Skip to main content

I chatted with The Daily Dot about my IT work for nonprofits

Like most people in IT, I wear a lot of different hats. While I haven't mentioned it before on this website, I have spent the last two years working with a non-profit devoted to researching animal cruelty called the Puppycide Database Project. After a lot of work, that organization's research is starting to get noticed by the press. In the last two weeks, we've been cited by RT and the Washington Post.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Amrita Khalid from The Daily Dot about the difficulties involved in compiling information about pets killed by police officers. Because most of my responsibilities with the PDB Project have involved designing and implementing the databases that store the organization's research, in addition to coding the means we use to acquire the data, I've been able to put together a unique perspective on this topic. The database I manage for PDB is currently the largest set of records compiled detailing shootings of pets in the United States that I am aware of and includes details of violence involving close to 3,000 animals.

Ms Khalid was kind enough to include some of my comments from our chat in a recent feature story for The Daily Dot.

The quotes that The Daily Dot included from my conversation with Ms Khalid were part of a larger conversation we had in which I debunked several widely-repeated statistics about law enforcement use of force. While there was only room in the article to include my response to numbers provided by the Department of Justice, during my interview with The Daily Dot I demonstrated that claims routinely cited by newspapers and activists are poorly sourced if not pulled from thin air.

Specifically, we discussed the claims that a dog is shot by the police every 98 seconds and that half of all police shootings involve an animal. The 98 seconds claim was invented by a producer of a crowd-sourced documentary back in 2013 as part of a marketing drive for his film and carried absolutely no evidence to back it up other than a promise to provide citations upon the release of the film (originally titled "Puppycide", the film has been renamed "Of Dogs and Men" and is still yet to be released). The claim that half of all police shootings are aimed at dogs is the result of a misreading of a DOJ policy paper called The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters [PDF]. While that paper does include such a statement, it cites a single police department (Milwaukee) during a single year (2009) and makes no claim that Milwaukee's numbers are nationally representative. Its a shame that the DOJ paper is so frequently mis-attributed, perhaps most influentially by the ASPCA in their policy statement related to police shootings of dogs, because its a great paper when read correctly and critically.

Like people, statistics can lie. A vital component of critical thinking involves the ability to distinguish dishonest statistics from reliable data. Even for those who are not particularly interested in matters of policy related to law enforcement, today's Daily Dot article may be of interest solely as a critical conversation about when statistical claims should be considered authoritative.