36 per 1,000 women; the median U.S. rate is 51 per 1,000 women. On average, 53% of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, the study shows.

        Unintended-pregnancy rates in the U.S. (Finer, Kost)

        As part of the Affordable Care Act, which comes more fully into force in 2014, the White House moved ahead with a ruling that requires that most U.S. companies provide free insurance coverage for contraception for employees. The ruling came despite protests from religious organizations, and mandates coverage for a broad range of women’s health services, including FDA-approved birth control. (This has led to speculation that this issue may be taken to the Supreme Court.)

        A 2012 study from Washington University in St. Louis published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies by Providing No-Cost Contraception,” analyzes the relationship between free access to effective birth control and abortion rates. The researchers, Jeffrey F. Peipert, Tessa Madden, Jenifer E. Allsworth and Gina M. Secura, based their work on data from the Contraceptive CHOICE Project. The St. Louis initiative provided no-cost contraception for two to three years to 9,256 women at risk for unintended pregnancy. Using data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, as well as Planned Parenthood, the researchers were able to compare the rate of teen births and the percentage of repeat abortions — proxies for unintended pregnancies — of those in the CHOICE group with rates in the remaining metropolitan area and across the United States.

        Key findings from the study include:

        • Participants in the CHOICE program showed a significant reduction in abortion rates, repeat abortions, and teenage birth rates: The birth rate among participants aged 15 to 19 years was 6.3 per 1,000 compared with the national rate of 34.3. This represents an 82% reduction.
        • Between 2008 and 2010, abortion rates for study participants ranged from 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 women, compared with regional rates between 13.4 and 17 and the national rate of 19.6.
        • Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants — often referred to as long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods — are not as highly used in the United States compared with other developed countries, where unintended pregnancy rates are lower. Related research shows that such long-lasting methods are much more effective than birth-control pills and other options.
        • If no-cost contraception) were made available to the entire population of the sample region, the researchers estimate one abortion could be avoided for every 79 to 137 women and teenagers. Nationally, they estimate it could prevent as many as 62% to 78% of abortions performed annually.

        The researchers of this study note that the Contraceptive CHOICE Project provided participants with free access to all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, simulating the results in their region of the birth control mandate of the ACA coming into effect. The authors ultimately conclude that based on their findings, “unintended pregnancies could be reduced by providing no-cost contraception and promoting effective, underused contraceptive methods.”

        Additional data on family-planning services provided by the U.S. government under Title X of the Public Health Services act are available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs.

        A related 2012 study, “Effectiveness of Long-acting Reversible Contraception,” examines a range of contraception methods and finds that the failure rates for birth-control pills, patch or ring over the first three years were were 4.8%, 7.8%, and 9.4%, respectively. By comparison, the failure rates over the first three years for IUDs or implants were 0.3%, 0.6%, and 0.9%. “IUDs and implants were thus 10 to 16 times as effective as the other long-term contraceptive options,” the researchers conclude.

        Keywords: reproductive rights, parenting, family

          • May 16 / 2012
          • 1
          Ads, Public Opinion, Elections, Polarization

          Pew Research: Gun rights, abortion, gay marriage views over time

          Social issues — and the associated “culture war” in America — continue to play prominent roles in politics. There is an ingrained notion of a static political standoff: To many, the country seems split into two camps that have stubbornly dug in on issues. But survey data suggests that public support for some social issues has fluctuated significantly over recent history.

          A 2012 report by the Pew Research Center, “More Support for Gun Rights, Gay Marriage than in 2008, 2004,” compared current surveys on support for social issues with past data. The 2012 survey asked more than 3,000 adults about their views on gay marriage, gun rights and abortion.

          Key findings include:

          • There has been a significant decrease in the opposition to gay marriage over time. In 2004, 60% of American opposed gay marriage and 31% favored it. As of 2012, 43% of Americans opposed gay marriage while 47% of supported it.
          • Among Americans younger than 30 there has been a significant decline in opposition to gay marriage, from 48% in 2008 to 30% in 2012. As of 2012, “young people favor gay marriage by more than two-to-one” with 65% in support and 30% opposed.
          • As of 2012, the majority of Democrats (59%) and Independents (52%) support gay marriage, an increase of 9 percentage points among Democrats and 10 percentage points among Independents since 2008.
          • Republicans remain opposed to gay marriage, with 68% in opposition to it and only 23% in support. However, there has been a 10 percentage point decline in opposition to gay marriage among Republicans since 2004.
          • Opinions on gun rights have shifted significantly over time. In 2000, 66% of Americans said controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting gun rights, while just 29% said rights were more important. By 2012, 49% supported gun rights versus 45% favoring gun control.
          • Support for gun ownership among both men and women has increased from 2008, with a 14 percentage point increase in support for gun rights for men and a 9 percentage point increase for women.
          • Partisan division over gun control has also grown in recent years. Republican support for gun rights increased from 65% in 2009 to 72% in 2012, while Independent support for gun rights increased from 48% in 2009 to 55% in 2012.
          • In 1995, 59% of Americans supported legalized abortion in all or most cases and only 40% did not. In 2001, citizens were equally divided on abortion, with 49% supporting it and 48% opposed. By 2012, support had shifted back in favor of legalized abortion, with 53% supporting it in all or most cases and 39% against.

          “Opinions about a pair of contentious social issues, gun control and gay marriage, have changed substantially since previous presidential campaigns,” the report notes in its summary. “On gun control, Americans have become more conservative; on gay marriage, they have become more liberal.” As for near-term trends on citizens’ abortion views, “little changed from recent years. In 2009, the percentage favoring legal abortion in all or most cases fell below 50% for the first time since 2001. Since then, however, support for legal abortion has rebounded and is generally in line with trends dating to 1995.”

          Tags: gay issues, campaign issue, guns, civil rights

            • Mar 15 / 2012
            • 1
            Gender, Public Health

            Abortion incidence and access to services in the United States

            Though abortion is most often framed as a matter of political and moral opinion, there is also ample factual data on its prevalence across the United States and the underlying factors that may drive increases and decreases.

            A 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, “Abortion Incidence and Access to Services in the United States,” analyzed data from a survey of U.S. abortion providers. Conducted 15 times since 1973, the survey gathered information from more than 1,500 facilities between 2008 and 2010; information from state health departments was also used to estimate figures at some 450 other facilities. In all, the number of abortions was established or estimated for more than 2,300 facilities across the country (some service providers run multiple facilities). More limited data was obtained to estimate rates at hospitals.

            The study’s findings include:

            • Between 2005 and 2008 the incidence of abortion in the United States has been relatively stable: “The number of abortions increased by 0.5%, from 1,206,200 to 1,212,350, and the abortion rate increased 1%, from 19.4 to 19.6 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44…. The abortion ratio did not change over this period, remaining at 22 abortions per 100 pregnancies.”
            • The states with the highest levels of abortions performed were Delaware, New York and New Jersey, with rates of 40, 38 and 31 per 1,000 women, respectively. High rates were also seen in the states of Maryland, California, Florida, Nevada and Connecticut (25 to 29 per 1,000 women).
            • The state with the lowest abortion rate was Wyoming, which had less than 1 per 1,000 women, followed by Mississippi, Kentucky, South Dakota, Idaho and Missouri (5 to 6 abortions per 1,000 women).
            • Because states’ abortion rates are not calculated according to the mothers’ residency, a state’s numbers may not reflect the true number of abortions its residents obtain. “For example, while only 70 abortions were reported in Wyoming in 2005, an estimated 1,100 were obtained by Wyoming residents in that year, and almost all of them occurred out of state.”
            • The number of providers of abortion services remained relatively constant from 2005 to 2008, when the figure stood at 1,793. (The number across the country stood at a high of 2,900 in 1982.) However, the overall number in the South declined by 10% over that period.
            • The vast majority of providers, 95%, provided services through eight weeks into a pregnancy; 64% offered them through 13 weeks, 23% through 20 weeks and 11% through 24 weeks.
            • The average fee in 2009 for a first-trimester surgical abortion was $451; the median cost of an early medication abortion was $490. The median charge for a surgical abortion at 20 weeks was $1500.
            • Some 42% of clinics reported harassment relating to the blocking of patient access, and 15% reported vandalism. Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of those reporting bomb threats fell from 15% to 5%. Overall, the “incidence of harassment varied by region; 85% of providers in the Midwest and 75% in the South experienced any form of harassment, compared with 48% and 44% in the Northeast and the West, respectively.”

            The study also notes the long-term trends relating to abortion: though the annual figure dropped 25% between 1991 and 2005, the 1% rise in the number of abortions between 2005 and 2008 ends this long period of decline.

              • Nov 10 / 2016
              • 5
              Ads, Public Opinion, Reporting, Research, Writing

              Polling fundamentals and concepts: An overview for journalists

              The 2016 presidential election surprised many because Donald Trump’s win defied the vast majority of polls. In the aftermath, some are blaming journalists for rushing information out quickly without explaining basic polling caveats. Despite all the lavish attention, polls are only as valid as their design, execution and analysis.

              The best polls are produced by independent, nonpartisan polling organizations, with no vested interest in the outcome of the findings. These include organizations like Gallup and the Pew Research Center and as well as media groups such as CBS News/New York Times, ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News/Wall Street Journal. Many surveys are conducted by partisan actors — political consulting firms, industry groups and candidates. In some cases, the findings are biased by factors such as respondent selection and question wording. Partisan-based polls need to be carefully scrutinized and, when possible, reported in comparison with nonpartisan poll results.

              It’s important to remember that polls are a snapshot of opinion at a point in time. Despite 60 years of experience since Truman defied the polls and defeated Dewey in the 1948 presidential election, pollsters can still miss big: In the 2008 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, Barack Obama was pegged to win, but Hillary Clinton came out on top. A study in Public Opinion Quarterly found that “polling problems in New Hampshire in 2008 were not the exception, but the rule.” In a fluid political environment, it is risky to assume that polls can predict the distribution of opinion even a short time later.

              Here are some polling concepts that journalists and students should be familiar with:

              • In a public opinion poll, relatively few individuals — the sample — are interviewed to estimate the opinions of a larger population. The mathematical laws of probability dictate that if a sufficient number of individuals are chosen truly at random, their views will tend to be representative.
              • A key for any poll is the sample size: a general rule is that the larger the sample, the smaller the sampling error. A properly drawn sample of one thousand individuals has a sampling error of about plus or minus 3%, which means that the proportions of the various opinions expressed by the people in the sample are likely to be within plus or minus 3% of those of the whole population.
              • In all scientific polls, respondents are chosen at random. Surveys with self-selected respondents — for example, people interviewed on the street or who just happen to participate in a web-based survey — are intrinsically unscientific.
              • The form, wording and order of questions can significantly affect poll results. With some complex issues — the early debate over human embryonic stem cells, for example — pollsters have erroneously measured “nonopinions” or “nonattitudes,” as respondents had not thought through the issue and voiced an opinion only because a polling organization contacted them. Poll results in this case fluctuated wildly depending on the wording of the question.
              • Generic ballot questions test the mood of voters prior to the election. Rather than mentioning candidates’ names, they ask the respondent would vote for a Republican or Democrat if the election were held that day. While such questions can give a sense of where things stand overall, they miss how respondents feel about specific candidates and issues.
              • Poll questions can be asked face-to-face or by telephone, with automated calls, or by email or mail. The rise of mobile-only households has complicated polling efforts, as has the increasing reluctance of Americans to participate in telephone polls. Nevertheless, telephone polls have a better record of accuracy than Internet-based polls. Whatever the technique used, it is important to understand how a poll was conducted and to be careful about reporting any poll that seems to have employed a questionable methodology.
              • Social desirability bias occurs when respondents provide answers they think are socially acceptable rather than their true opinions. Such bias often occurs with questions on difficult issues such as abortion, race, sexual orientation and religion.
              • Beware of push polls, which are thinly disguised attempts by partisan organizations to influence voters’ opinions rather than measure them.
              • Some survey results that get reported are based on a “poll of polls,” where multiple polls are averaged together. Prominent sites that engage in this practice are FiveThirtyEight, Real Clear Politics and the Cook Political Report. There are, however, any number of methodological arguments over how to do this accurately and some statisticians have objections to mixing polls at all.
              • When reporting on public-opinion surveys, include information on how they were conducted — who was polled, when and how. Report the sample size, margin of error, the organizations that commissioned and executed the poll, and whether they have any ideological biases. Avoid polling jargon, and report the findings in as clear a language as possible.
              • Compare and contrast multiple polls when appropriate. If the same question was asked at two different points in time, what changed? If two simultaneously conducted polls give different results, find out why. Talk to unbiased polling professionals or scholars to provide insight. If you’re having trouble finding experts to put findings in perspective, exercise caution.
              • When polls appear in news stories, they’re typically emphasize the “horse race” aspects of politics. This focus can obscure poll findings that are of equal or greater significance, such as how voters feel about the issues and how their candidate preferences are affected by the issues.

              For those interested in a deeper dive into polling, Journalist’s Resource has a number of academic studies on measuring public opinion: “I’m Not Voting for Her: Polling Discrepancies and Female Candidates,” “Measuring Americans’ Concerns about Climate Change,” “Dynamic Public Opinion: Communication Effects over Time” and “Exit Polls: Better or Worse Since the 2000 Election?” are just a few of those available.


              This article is based on work by Thomas Patterson, Harvard’s Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press and research director of Journalist’s Resource; Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting at Syracuse University; and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut.

              Keywords: polling, elections

                • Feb 03 / 2016
                • 0
                Culture, Education, Internet, News Media, Social Media, Syllabi

                Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age: A Model/Open Source Syllabus

                Note: This sample syllabus was designed to be drawn upon and used freely by all educators, students and classrooms. Please reuse or adapt this resource in whatever way would best serve your work; it is a public domain, Creative Commons document.


                The American news media has seldom been held in lower esteem by the public. This partly comes from a sense that professional standards have dropped. The digital age, where publishing and broadcasting information have proliferated far beyond daily newspapers and radio and television stations, only complicates these dynamics of mistrust. Corrupted information and half-truths seem to be everywhere, many citizens sense, and news media outlets — like almost all large institutions in today’s society — face increasing skepticism.

                A crucial question, then, looms for those studying journalism and training to become reporters and editors: What distinguishes the professional journalist’s approach to information amid vast other digital streams of videos, photos, data and text? In large part, the answer must be the highest of ethical standards and a commitment to the uncorrupted pursuit of truth based on verifiable facts and knowledge.

                We stand at a moment when the journalistic ethical codes that American society has known for decades are now under tremendous pressure, as the underlying business model continues to erode, news and information are increasingly consumed in personalized ways on commercial platforms, and every journalistic story must compete for attention amid an overwhelming sea of what is generically being called “content.” Meanwhile, the number of U.S. editorial workers has been nearly cut in half over the past few decades; there are now about four public relations persons for every journalist. Preserving an ethical core, and seeking to improve upon the checkered past of reporting, is no sure or easy thing for a profession that has never required a license to practice.

                This syllabus presents ideas, materials, case studies and readings that speak to this moment of change.

                Course objectives

                • Learn the core ethical principles that have defined the very best journalism.
                • Know the chief ethical challenges and salient failures journalism has seen in the past.
                • Develop a sharp awareness of how digital technology and increased two-way engagement with audiences are changing the nature of journalistic ethical decision-making and challenging it in new ways.
                • Create a language for ethical reasoning and the capacity to apply important principles to concrete reporting situations of all kinds, both old and new.
                • Learn the newsgathering rights afforded to journalists as well as the laws that both protect and constrain journalistic practice.

                Course design

                This course will acquaint students with important ethical principles and professional norms that they can employ in the practice of reporting. Students will develop their knowledge of theories and frameworks, gain knowledge of important journalistic failures and mistakes, as well as emerging areas of professional challenge, and learn how to apply this knowledge during reporting, publication and audience engagement processes. The course is designed to build toward a final project in which students demonstrate a thorough grasp of ethics issues in journalism.

                Course materials

                Suggested class materials include general texts that supply a theoretical framework, book chapters, and print or online readings that apply to class topics, and films. Instructors can guide students to relevant articles or ask students to do their own research. Readings can be selected from those suggested based on the emphasis of the course designed. Separately, several books are proposed for the instructor’s use and selected chapters may lend themselves to student use as well.


                Suggested chapters from many of the following books are listed with the relevant class.

                • Kelly McBride, Tom Rosenstiel, The New Ethics of Journalism, 2014.
                • Gene Foreman, The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Digital Age, Second Edition, 2015.
                • Thomas E. Patterson, Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-based Journalism, 2013.
                • Sue Ellen Christian, Overcoming Bias: A Journalist’s Guide to Culture and Context, 2011.
                • Alex S. Jones, Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy, 2009.
                • Patrick Lee Plaisance, Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, 2009.
                • Dale Jacquette, Journalistic Ethics: Moral Responsibility in the Media, 2007.
                • David Craig, The Ethics of the Story: Using Narrative Techniques Responsibly in Journalism, 2006.
                • Seth Mnookin, Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and their Meaning for American Media, 2004.
                • Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990.

                Online resources


                • “Spotlight,” 2015 (Open Road Films)
                • “Citizenfour,” 2014 (Praxis Films et al.)
                • “Kill the Messenger,” 2014 (Bluegrass Films et al.)
                • “Frost/Nixon,” 2008 (Universal Pictures et al.)
                • “Page One,” 2011 (Participant Media et al.)
                • “Good Night and Good Luck,” 2005 (Warner Bros. et al)
                • “Shattered Glass,” 2003 (Lions Gate et al.)
                • “Broadcast News,” 1987 (Amercent Films et al.)
                • “The Killing Fields,” 1984 (Goldcrest Films et al)
                • “Absence of Malice,” 1981 (Columbia Pictures)
                • “All the President’s Men,” 1976 (Warner Bros. et al)
                • “Ace in the Hole,” 1951 (Paramount Pictures et al.)

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                Week 1: The ethics of truth

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                The search for truth and ethics are inextricably bound up in journalism; indeed, the fair, unbiased, uncorrupted and dogged pursuit of accurate information is the essence of ethical reporting. All professional journalism, whether analog or digital, has at its core an aspiration toward accuracy, precision in communication and fairness. This week takes a big-picture look at the pursuit of truth and facts, and reviews some cases where journalists came up short and the consequences in terms of doing a disservice to the public.

                Class 1: Fidelity to truth and the public


                • Roy Peter Clark, “Kicking the Stone: The Search for Reliable Evidence in Journalism,” Chapter 2, The New Ethics of Journalism.
                • Dale Jacquette, “Truth Telling in the Public Interest,” Chapter 1, Journalistic Ethics.
                • Thomas E. Patterson, “The Information Problem,” Chapter 1, Informing the News.
                • Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.
                • NPR Ethics Handbook.

                Class 2: Truth, falsehood and consequences



                Students should familiarize themselves with the recent troubling ethical case of journalists entering an apartment – with the apparent help of a willing landlord – still under investigation in its connection to the 2015 San Bernadino, Calif., mass shooting. (See “Landlord Lets Reporters into San Bernadino Suspects’ Home,” New York Times, Dec. 2015.) Write a blog post of 750 words discussing how this case puts the pursuit of truth and professional ethics directly in tension, and make a case for how journalists should conduct themselves in such a situation.

                Week 2: The language and structure of ethical reasoning

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                This week asks students to step back and to look at the wider world of ethical reasoning and its basis in philosophy, giving students a sophisticated language with which to approach problems in practice. From utilitarianism and a rights-based approach to the common good and virtue approaches, ethics is a field that has some well-established frameworks for application, interpretation and choices of action.

                Class 1: Philosophy and ethical thinking


                Class 2: Digital ethics


                • Stephen J.A. Ward, “Digital Media Ethics,” Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin.
                • Clay Shirky, “Truth without Scarcity, Ethics without Force,” Chapter 1, The New Ethics of Journalism.
                • Tom Huang, “Storytelling in the Digital Age,” Chapter 3, The New Ethics of Journalism.
                • Patrick Plaisance, “Digital Journalism Ethics: Mind the Gap” (video), Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.


                Break the class into teams and ask them to review some of the ethics codes from various media organizations and groups. (Choose from a list of many different codes provided by the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics.) What are chief points of similarity and contrast, both substantively and in terms of emphasis? Teams should present their findings and provide an argument for the key points of any ethical code in journalism.

                Week 3: Canonical ethics cases in journalism

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                This week familiarizes students with some of the most high-profile scandals and controversial stories involving unethical or questionable journalistic practice, including the cases of Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Dan Rather and Mike Daisey.

                Class 1: Cases of misconduct


                Class 2: Newer cases, new issues



                Using the free software application TimelineJS, teams of students should construct a chronological sequence of instances of ethical lapses in American journalism over the past decade. While high-profile cases might be surfaced, students should also look for less-publicized cases at smaller news outlets; they should also look to create a theme around an issue such as fabrication, plagiarism, faulty sourcing, etc.

                Week 4: Seeking truth

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                This week looks at the need for the journalist to report the truth as fully as possible; to be fair to subjects; and to both hold power accountable and to give voice to those without power. Issues such as the overreliance on single, partisan sources, as well as the distorting lens of racial bias, are introduced.

                Class 1: The challenges of truth


                Class 2: Spin, sources and bias



                Students should choose a news story that they believe does not reflect the whole truth. Write a blog post dissecting the structure of the reporting, the sources and data cited (or not cited), and exploring the ways in which the story might be improved. Alternatively, students might be assigned to the same story and could exchange comments beneath one another’s blog posts as part of an online dialogue about the story in question.

                Week 5: Being transparent

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                This week takes a closer look at how journalists must “show their work” in a digital age and demonstrate intellectual honesty to the public. Above all, any conflicts of interest, and the appearance of conflicts of interest, must be avoided.

                Class 1: Being clear about methods


                Class 2: Intellectual honesty



                Students should analyze a media organization and the company that owns it. They should focus on whether there is a stated ethics and conflict of interest policy on the website, and do further research on the background of executives, managers and principals, and perform public records searches, to the extent possible. For publicly traded companies, review the Journalist’s Resource tip sheet on reading financial statements. Students might also pull the 990 IRS disclosure forms of several non-profit journalism outlets (databases can be found in several places listed here at Journalist’s Resource.) They should analyze those disclosure forms and compare them with funding disclosures listed at the news outlets’ websites. In particular, students should look at Section VII, where board members, directors and trustees are listed, and do research to figure out the affiliations of persons listed. Write a blog post about the quality of disclosure and the ways any conflicts of interest may be problematic as it relates to reporting on certain issues.

                Week 6: Engaging community; minimizing harm and respecting privacy

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                This week’s class focuses on the journalist’s relationship with an increasingly wired public. It explores the dual imperatives to facilitate the capacity of the community to communicate and engage on issues, and to minimize the harm to community members when journalism must tell tough and revealing stories in an online environment. Readings also touch on communicating controversial or sensitive issues.

                Class 1: Engagement and discretion


                Class 2: Privacy and confidential sources



                Review the Dallas Morning News series “Yolanda’s Crossing” and review the related presentation by Tom Huang for the Poynter Institute, “Credibility and Journalism in the Digital Age.” Write a blog post of 750-1,000 words addressing a few key questions: Why should this story be told? What are some challenges to journalistic independence in reporting a project like this? Who could be harmed by the reporting?

                Week 7: Coverage perils: Sensationalism and speed

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                This week will take up some concrete cases that highlight two perils inherent in the nature of the news business: The twin desires to grab attention and to be first with the story. We will look at issues of proportionality and discretion, and focus on the careful balance between informing the public and sensationalizing an issue for the purposes of web traffic, ratings or other motives. The dynamics of breaking news, especially when fueled by social media, will be explored.

                Class 1: Proportionality and judgment in coverage


                Class 2: Live coverage and potential for error



                Students should use news archives and social media archive tools to review breaking news coverage around national or international events such as the Boston Marathon Bombing or the San Bernadino, Calif., mass shooting. Write a blog post of 750-1,000 words with observations about how storylines develop, errors are made and news outlets iterate and evolve in their coverage. To limit the scope of analysis, students might choose to focus on just one or two sources.

                Week 8: Knowing the legal boundaries

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                This week will focus on core American case law relating to the press and new laws and norms relating to the use of digital technology to record, document and tell news stories. The focus of inquiry will range from landmark legal cases to new norms relating to the digital world.

                Class 1: The core of the law


                Class 2: Digital and online issues



                Students should review the “Legal Threat” Database at Harvard’s Digital Media Law Project. Choose a case or set of cases that highlight certain live legal issues that journalists may confront. Write a blog post of 750-1,000 words on the implications for journalists and what they should know about the law in this area.

                Week 9: Newsgathering and the rights (and responsibilities) of journalists

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                What does “on background” really mean? Should you friend someone on Facebook in order to get information about them as a source? Should you fly a drone over his or her home? This week will drill down on such questions, and on specific “field” practices and tools relating to news gathering. The class will explore ethical dilemmas relating to how information can be obtained, verified and published with discretion and professionalism.

                Class 1: Rights of reporters


                Class 2: Responsibilities in newsgathering



                Students should seek to understand the rules and regulations that govern press access and rights on their college campus. Review “Examining a journalist’s right of access to college and university campuses,” (Jonathan Peters, Columbia Journalism Review, Dec. 2015) for an introduction to the topic. Interview relevant stakeholders (public relations persons, town or city reporters, campus news reporters) and write a blog post on the “state of the free press” on campus.

                Week 10: Journalists and social media

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                This week will examine evolving norms and rules for how journalists should conduct themselves in “public” digital spaces and how best to engage communities and maintain credibility.

                Class 1: Personal and professional behavior


                Class 2: Verification and wider dynamics



                Students should review the American Press Institute’s collection of news articles on community engagement strategies. Write a blog post synthesizing best practices based on a group of related articles, and send out multiple tweets or social media posts based on the blog post. Classmates should respond to one another on social media platforms as part of the exercise.

                Week 11: Native advertising, institutional firewalls and fluid norms

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                This week’s materials and discussion will focus on how the evolving business model in journalism is challenging the profession’s ethical core in important ways, some of which are not always obvious.

                Class 1: Church and state separation


                Class 2: Advertising, funders and influence



                Students should work in teams to devise a 3-4 page ideal ethics policy relating to advertising and funders, both as it relates to a given news institution, its structure and individual news teams and reporters. They should post these online and comment on strength and weakness of one another’s proposed policies.

                Week 12: Perils of data and video

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                This week will focus on the two key areas of growth within media as news becomes digital-first – data graphics and video – and explores how these specific mediums can misinform if not deployed carefully and thoughtfully.

                Class 1: Data perils


                Class 2: Video norms and accuracy



                Students should review the data journalism case detailed in “Times Was Right to Change Insensitive Graphic” (Margaret Sullivan, New York Times, Sept. 2015.) They should then locate other graphics published by news organizations that conceivably could offend or upset communities of various kinds. Write a blog post of 750-1,000 dissecting several questionable instances and propose solutions for each case that balance the pursuit of truth with data and a sense of discretion and fairness.

                Week 13: Truth in an era of big leaks, globalization and polarization

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                This week takes a broad final look at the societal patterns and trends within journalism that will challenge journalistic norms and the profession’s ethical code in the coming decades.

                Class 1: A post-Snowden media world


                Class 2: Polarization and misinformation



                Final project due.


                 A special thanks to John Wihbey, assistant professor at Northeastern University and a consultant to Journalist’s Resource, for help in preparing this syllabus.



                  • Oct 03 / 2015
                  • 0
                  Business, Culture, Gender, Health Care, Human Rights, Jobs

                  The Affordable Care Act and cost of contraception

                  Under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, private health plans must cover birth control methods that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration without charging out-of-pocket costs such as co-payments or deductibles. When contraceptives were added to the list of preventive-health services that had to be fully covered starting in August 2012, the change drew mixed reactions. Advocates praised the effort to make contraceptives more affordable and accessible for women while critics argued that it infringes on religious beliefs and could increase overall health-plan costs. The birth control mandate has prompted numerous lawsuits, including the Hobby Lobby case, which went before the Supreme Court in 2014 and resulted in the federal government allowing some businesses to claim religious objections and forgo birth-control coverage for employees.

                  While the mandate continues to be controversial, several recent studies show there are financial benefits for women, some of whom struggled in previous years to afford contraceptives. A 2015 study that focused on women with private health insurance found that the proportion of women who paid nothing out of pocket for birth control pills rose from 15% in 2012 — before the federal requirement took effect — to 67% in 2014 — after it was implemented. The trends were similar for women using injectable contraception, the vaginal ring and the intrauterine device. A 2014 study by the New Jersey-based IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that the Affordable Care Act saved women approximately $483 million in out-of-pocket spending for contraceptives in 2013.

                  A July 2015 study published in Health Affairs, “Women Saw Large Decrease In Out-Of-Pocket Spending For Contraceptives After ACA Mandate Removed Cost Sharing,” takes another look at the policy’s impact on birth control expenses. The authors, Nora V. Becker and Daniel Polsky of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, used a sample of nationally-representative data from the claims database of a large national insurer to calculate monthly, out-of-pocket spending between January 2008 and June 2013 for eight types of contraception.

                  Findings include:

                  • Out-of-pocket spending declined for the two most commonly used, reversible forms of prescription birth control — the pill and the intrauterine device (IUD). The average, adjusted cost for a six-month pill prescription fell from $33.58 in June 2012 to $19.84 in June 2013. The out-of-pocket expense for an IUD fell from $293.28 to $145.24 over the same time period.
                  • A woman using the pill saved an average of $254.91 per year after the federal mandate took effect.
                  • There were large reductions in out-of-pocket spending for most of the other contraceptive methods investigated in this study. For example, the six-month, unadjusted average cost for emergency contraception was $26.16 between January and June 2012. It fell to $1.75 — a 93% reduction — between January and June 2013.
                  • Out-of-pocket spending for the contraceptive ring and patch, however, barely changed. The six-month, unadjusted average cost for the ring was $52.63 between January and June 2012 and was $51.53 between January and June 2013.
                  • Before the federal mandate, a large percentage of women’s healthcare costs went toward birth control. Out-of-pocket expenses for contraceptives for women using them had comprised 30% to 44% of these women’s total out-of-pocket health care expenses.
                  • There are an estimated 6.88 million privately-insured users of birth control pills in the United States. Under the Affordable Care Act, these women save approximately $1.4 billion per year in out-of-pocket savings on birth control pills alone.

                  This study indicates that while the Affordable Care Act likely will reduce out-of-pocket expenses for birth control in general, it is too early to predict whether more women will use birth control — a trend that the authors state could lower fertility rates and improve economic opportunities for women and their families. The authors suggest that it is possible that lowered costs might encourage more women to choose long-acting, reversible forms of birth control such as IUDs, which historically have been much more expensive. The authors also predict that the new federal guidelines for complying with the birth control mandate that were issued in May 2015 should benefit users of contraceptive rings and patches. “With this new clarification from the administration of President Barack Obama, we expect that the pattern of out-of-pocket expenses for the patch and the ring among the population we studied will soon resemble that of other methods,” the authors stated.

                  Related research: A 2014 study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, “The Effects of Contraception on Female Poverty,” examines the relationship between legal access to birth control and poverty rates among women and households headed by single women. A 2013 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research explores the relationship between family planning and long-term economic outcomes such as labor force participation and family income. A 2012 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies by Providing No-Cost Contraception,” analyzes the relationship between free access to birth control and abortion rates.


                  Keywords: reproductive rights, IUD, abortion, unplanned pregnancy, birth control, Obamacare

                    • Oct 01 / 2015
                    • 20
                    Criminal Justice

                    Mass murder, shooting sprees and rampage violence: Research roundup

                    Sandy Hook, Aurora, the Washington Navy Yard, Fort Hood, and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. These place names signify terrible tragedies that continue to prompt deep reflection from policymakers and the public about how to stop acts of mass violence in the United States.

                    While FBI statistics show that levels of violent crime in the United States, including murder, have steadily declined since 1991, acts of murder and non-negligent manslaughter still claim about 15,000 lives a year. More than half of all such violent crimes in a given year are typically committed with guns. Over the past 30 years, public mass shootings have resulted in the murder of 547 people, with 476 other persons injured, according to a March 2013 Congressional Research Service report. “[W]hile tragic and shocking,” the report notes, “public mass shootings account for few of the murders or non-negligent homicides related to firearms that occur annually in the United States.” For more on these dynamics, see the May 2013 Pew Research Center report titled “Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware.”

                    Even as the total gun homicide rate has fallen, however, some of the worst acts of violence in U.S. history have taken place within the past decade. Half of the deadliest shootings — incidents at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Binghamton, Fort Hood (2009), the Washington Navy Yard and a church in Charleston — have taken place since 2007. In September 2014 the FBI released a report confirming that U.S. mass shootings had risen sharply since 2007: From 2000 to 2006, there were an average of 6.4 annually; from 2007 to 2013, the average more than doubled, rising to 16.4 such shootings per year.

                    As a 2011 United Nations report notes, America has a “relatively high homicide rate compared to other countries with a similar socio-economic level,” but per-capita homicide rates in the Caribbean, Central America and Africa are often much higher and approach “crisis” levels there. The relationship between gun availability and homicide rates is, according to an American Journal of Criminal Justice paper, “not stable across nations.” Even so, a 2011 study in the Journal of Trauma compared the United States with similar nations and found that U.S. homicide rates were “6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States were 42.7 times higher than in the other countries.”

                    For more on the relationship between firearm ownership and homicide rates, see this review for the National Academy of Sciences (more below), as well as this study in the American Journal of Public Health. There are multiple important questions about deterrence, restrictions, access to guns and criminal justice interventions that have yet to be resolved, as a group of the country’s leading researchers in the field concluded in 2007. Still, Australia’s experience with increased gun regulation, as detailed in a study in Injury Prevention, suggests that some laws in certain contexts can reduce firearm violence. The findings of research on the 1994 assault weapons ban and its effects are reviewed here.

                    For an overview of the technical and legal aspects of firearms and ammunition in the United States — and a brief history of gun control — see this article from the Poynter Institute. Among the many studies that look at the effectiveness of policies and programs to reduce gun violence, a 2012 metastudy in the journal Crime & Delinquency stands out for its comprehensiveness. The effectiveness of having guns in the home for self-defense is also an area of significant research.

                    AuroraCO_WikipediaWhat some researchers call “rampage violence” — such as the shootings in Newtown, Conn., at Columbine High and Virginia Tech, and at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s political event in Tucson — plays a prominent role in the national consciousness, often touching off political debates over gun control laws, shifts in the culture and the role of violent media, particularly video games.

                    Though each act of violence has a distinct context, over the past decade the social science research community has continued to search for more general frameworks of understanding. But some researchers believe that establishing more precise psychological/criminal profiles in the hope of preventing such events through interventions may ultimately prove elusive. Though much speculation is offered in the media immediately afterward, scholars often note the limits of existing knowledge. (For a review of the research literature on such profiling, see the first article below.) It should be said that the connection between violence and severe mental illness is often over-simplified in the news media, and claims should be framed and informed by the existing empirical research. A 2013 survey and report published in The New England Journal of Medicine has data on the public’s views on mental illness issues and violence, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting incident.

                    In terms of violent acts in a school context, the FBI compiles useful background materials and data, as does the Centers for Disease Control.

                    Below are studies that provide an overview of the state of knowledge in this area:


                    “The Nature of Mass Murder and Autogenic Massacre”
                    Bowers, Thomas G.; Holmes, Eric S.; Rhom, Ashley. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 2010, 25:59-66. doi: 10.1007/s11896-009-9059-6

                    Abstract: “Incidents of mass murder have gained considerable media attention, but are not well understood in behavioral sciences. Current definitions are weak, and may include politically or ideologically motivated phenomenon. Our current understanding of the phenomenon indicates these incidents are not peculiar to only western cultures, and appear to be increasing. Methods most prominently used include firearms by males who have experienced challenging setbacks in important social, familial and vocational domains. There often appears to be important autogenic components … including dysthymic reactions and similar antecedents. There have been observations of possible seasonal variations in mass murders, but research to date is inadequate to establish this relationship. It is recommended behavioral sciences and mental health researchers increase research efforts on understanding mass killings, as the current socioeconomic climate may increase vulnerability to this phenomenon, and the incidents are not well understood despite their notoriety.”


                    “Rampage Violence Requires a New Type of Research”
                    Harris Jr., John M.; Harris, Robin B. American Journal of Public Health, June 2012, Vol. 102, No. 6, pp. 1054-1057. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300545

                    Abstract: “Tragedies such as school shootings and the assault on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords share features that define them as acts of “rampage violence.” These types of events can lead to despair about their inevitability and unpredictability. To understand and prevent rampage violence, we need to acknowledge that current discipline-based violence research is not well suited to this specific challenge. There are numerous important, unanswered research questions that can inform policies designed to prevent rampage violence. It is time to develop alternative research approaches to reduce the risk of rampage violence. Such approaches should incorporate transdisciplinary research models; flexible, outcomes-focused organizational structures similar to those used to investigate other catastrophic events; and an expanded inventory of analytic tools.”


                    “The ‘Pseudocommando’ Mass Murderer: Part I, The Psychology of Revenge and Obliteration”
                    Knoll, James L. Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, March 2010,  38:1:87-94

                    Abstract: “The pseudocommando is a type of mass murderer who kills in public during the daytime, plans his offense well in advance, and comes prepared with a powerful arsenal of weapons. He has no escape planned and expects to be killed during the incident. Research suggests that the pseudocommando is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment, flowing from beliefs about being persecuted or grossly mistreated. He views himself as carrying out a highly personal agenda of payback. Some mass murderers take special steps to send a final communication to the public or news media; these communications, to date, have received little detailed analysis. An offender’s use of language may reveal important data about his state of mind, motivation, and psychopathology. Part I of this article reviews the research on the pseudocommando, as well as the psychology of revenge, with special attention to revenge fantasies. It is argued that revenge fantasies become the last refuge for the pseudocommando’s mortally wounded self-esteem and ultimately enable him to commit mass murder-suicide.” (Also see Part II of the article.)


                    “Attributing Blame in Tragedy: Understanding Attitudes About the Causes of Three Mass Shootings”
                    Haider-Markel, Donald P.; Joslyn, Mark R. American Political Science Association, 2011 annual meeting paper. Accessed through Social Science Research Network.

                    Abstract: “Individuals develop causal stories about the world around them that explain events, behaviors, and conditions. These stories may attribute causes to controllable components, such as individual choice, or uncontrollable components, such as systematic forces in the environment. Here we employ motivated reasoning and attribution theory to understand causal attributions to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, and the 2011 Tucson, Arizona shootings. We argue that causal attributions stem from individual reasoning that is primarily motivated by existing dispositions and accuracy motives. Both motivations are present for attributions about these mass shootings and we seek to understand their significance and whether dispositional motives condition accuracy drives. We are able to test several hypotheses using individual level survey data from several national surveys to explain attributions about the shootings. Our findings suggest a substantial partisan divide on the causes of the tragedies and considerable differences between the least and most educated respondents. However, our analyses also reveal that while education has virtually no influence on the attributions made by Republicans, it heightens the differences among Democrats. We discuss these findings for the public’s understanding of these tragedies and more broadly for attribution research.”


                    “Psychological Profiles of School Shooters: Positive Directions and One Big Wrong Turn”
                    Ferguson, Christopher J.; Coulson, Mark; Barnett, Jane. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 2. doi: 10.1080/15332586.2011.581523

                    Abstract: “A wave of school shootings in the mid- to late 1990s led to great interest in attempts to ‘profile’ school shooters with an eye both on identifying imminent perpetrators and preventing further incidents. Given that school shootings are generally rare, and many perpetrators are killed during their crimes, the availability of school shooters for research is obviously limited. Not surprisingly, initial profiles of school shooters were arguably of limited value. Although school shooting incidents, particularly by minors, have declined, some evidence has emerged to elucidate the psychological elements of school shooting incidents. School shooting incidents may follow extreme versions of etiological pathways seen for less extreme youth violence, and youthful school shooters appear more similar than different to adult perpetrators of mass shootings. The quest to understanding school shootings has led to several wrong turns, most notably the quixotic desire by politicians, advocates, and some scholars to link both school shootings and less extreme youth violence to playing violent video games, despite considerable and increasing evidence to the contrary.”


                    “The Autogenic (Self-Generated) Massacre”
                    Mullen, P.E. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 2004, 22(3):311-23.

                    Abstract: “Mass killings can be of a variety of types including family slayings, cult killings, and the by-product of other criminal activities. This article focuses on massacres where the perpetrators indiscriminately kill people in pursuit of a highly personal agenda arising from their own specific social situation and psychopathology. Five cases are presented of this type of autogenic (self-generated) massacre, all of whom survived and were assessed by the author. Not only do these massacres follow an almost stereotypical course, but the perpetrators tend to share common social and psychological disabilities. They are isolates, often bullied in childhood, who have rarely established themselves in effective work roles as adults. They have personalities marked by suspiciousness, obsessional traits, and grandiosity. They often harbor persecutory beliefs, which may occasionally verge on the delusional. The autogenic massacre is essentially murder suicide, in which the perpetrators intend first to kill as many people as they can and then kill themselves. The script for this particular form of suicide has established itself in western society and is continuing to spread, and to diversify.”


                    “Mass Murder: An Analysis of Extreme Violence”
                    Fox, James Alan; Levin, Jack. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. Vol. 5, No. 1 (2003), 47-64, doi: 10.1023/A:1021051002020.

                    Findings: “Mass murder involves the slaughter of four or more victims by one or a few assailants within a single event, lasting but a few minutes or as long as several hours. More than just arbitrary, using this minimum body count — as opposed to a two- or three-victim threshold suggested by others (e.g., Ressler et al., 1988, Holmes and Holmes, 2001) — helps to distinguish multiple killing from homicide generally. Moreover, by restricting our attention to acts committed by one or a few offenders, our working definition of multiple homicide also excludes highly organized or institutionalized killings (e.g., war crimes and large-scale acts of political terrorism as well as certain acts of highly organized crime rings). Although state-sponsored killings are important in their own right, they may be better explained through the theories and methods of political science than criminology. Thus, for example, the definition of multiple homicide would include the crimes committed by Charles Manson and his followers, but not those of Hitler’s Third Reich, or the 9/11 terrorists, despite some similarities in the operations of authority.”


                    “Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness”Phillipps, Robert T.M. Virtual Mentor. June 2012, Volume 14, Number 6: 472-476.

                    Abstract: “A consequence if not a driving force of the pendulum swing away from benevolence and toward the protection of others has been increased attention to an individual’s dangerousness, with the operative presumption that dangerousness is often the result of a mental illness. But dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons unrelated to mental illness…. Research, in fact, confirms the error in associating dangerousness with mental illness, showing that ‘the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses. The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and … only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill.’ Violence is not a diagnosis nor is it a disease. Potential to do harm is not a symptom or a sign of mental illness, rather it must be the central consideration when assessing future dangerousness.”


                    “Predicting Dangerousness With Two Million Adolescent Clinical Inventory Psychopathy Scales: The Importance of Egocentric and Callous Traits
                    Salekin, Randall, T.; Ziegler, Tracey A.; Larrea, Maria A.; Anthony, Virginia Lee; Bennett, Allyson D.
                    Journal of Personality Assessment, 2003, Vol. 80, Issue 2. doi: 10.1207/S15327752JPA8002_04.

                    Abstract: “Psychopathy in youth has received increased recognition as a critical clinical construct for the evaluation and management of adolescents who have come into contact with the law (e.g., Forth, Hare, & Hart, 1990; Frick, 1998; Lynam, 1996, 1998). Although considerable attention has been devoted to the adult construct of psychopathy and its relation to recidivism, psychopathy in adolescents has been less thoroughly researched. Recently, a psychopathy scale (Murrie and Cornell Psychopathy Scale; Murrie & Cornell, 2000) was developed from items of the Million Adolescent Clinical Inventory (MACI; Millon, 1993). This scale was found to be highly related to the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (Hare, 1991) and was judged to have demonstrated good criterion validity. A necessary step in the validation process of any psychopathy scale is establishing its predictive validity. With this in mind, we investigated the ability of the MACI Psychopathy Scale to predict recidivism with 55 adolescent offenders 2 years after they had been evaluated at a juvenile court evaluation unit. In addition, we devised a psychopathy scale from MACI items that aligned more closely with Cooke and Michie (2001) and Frick, Bodin, and Barry’s (2001) recommendations for the refinement of psychopathy and tested its predictive validity. Results indicate that both scales had predictive utility. Interpersonal and affective components of the revised scale were particularly important in the prediction of both general and violent reoffending.”


                    “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review”
                    Anderson, Craig A.; Shibuya, Akiko; Ihori, Nobuko; Swing, Edward L.; Bushman, Brad J.; Sakamoto, Akira; Rothstein, Hannah R.; Saleem, Muniba. Psychological Bulletin, March 2010, Vol. 136(2), 151-173

                    Abstract: “Meta-analytic procedures were used to test the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, empathy/desensitization, and prosocial behavior. Unique features of this meta-analytic review include (a) more restrictive methodological quality inclusion criteria than in past meta-analyses; (b) cross-cultural comparisons; (c) longitudinal studies for all outcomes except physiological arousal; (d) conservative statistical controls; (e) multiple moderator analyses; and (f) sensitivity analyses. Social-cognitive models and cultural differences between Japan and Western countries were used to generate theory-based predictions. Meta-analyses yielded significant effects for all 6 outcome variables. The pattern of results for different outcomes and research designs (experimental, cross-sectional, longitudinal) fit theoretical predictions well. The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior. Moderator analyses revealed significant research design effects, weak evidence of cultural differences in susceptibility and type of measurement effects, and no evidence of sex differences in susceptibility. Results of various sensitivity analyses revealed these effects to be robust, with little evidence of selection (publication) bias.”


                    “‘It’s Better to Overreact’: School Officials’ Fear and Perceived Risk of Rampage Attacks and the Criminalization of American Public Schools
                    Madfis, Eric. Critical Criminology, September 2015. doi: 10.1007/s10612-015-9297-0.

                    Abstract: “In recent decades, highly-publicized school rampage attacks with multiple victims have caused widespread fear throughout the United States. Pulling from in-depth interviews with school officials (administrators, counselors, security and police officers, and teachers), this article discusses officials’ perceptions of fear and risk regarding rampage shootings and how this relates to their justification for and acquiescence to the expansion of punitive discipline and increased security. Data collected in this study provide additional understanding of the causes of enhanced discipline and security from the perspective of those tasked with administering school safety in the wake of Columbine. Utilizing insight from moral panic theory, the findings suggest that, when the genuinely high potential cost of school massacres fused with an exaggerated perception of their likelihood and randomness, school rampage attacks came to be viewed as a risk that could not be tolerated and must be avoided at nearly any cost.”


                    “Posttraumatic Stress Among Students after the Shootings at Virginia Tech”
                    Hughes, Michael; Brymer, Melissa; Chiu, Wai Tat; Fairbank, John A.; Jones, Russell T.; Pynoos, Robert S.; Rothwell, Virginia; Steinberg, Alan M.; Kessler, Ronald C. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, December 2011, Vol. 3(4), 403-411. doi: 10.1037/a0024565

                    Abstract: “On April 16, 2007, in the worst campus shooting incident in U.S. history, 49 students and faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) were shot, of whom 32 were killed. A cross-sectional survey of 4,639 Virginia Tech students was carried out the following summer/fall to assess PTSD symptoms using the Trauma Screening Questionnaire (TSQ). High levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms (probable PTSD) were experienced by 15.4% of respondents 3 to 4 months following the shooting. Exposure to trauma-related stressors varied greatly, from 64.5% unable to confirm the safety of friends to 9.1% who had a close friend killed. Odds ratios for stressors predicting high levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms were highest for losses (2.6-3.6; injury/death of someone close) and inability to confirm the safety of friends (2.5). Stressor effects were unrelated to age, gender, and race/ethnicity. The exposures that explained most of the cases of high posttraumatic stress symptoms were inability to confirm the safety of friends (30.7%); death of a (not close) friend (20.3%); and death of a close friend (10.1%). The importance of high-prevalence low-impact stressors resulted in a low concentration of probable cases of PTSD, making it difficult to target a small, highly exposed segment of students for mental health treatment outreach. The high density of student social networks will likely make this low concentration of probable PTSD a common feature of future college mass trauma incidents, requiring broad-based outreach to find students needing mental health treatment interventions.”


                    “Adjustment Following the Mass Shooting at Virginia Tech: The Roles of Resource Loss and Gain”
                    Littleton, Heather L.; Axsom, Danny; Grills-Taquechel, Amie E. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, September 2009, Vol. 1(3), 206-219. doi: 10.1037/a0017468

                    Abstract: “Unfortunately, many individuals will be exposed to traumatic events during their lifetime. The experience of loss and gain of valued resources may represent important predictors of psychological distress following these experiences. The current study examined the extent to which loss and gain of interpersonal and intrapersonal resources (e.g., hope, intimacy) predicted psychological distress among college women following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech (VT). Participants were 193 college women from whom pre-event psychological distress and social support data had been obtained. These women completed surveys regarding their psychological distress, coping, and resource loss and gain 2- and 6-months after the VT shooting. Structural equation modeling supported that resource loss predicted greater psychological distress 6 months after the shooting whereas resource gain was weakly related to lower levels of psychological distress. The study also revealed that social support and psychological distress prior to the shooting predicted resource loss, and social support and active coping with the shooting predicted resource gain. Implications of the results for research examining the roles of resource loss and gain in posttrauma adjustment and the development of interventions following mass trauma are discussed.”


                    “Murder by Numbers: Monetary Costs Imposed by a Sample of Homicide Offenders”
                    DeLisi, Matt; Kosloski, Anna; Sween, Molly; Hachmeister, Emily; Moore, Matt; Drury, Alan. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 2010, Vol. 21, Issue 4. doi: 10.1080/ 14789940903564388.

                    Abstract: “Prior research on the monetary costs of criminal careers has neglected to focus on homicide offenders and tended to minimize the public costs associated with crime. Drawing on expanded monetization estimates produced by Cohen and Piquero, this study assessed the monetary costs for five crimes (murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and burglary) imposed by a sample of (n = 654) convicted and incarcerated murderers. The average cost per murder exceeded $17.25 million and the average murderer in the current sample posed costs approaching $24 million. The most violent and prolific offenders singly produced costs greater than $150-160 million in terms of victim costs, criminal justice costs, lost offender productivity, and public willingness-to-pay costs.”


                    “More Support for Gun Rights, Gay Marriage than in 2008, 2004”
                    Pew Research Center, April 2012

                    Findings: Opinions on gun rights have shifted significantly over time. In 2000, 66% of Americans said controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting gun rights, while just 29% said rights were more important. By 2012, 49% supported gun rights versus 45% favoring gun control. Support for gun ownership among both men and women has increased from 2008, with a 14 percentage point increase in support for gun rights for men and a 9 percentage point increase for women. Partisan division over gun control has also grown in recent years. Republican support for gun rights increased from 65% in 2009 to 72% in 2012, while Independent support for gun rights increased from 48% in 2009 to 55% in 2012.


                    “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review”
                    Wellford C.F.; Pepper J.V.; Petrie C.V. National Research Council of the National Academies, 2004. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

                    Findings: “Empirical research on firearms and violence has resulted in important findings that can inform policy decisions. In particular, a wealth of descriptive information exists about the prevalence of firearm-related injuries and deaths, about firearms markets, and about the relationships between rates of gun ownership and violence. Research has found, for example, that higher rates of household firearms ownership are associated with higher rates of gun suicide, that illegal diversions from legitimate commerce are important sources of crime guns and guns used in suicide, that firearms are used defensively many times per day, and that some types of targeted police interventions may effectively lower gun crime and violence. This information is a vital starting point for any constructive dialogue about how to address the problem of firearms and violence. While much has been learned, much remains to be done, and this report necessarily focuses on the important unknowns in this field of study. The committee found that answers to some of the most pressing questions cannot be addressed with existing data and research methods, however well designed. For example, despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime, and there is almost no empirical evidence that the more than 80 prevention programs focused on gun-related violence have had any effect on children’s behavior, knowledge, attitudes or beliefs about firearms. The committee found that the data available on these questions are too weak to support unambiguous conclusions or strong policy statements.”


                    Tags: research roundup, crime, guns