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WOO IN REVIEW: Criminal Profiling Contest Results PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

WOO IN REVIEW: Criminal Profiling Contest Results


The Criminal Profiling Contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated. It was interesting to write the contest, and interesting to read your analyses.

I'll let everyone know who the winners are momentarily, but first I wanted to take another look at criminal profiling, and also some of the comments to the contest.tedbundy4

Firstly, I would no more “stop promoting” criminal profiling (even if it was totally false) than I would “stop promoting” ghost hunters, psychics, or mediums – because the only way I could possibly take a call to stop promoting such a thing would be to not mention the thing at all. And, as a critical thinker, that concept seems silly to me. If you are a critical thinker, it should seem silly to you, too.

For the record, I do not have enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not criminal profiling is an effective tool in investigations. I have a single set of statistics from the early 1990's and nothing more. If someone has another study, or anything beyond isolated information, I'd be happy to read it and become more informed on the topic. Please feel free to either leave a link in the comments or e-mail one to me at alison@randi.org.


However, isolated information (like the D.C. Sniper being eliminated as a suspect by profilers) is strictly that: isolated information. I can just as easily cite cases where K-9 units have failed (like this one), or where regular police work eliminated a true killer from a pool of suspects (like Ted Bundy, who was reported to police no less than four times as the potential culprit in the series of murders he actually committed, and yet was not investigated for years).

For those who were curious whether the contest was in support of or against criminal profiling – it was neither. I was simply curious to see whether or not the potential for it to work was there. And, from this very small sample, it appears to be. I am not a criminal mastermind, nor am I an FBI agent, so you might wonder at my ability to even create the contest in a realistic way.

Since I didn't have the opportunity to take an FBI crash course, I instead had five reference books.

The Criminal Mind: A Writer's Guide to Forensic Psychology by Katherine Ramsland

Criminal Minds: The Science and Psychology of Criminal Profiling by David Owen

Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton

Understanding Abnormal Behavior by David Sue

And, as a side note, to the individual who said that criminal profilers should leave the investigation work to professionals, and then equated them with psychic detectives: Criminal profilers are employees of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are trained in their field. They are Special Agents of the FBI. They can no more be equated with psychic detectives than toothpaste can be. All a psychic detective must do in order to become a psychic detective is sit around calling themselves psychic. A criminal profiler goes through rigorous training at Quantico.

While profiling is often shown on television as something strictly used to capture serial killers, there is a bit more to it than that. The Behavioral Analysis Unit has released response plans for a wide variety of things, including a Child Abduction Response Plan and a threat assessment of school shooters. They are a part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime which, among other things, creates a database of violent crime throughout the country (ViCAP), researches and investigates crimes against children (CASMIRC), and analyzes behavioral patterns of repeat offenders, terrorists, arsonists, and bombers (BAU).

Profiling for serial killers is actually probably the weakest function of the BAU, and many times throughout all of my research materials, I have read that profiling is, in this way, more art than science.tedbundy1

So, though statistics on crimes are fascinating, if you fed statistics and biographical information into a computer, you would probably never have it spit “Ted Bundy” at you. He just doesn't fit in the basic ways, which is probably why police repeatedly ignored reports that it might be him – even when he was pulled over one night and an officer discovered rope, handcuffs, an ice pick, and stockings in his trunk.

Profiling, I have discovered in my reading, is supposed to be about figuring out what type of person would commit the crimes based on the types of crimes themselves. If you would like to read a fictional account of profiling that's pretty good, try out Caleb Carr's novel The Alienist.

And why do I keep mentioning Ted Bundy?

Well, because the crimes described in the contest were based on the true crimes of Ted Bundy, and the profile of suspect number 8 (Ted Schaefer) was based on his life.

Congratulations to Sven and mscotthokie! mscotthokie, please send me your e-mail address at alison@randi.org.

At the time of this writing, there have been fourteen entries to the contest. The breakdown for the responses goes like this:

Eight individuals chose the correct response (Ted Schaefer) out of a suspect pool of ten.

Two individuals chose John Wayne Zodiac.

Two individuals chose Green River Ramirez.

One individual chose Richard Dahmer.

One individual chose William George Tylenol.

I have called off the bonus round due to a lack of entries (many individuals got at least one, but no one got them all), and here's the really interesting part – every single person that responded with an incorrect answer to the identity of the serial killer chose one of the individuals who was a part of the Bonus Round, and had committed or would commit another crime.

Here are the correct answers for the Bonus Round. Due to the cancellation of the Bonus Round, the Bonus Award has been given to mscotthokie, who submitted one of the most streamlined profiles ever.

Jeffrey Gacy (1) has committed or will commit drug crimes (most likely involved marijuana).

John Wayne Zodiac (2) has committed or will commit assault.

William George Tylenol (5) has committed or will commit a school shooting.

Green River Ramirez (6) has committed or will commit sexual assault.

Richard Dahmer (9) will commit suicide (since you interviewed him, it's probable he hasn't already. Also, attempted suicide is illegal in the state of Nevada as well as five other states, hence its inclusion here).

So, here's the odd thing – six out of ten of the individuals listed were or would be guilty of some crime. There were fourteen responses. Eight were correct, and the remaining six responders chose one of the remaining five individuals who was guilty of a crime.

In other words, no one chose an innocent person as the killer. Isn't that weird? If profiling is bull, well, you guys are really good at it. You were able to pinpoint the interviews where something was wrong, even if you could not identify precisely what it was. I think that's pretty amazing. And yeah, I know it doesn't mean criminal profiling really works because this is such a small sample and I am not a criminal mastermind, but it's still at the very least an interesting result.

Now to explain the answer...

The profiler in the fictional account was brought in because police work and forensic evidence had failed to further eliminate suspects. As stated within the contest article, the ten individuals listed all could have done it. I add this information because at least one commenter mentioned that the ten suspects could have been investigated more fully, from the standpoint of regular police work, to check alibis and so forth. Narrowing down the suspect pool this far using police work is actually kind of shocking. In the case of Ted Bundy's serial murders, there was at one time a list of 400 individuals who could have carried out the crimes. Using police work, they eliminated suspects and reduced the list to only forty individuals (and, unfortunately, knocked Ted Bundy off the list in doing so).

When I say that the individuals could have done it, I mean that they all had the vehicle in question, all fit the description, and all had the opportunity to carry out the crimes according to interviews already conducted by police. And yes, Green River's last name is “Ramirez,” and he still fits the description. (The names were actually all chosen because they are names of real serial killers, which is why one of them has the odd last name “Tylenol.”)tedbundy2

On to the real killer – and I'll go part with statistics, and part with the personality just to round it off nicely.

Ted Schaefer is twenty-nine years old, which means that he was twenty-four when he started killing (unless his birthday was in January), which puts him neatly in the range of the majority of serial killers for age. Like 81% of other serial killers, he has a record of petty theft.

Though the subjects of the interview are asked the same sorts of questions about their lives, Ted has put emphasis on his own achievements, and highlights the “fact” that he was kept from further achievements by circumstances beyond his control.

For instance, his school history shows that he was intelligent enough to at least get an interview at Harvard, yet he was kept from gaining entry to the school by an interviewer and had to settle. He chose a rare and exotic major for his studies, yet couldn't keep with it because the classes were “boring.” He reveals a cycle of blaming others for his failures in a standard interview with an FBI Agent, who probably couldn't care less if aliens beamed down and blocked him from entering Harvard by linking their arms across the front door.

Ted's failures extend to his employment record. He started dealing cards at a middle-upper class casino, worked very briefly at the highest-end casino, dropped to another middle-upper class casino after an incident with a rich attractive young woman, dropped further to a middle class casino, and is currently employed at a middle-lower class casino. Even though in all other aspects Ted has been explaining his cycle of failures as the fault of others, he doesn't in this instance. Why not? Because it involved failure with the type of woman he has difficulty connecting with – a young, rich one.

Because you gained this knowledge from another source, however, you are able to match the type of person Ted has difficulty dealing with and the types of victims you have found in Saline Valley.

By all appearances, Ted is confident and self-assured. He even considers himself an expert in areas where he has no right to expertise – like psychology, when he asks you about the profile of the killer. (Incidentally, many serial killers insert themselves into investigations in this way; by asking details about the killer rather than the victims, and about the psychology rather than the progress.)

Ted didn't share many details about his family life except to say that he came from a poor family – another way of blaming others for his own failures. He expresses no affection for either of his parents, and it is clear that his poverty is an embarrassment to him. Instead of giving his girlfriend, Linda, presents in private, he does it in front of all her co-workers. And his choices in gifts aren't ones that would be sane choices for an individual dealing cards at Monte Carlo. He chooses a gourmet meal over a takeout meal, a pair of Tiffany's earrings instead of Jared's earrings (which would be nicer for less money, but wouldn't have a Tiffany's stamp).

This is the type of person who is constantly pretending to be wealthier and more successful than they actually are. It is the type of person who would seek out rich young women – because the more he is able to obtain, the better he is himself.

Ted Bundy's goal in hunting the type of women he did was, according to him, “possessing them physically as one would possess a potted plant, a painting, or a Porsche.”

For the fictional Ted, it was not enough for him to abduct women at random and slaughter them. Instead, he had to use his charms to possess them – which is why the women, according to witness reports, seemed sober for much of their interaction with the man. Though he needed to drug the women to get them out of the dance clubs, our fictional Ted wanted to impress them enough to make them interact. He had a drink with them. He won them over.

His feelings of self-doubt are only apparent in what his girlfriend says about him – that he doesn't consider himself attractive. Ted doesn't believe he actually has the qualities to possess these women for lengthy periods of time, but if he is able to connect with them even briefly, then he has won.

His need to possess also shows itself in the method of killing, and again, if graphic violence sits badly with you, go ahead and stop here.

He destroys the obvious way the women are “better than” he is by mutilating their faces. He removes the status symbol represented by their clothing without getting blood on it, because he respects the money spent. For the same reason, he cannot steal their jewelry.

He suffocates them with a plastic bag, which is an extremely personal mode of death. He is able to watch their faces, to exercise his power over them, and to start and stop the killing at his own volition, which makes him feel even more powerful. He further objectifies them by forced object rape rather than actually having sexual intercourse with them. They are not lovers or partners. They are objects.

And this is something that is revealed in conversation with his girlfriend, Linda, as well. Linda notes that Ted is “more affectionate” during their camping trips in Death Valley. Serial killers often revisit the scene of their crimes for sexual release.

Three other individuals listed as suspects seem to have an issue specifically with women, which is where the profile of this serial killer leads us.

Jeffrey Gacy has a complaint against him for domestic abuse, which he says was an accident. The women he objectifies are objectified in a way that indicates extreme confidence as well as sexual objectification. The ex-girlfriend he shoved he probably really did shove on accident – because he wasn't thinking of her as an actual person with actual feelings, but as a receptacle for his own desires and an appendage to his own greatness. He would never drug a woman because he would see no reason to do so. He has an amount of confidence that leaves him believing he can have whatever he wants whenever he wants without any outside influence like rohypnol.

John Wayne Zodiac exhibits the behavior of an individual with an addictive personality. He has issues with gambling, with alcohol, and with women. He comes from a broken home, and has resentment toward his mother. His relationship failed because he was unable to control his own behavior. He is unstable, and the only place he can find where he is happy is one where he is pretending to be someone else (a clown). He has gone to great lengths to hide his addictions, including lying to you during the interview, though he had no reason to do so. If confronted by any of his shortcomings, he might fly into a rage, but he does not have the capacity to plan out several organized killings.

Green River Ramirez perceives himself as a failure, which is similar to the real killer's self-image. However, Green is more likely to act out against women he believes are beneath him than ones he believes are better than he is. He married his assistant. He has sexual intercourse with fangirls. He objectifies women, but only in the sense of making himself feel more powerful than he is by subjugating those he believes are less than he is. If rejected, he might commit sexual assault in order to feel powerful, but he would not choose rich young women as his targets, and the assault would immediately follow the rejection.tedbundy3


Thank you again to everyone who participated, and congratulations once more to Sven and mscotthokie!

For those of you interested in further information on how the contest was created, see the information below and also check out the further reading.

The real-life Ted Bundy had many similarities to the fictional Ted Schaefer, and here are a few of them:

  • Ted Bundy had a long-term girlfriend during the time of his killings named Liz. Ted Schaefer has a long-term girlfriend named Linda.
  • Ted Bundy often made Liz gourmet meals, including bouillabaisse. Ted Schaefer often made Linda gourmet meals, including vichyssoise.
  • Ted Bundy came from poor roots. Ted Schaefer came from poor roots.
  • Ted Bundy failed out of Stanford, a private research university, in 1967 following a break-up with a woman he perceived as above his station. Ted Schaefer failed during his interview at Harvard, a private university, after a confrontation with a woman he perceived as above his station.
  • Ted Bundy pretended to have more money than he did by borrowing his neighbor's car when taking women out on dates. Ted Schaefer pretended to have more money than he did by buying gifts for his girlfriend that were too expensive considering his income.
  • Ted Bundy only killed rich, attractive young women. Ted Schaefer only killed rich, attractive young women.
  • Ted Bundy killed women with brown hair that was parted down the middle. Ted Schaefer killed women with short, blonde hair.
  • Ted Bundy talked to his victims at length in public places before leading them to his car, where he disabled them with a blow to the head. Ted Schaefer talked to his victims at length in public places before disabling them with rohypnol and leading them to his car.
  • Ted Bundy strangled women to death with stockings. Ted Schaefer suffocated women to death with plastic bags.
  • Ted Bundy committed object rape on his victims. Ted Schaefer committed object rape on his victims.
  • Ted Bundy cut off the heads of his victims. Ted Schaefer mutilated the faces of his victims.
  • Ted Bundy kept the bodies of his victims in the same general area. Ted Schaefer kept the bodies of his victims in the same general area.
  • Ted Bundy visited the area where he disposed of the bodies of his victims with his girlfriend. Ted Schaefer visited the area where he disposed of the bodies of his victims with his girlfriend.


FURTHER READING:

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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Comments (23)Add Comment
Procedural question...
written by Radwaste, January 12, 2009
How was this exercise screened to prevent a directed result? In short, would a larger audience sample size still pick the same people for the same reasons, and is there a difference detectable in the background of the evaluator?

Alison, I ask because directed results are a stock in trade for illusionists, and because I've had difficulty showing people how they can be led to conclusions.

Not one characteristic cited means, "GUILTY". People like that are all around us. That circumstances indicate an ability does not mean an act occurred.
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written by Willy K, January 12, 2009
Book 'em Danno! smilies/wink.gif

Theme music from Dragnet plays, why Dragnet? Hawaii 5-O's theme is too upbeat for a serial killer. smilies/cheesy.gif
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written by zaphod, January 12, 2009
okay, I guess I forgot to include my email address in my post, but I didn't see anyone else include them. So, what did I screw up here? Did Sven and mscotthokie win because they both posted at the same time or what? I'm not whining, just confused...
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written by asmith, January 12, 2009
Zaphod,

mscotthokie was the second individual to post in the comments with the correct answer for the right reasons.

mscotthokie received the Bonus Award because of the following reason, which is stated in the article above:

"I have called off the bonus round due to a lack of entries (many individuals got at least one, but no one got them all), and here's the really interesting part – every single person that responded with an incorrect answer to the identity of the serial killer chose one of the individuals who was a part of the Bonus Round, and had committed or would commit another crime.

Here are the correct answers for the Bonus Round. Due to the cancellation of the Bonus Round, the Bonus Award has been given to mscotthokie, who submitted one of the most streamlined profiles ever."

However, mscotthokie did not provide an e-mail address. If I do not receive one in a reasonable amount of time, I will continue down the list of entrants with the correct answer.

Radwaste -

The contest shouldn't be confused with a scientific study. In a true study, all the answers would have been submitted privately to avoid any influence, and would have had many, many more responses to illustrate whether or not a high percentage of responders consistently came to the right conclusion.

And if any of the suspects listed had an attribute that screamed "GUILTY," well, then a profiler would have never been called in to the case at all...

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written by Otara, January 12, 2009
In my view the most obvious problem with the study is no-one should have been picking a single killer. Several of the profiles were so vague they could not be reliably eliminated as suspects, only a 'most promising' pick could be made, which is the whole problem with profiling.

And the most obvious issue is the 'eliminating the actual suspect' factor which this exercise did from the start by saying the killer _must_ be in the pool which can never actually be reliably done.

Finally T had a very detailed number of descriptors with one of the longest descriptions overall, it seemed so obvious in fact that people were wondering if they were red herrings. It was more an exercise in seeing how similar he was to Bundy than profiling as such which uses more generalised criteria as Bundy is not a particularly 'normal' serial killer.
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written by Son of Rea, January 12, 2009
Don't get your panties in a wad. I thought it was interesting and entertaining. Thanks, Alison, for the opportunity to participate, and the hard work and thought that went into it.

I think it's pretty clear this was all meant for fun, not for any serious scientific research.
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written by Otara, January 12, 2009
My problem is with the statement 'If In other words, no one chose an innocent person as the killer. Isn't that weird? If profiling is bull, well, you guys are really good at it. You were able to pinpoint the interviews where something was wrong, even if you could not identify precisely what it was. I think that's pretty amazing.'

I find it a bit confusing about whether it is just for fun or if conclusions or points are actually being drawn or made about its potential viability. In my view it was a big leap to make the conclusion above and I disagree with it.

If this wasnt a sceptical site I wouldnt have said a thing, but it is a bit of a different deal here.
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eliminating suspects
written by MadScientist, January 12, 2009
With over 400 suspects in a crime, if you're only eliminating a small handful of suspects then you have to be pretty unlucky to throw out the perpetrator even if you only rolled dice. Perhaps that figure would go toward explaining why, of solved crimes with profilers involved, investigators only believe the profiling was of any help in about 20% of the cases. Within that 20% the profiling results could have been plain dumb luck - or that same 20% could represent a huge improvement in solving certain cases. I guess the challenge is in formulating a test whereby you can declare that profiling has any benefits.

'Profiling' is certainly a waste of time and money as far as that joke known as the 'Department of Homeland Security' is concerned. People like myself are constantly harrassed because we've been 'profiled' while genuine criminals can get through because they don't 'fit the profile'. So racism now goes by the name 'profiling' - what convenient newspeak.
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written by redwench, January 12, 2009
racial profiling is not the same as criminal profiling. One is technically illegal, and doesn't really help much. Race of a criminal is usually (not always however) incidental to the crimes they commit. Race is correlated to some other factors, such as income or education, so it does skew apparent results.

Criminal profiling is really a last resort for most police departments. It can't be used in court, and requires information about people's lives that are in the past and difficult to obtain. That is why it's not terribly helpful to most cases, you really cannot work up 400 suspects down to the age of 5 without running out of time and/or money.
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written by cwniles, January 13, 2009
redwench, yes, maybe in a perfect world criminal profiling does not equate to racial profiling but this is most definately not a perfect world.

I have my doubts about the validity of criminal profiling but I did enjoy the article(s).
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written by zaphod, January 13, 2009
okay, I was confused because it looked like you were awarding two people rather than the first one with the correct answer. I knew I didn't win, but that's what was confusing me. Thanks.

And to put my 2 cents in on whether this little contest is legit or shows profiling to be woo-woo or not, I think it was only a harmless bit of fun. This is clearly not the same as actual profiling work; according to the contest description one of the suspects HAD to be the killer. That never happens in real life. It was a brain-teaser, people! sheesh...

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written by Lee, January 13, 2009
"And, as a side note, to the individual who said that criminal profilers should leave the investigation work to professionals, and then equated them with psychic detectives: Criminal profilers are employees of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are trained in their field. They are Special Agents of the FBI. They can no more be equated with psychic detectives than toothpaste can be. All a psychic detective must do in order to become a psychic detective is sit around calling themselves psychic. A criminal profiler goes through rigorous training at Quantico."

Alison, while I do not mean to disparage criminal profiling, bear in mind that a similarly worded defence to the above quote has been made by many a practitioner of woo. I can easily imagine an offended Therapeutic Touch "professional" making an almost identical retort:

"And, as a side note, to the individual who said that Therapeutic Touch practitionaers should leave the healing work to professionals, and then equated them with psychic doctors: TT practitioners are employees of the [insert an alternative medical institution here]. They are trained in their field. They are Special Nurses of the [wherever]. They can no more be equated with psychic doctors than toothpaste can be. All a psychic doctor must do in order to become a psychic detective is sit around calling themselves psychic. A TT practitioner goes through rigorous training at [wherever].

Like you, I do not really know much about criminal profiling, but I do know that having training as a requirement does not necessarily validate anything as legitimate.
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written by badger3k, January 13, 2009
Is it really a good method to claim that profiling is valid by listing non-peer reviewed and non-empirically tested books? It just seems like this is an appeal to authority. This exercise was indeed a set up, and a better one would have to do with taking a sampling of cases where profiling was used, but successfully and not, giving the facts in them, and then seeing what people could do. Comparing them with the real cases might give a better picture than a test where the fix is in.

The fact that the FBI trains people in profiling is also a red herring. Supposedly, the CIA had trained people in remote viewing, but more realistically, there are a lot of medical professionals who are trained in therapeutic touch, but that doesn't mean the idea has any merit behind it.
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written by badger3k, January 13, 2009
Zaphod - all this exercise shows is that some people can think like a profiler. Since the correct answer has to include a line of thought that paralleled that of the creator/profiler, all that means is that, in this case, people can use the methods of profiling to come to the same conclusion as a profiler. It has no relationship to whether or not profiling works. Pretty much cherry picking - if we did a case study based on the DC sniper case, where profiling hindered the investigation, it would have the same conclusion - bunk. For a better test, give five cases, and the information, and ask people to use profiling methods to see if they can determine who did it, or at least narrow it down (although this is a bit of lowered expectations, it can give a better indication on whether or not profiling is of some benefit). This mix of cases would not be fixed so that you had to use correct profiling procedures to win, so it would be a bit more accurate and related to real life than stacking the deck either way. I'm sure the people here could come up with something if we were motivated enough, and had the time and resources (the last two are the real kickers).
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I wuz framed...
written by Die Anyway, January 13, 2009
Since profiling only has that 20% helpfulness thing going for it, I'm inclined to think that Alison has arrested and convicted the wrong perpetrator. It was in fact John Wayne Zodiac who committed the crimes and who has framed poor Ted Schaefer. Ted is sitting on death row totally astounded at the turn his life has taken and consistently professing his innocence. JWZ has gotten over his fixation with blond women and is now amassing a basement full of children's graves... boys and girls... it's not sexual, he has just come to hate children. He is constantly amazed that he got away with setting up Ted and that he hasn't been caught yet.
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written by Cuddy Joe, January 14, 2009
All profiling is meant to do is help investigators determine how to proceed with a large pool of suspects. You take no one off the list, but since you can't investigate everyone in the pool of suspects at the same time, you begin by investigating those who more closely match the profile.

I think the media and entertainment fields have glorified criminal profiling far beyond its original intentions and recognized limitations.
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The Monster of Florence
written by Desertphile, January 17, 2009
The United States FBI was kind enough to do a profile on the most likely ID of "The Monster of Florence" for Italy. While the serial killer was never caught by police, he was caught by Mario Spezi; the FBI's profile was uncannily accurate, right down to while the serial killer paused in his killing (he took up residence with an older woman, which is exactly what the FBI profile said he probably did).

Some times the magic works.
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WOO IN REVIEW in review 1
written by weirdloser, January 17, 2009
Alison, I'm afraid I found a lot to disagree with in your two profiling posts. I'd like to point a little of it out.

I'll start with:

"Firstly, I would no more “stop promoting” criminal profiling (even if it was totally false) than I would “stop promoting” ghost hunters, psychics, or mediums – because the only way I could possibly take a call to stop promoting such a thing would be to not mention the thing at all. And, as a critical thinker, that concept seems silly to me. If you are a critical thinker, it should seem silly to you, too."



You claim the only way you "could possibly take a call to stop promoting such a thing would be to not mention the thing at all". Writing about a thing in a less credulous manner would be one other possible way you could stop the perception of bias.
Since you can't write anything on a subject without being seen as promoting, does that mean every time you did in fact write about mediums (media?) etc. you were accused of promoting?
If you wrote a post on ghost hunters which consisted of an expression of surprise that anyone doubts the validity of ghost hunting, a failure to provide an even cursory review of any evidence discrediting the hunters' specter-detecting prowess, and a "You Are the Ghost Hunter" contest, I wouldn't consider that unbiased either.



I will address my other objections in the order they were written.
First post:

1)
"After reviewing the television show Criminal Minds, I was surprised to discover how many people do not believe that criminal profiling has a value to criminal investigation better than, say, psychic detectives".


You posted the Criminal Minds review on November 9. In the intervening time you certainly could have looked into the reasons so many people came to that conclusion. You could then have presented their case, if only to debunk it. That is the kind of review I was expecting when I clicked to read "Woo in Review". Instead I was forced to do that basic research for my lazy self.
A few minutes (under five, thank goodness) on Google led me to an entertaining New Yorker article on the pseudo-scientific nature of profiling. Based on other blogs I checked, it's the definitive popular culture article on the subject. I found it made a convincing case.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/11/12/071112fa_fact_gladwell

2)
"Criminal profiling can be used, however, to eliminate suspects from a pool."


I see this as promoting. Had you written "criminal profiling can ALLEGEDLY be used..", no problem.

3)
"I am aware this doesn't prove whether profiling is or is not an effective tool. Much more study would have to be conducted for that. What I'm hoping to do is put you in the shoes of a profiler and find out if the possibility for an individual to help an investigation based on the type of person they believe must have committed a crime is possible."


I cannot see how this exercise could be considered a review of criminal profiling on the whole. Please explain.
I was given to understand that the question at hand was whether the special insight of profilers was superior to that of psychic detectives. All participants are to pretend to be profilers. Would the results be any different if they all pretended to be psychic detectives?

To be continued
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WOO IN REVIEW in review 2
written by weirdloser, January 17, 2009
Second post:

1)
"For the record, I do not have enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not criminal profiling is an effective tool in investigations. I have a single set of statistics from the early 1990's and nothing more. If someone has another study, or anything beyond isolated information, I'd be happy to read it and become more informed on the topic."


I would be preferable if you tried to gather enough data to make an informed decision on a topic before you posted a review of said topic.
BTW, your commenter stifenlaso provided a link to an academic critique of the subject:

(http://www.liv.ac.uk/Psycholog...ison19.pdf) after the first post.
Your reasponse to that study would have been of interest.

2)
"However, isolated information (like the D.C. Sniper being eliminated as a suspect by profilers) is strictly that: isolated information. I can just as easily cite cases where K-9 units have failed (like this one), or where regular police work eliminated a true killer from a pool of suspects..."


I agree. A single false negative does not invalidate an otherwise useful diagnostic test. In this instance, however, whether or not profiling is a useful diagnostic test is itself exactly what's in question.
While the DC Sniper case provides an undisputed example of profilers catastrophically impeding an investigation, I have yet to find a single convincing case of profilers helping police any more than a psychic might. This considerably increases the import of the DC sniper counter-example.
Indeed, your contention that profiling is of comparable value to sniffer dogs and traditional police work is itself a promotion of profiling. I don't think many people doubt that dogs and cops help solve crimes.
BTW, you certainly can "easily cite cases" of where sniffer dogs have failed. I am impressed. While you lacked the time or inclination to verify whether the skeptical objections to profiling were viable, you certainly managed to come up with a very specific example to back up your dog argument. I assume you knew that link off the top of your head.

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WOO IN REVIEW in review 3
written by weirdloser, January 17, 2009

3)
"For those who were curious whether the contest was in support of or against criminal profiling – it was neither. I was simply curious to see whether or not the potential for it to work was there. And, from this very small sample, it appears to be."


This is promotion of criminal profiling.
The "study" doesn't show the potential of pretend profiling to work any more than it shows the potential of pretend psychic detectiving to work or pretend police work. How did you reach that conclusion?

4)
"Since I didn't have the opportunity to take an FBI crash course, I instead had five reference books."


You were holding out on us when you said you didn't have enough information to make an informed decision:

"Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters" by Peter Vronsky

"Vronsky points out some of the failings of the FBI's classification systems. Vronsky takes a hard look at the history of the FBI behavioral sciences profiling and reveals some of its failures and looks at the most recent studies of the weaknesses of profiling." (from Amazon)


"The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers" by Michael Newton

"and he also doesn't seem to think much of profilers." (from Amazon)


Katherine Ramsland who wrote a "Writer's Guide to Forensic Psyscholgy" is also the author

of "Inside the Minds of Serial Killers: Why They Kill" of which was written:

“Noting that generalizations often fail and debunking the idea that serial killers have a distinct profile, Ramsland details the wide variety of motives behind serial murder.”–Reference & Research Book News
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WOO IN REVIEW in review 4
written by weirdloser, January 17, 2009
5)
"And, as a side note, to the individual who said that criminal profilers should leave the investigation work to professionals, and then equated them with psychic detectives: Criminal profilers are employees of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They are trained in their field. They are Special Agents of the FBI."



As other commenters have noted this is the fallacy of appeal to authority. The FBI doesn't always employ the most state-of-the-art crime fighting tools. Remember the famously inadequate computer system they used before 911?

6)
"They are Special Agents of the FBI. They can no more be equated with psychic detectives than toothpaste can be. All a psychic detective must do in order to become a psychic detective is sit around calling themselves psychic."


Clear promotion of profiling.
Psychic detectives cannot be equated with profilers, you assert. In fact, that would be ridiculous.
Since the prima facie distinction between the two is special training (according to you), all the participants in your contest, not being special agents, were in fact more similar to psychics.
The toothpaste comparison is pretty dismissive of people who think otherwise, people who are by your own admission more knowledgeable on the subject than you.
Even one prominent profiler sees himself and psychics as more alike than different.
In the above-cited New Yorker article, the author (who argues that profiling is no more cold reading) describes a scene wherein a cop mistakes profiler John Douglas for a psychic. He takes no offense. In fact, he ponders whether there might indeed bee a psychic element to his craft. I doubt he would have been so blithe had the cop tried to brush his teeth with the guy.
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WOO IN REVIEW in review 5
written by weirdloser, January 17, 2009
7)
Profiling, I have discovered in my reading, is supposed to be about figuring out what type of person would commit the crimes based on the types of crimes themselves. If you would like to read a fictional account of profiling that's pretty good, try out Caleb Carr's novel "The Alienist".


And if you would prefer a TV Show try "Profiler".

It so happens I read that book. It is blatantly pro-profiling.
As I remember: (SPOILER ALERT)
A task force to find a serial killer is commission in the 1890's by a young Teddy Roosevelt. The task force is made up of skilled misfits. One, for example, is a nineteenth century sharp-shooting policewoman. They use Freudian ideas to flawlessly and in amazing detail profile the killer. This leads to his apprehension. All the little boy prostitutes in New York City breathe a sigh of relief.
Promoting.

smilies/cool.gif
In other words, no one chose an innocent person as the killer. Isn't that weird? If profiling is bull, well, you guys are really good at it.


Promotion.
I draw the opposite conclusion. You insist profilers are distinguished from psychics by their rigorous training. The contest tests only untrained volunteers. Thus: If "you guys are really good at it", well, "profiling is bull".
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Two more things
written by weirdloser, January 23, 2009
1) Monster of Florence
I just read the profile:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19313866/print/1/displaymode/1098/
It doesn't say the killer lived with an older woman while on hiatus. It does say:
The offender is most likely to have lived alone during the years spanning these assaults in a lower middle class neighborhood. If not living by himself, he will have resided w/ some family member on whom he is at least in part financially dependent, such as his mother, aunt, grandmother or older sister. He is not likely to be married, since he is not able to sustain successful relationships w/ peer-age women.

Mario Spezi's candidate lived with his wife. I don't consider that a hit.

2)Richard Jewell

Remember this guy? He was right about a suspicious package being a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics. He saved people. The FBI then pegged him as the probable bomber based on one of their profiles. Profiling ruined the man's life. It also distracted police from catching the real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph.
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