A team of psychiatrists and other forensic mental health professionals have declared that Bruce Ivins was probably the anthrax mailer.
“Dr. Ivins was psychologically disposed to undertake the mailings; his behavioral history demonstrated his potential for carrying them out, and he had the motivation and the means,” the panel wrote.
Last month, the NIH said that the scientific evidence wasn’t conclusive.
Since Ivins killed himself in 2008, thus avoiding the sensory deprivation and forced nudity that would have helped us determine if he was the real culprit, this case is probably going to remain a mystery.
I am extremely skeptical of the notion that pyschologists or psychiatrists are capable of determining guilt or innocence in a particular case, however useful their general insights into behavior of entire populations might be.
Blame it on the dead guy. End of story.
What rea said.
I’ll go a little further and say I think it’s offensive to publish conclusions based on this kind of “evidence,” particularly about a dead man who can’t defend himself.
but…but..President Immaculate Perfection would not have allowed that to happen to a US citizen….UNPOSSIBLE!
Love the smell of a fresh strawman in the morning…gets me feeling all Obotty inside!
Can’t wait for a bunch of historical legalese horseshit from ABL about US treatment of prisoners post-Geneva convention to explain to us why Manning is not not being tortured. Then we could get a replay of the Obot chorus’ synchronized excuse making in the comment section…
That last line made my morning, @mistermix. Well done.
It’s not so offensive to publish conclusions based on such evidence simply because it’s about a dead man. Why not? Because he’s dead, and won’t be going to prison or ever go before a jury.
Is it okay for psychologists to study OJ Simpson? After all, he was found not guilty of murder before a jury. But somehow, the psychology of abusive assholes who murder must not have anything to learn from him since he clearly didn’t do anything of that sort, right?
Also, a conclusion that someone was “probably” the killer isn’t exactly as conclusive a conclusion as conclusive conclusions can conclude. If this is an unseemly use of professional opinion, then we may as well give up on all intellectual pursuits and enjoy this until the Western Civilization crumbles.
A team, huh? I wonder who their sponsor is.
One would think he was baiting the Obot blowflies first thing in the morning.
not called mistermix for nothing, I suppose…he stirs a mean shitpot…
Incoherent Dennis SGMM
A few days ago we had a thread on Evolutionary Psychology and now we have this. I won’t diss the entire profession but, it appears that in some areas of it you can get a paycheck for making shit up.
Strange and please correct me (like that wouldn’t happen) but I thought he killed himself shortly after he was confronted with this allegation by the FBI – that puts him in the “I’m innocent because I’m dead class” but surely does imply he was unstable.
So, is it a big reach that he did it considering he worked in the field, had access to the bacteria, the tools and training AND was unstable? That’s a lot of conditions that might lead someone to think he could have done it – and yes, not getting his day in court means innocent until proven, so he’s innocent in the eyes of the law.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it – so what’s wrong with people studying and concluding he had the ability, motive and was unstable – just saying.
@WyldPirate: That’s an interesting observation, considering that it comes from the Optimus Prime of shit stirrers.
Also, too: It is possible to dislike the treatment of Bradley Manning and think that, overall, Obama’s doing a decent job.
What you and Rea said.
Making yourself as obnoxious as possible is not a good way to win allies, even from among folk who often agree with some of what you say. Seriously. Bad technique.
This kind of reminds me of that TV show “Criminal Minds.” You have a bunch of FBI behavioral experts wildly speculating on the psychological characteristics of a killer based on a few details from the crime scene, and they then manage to zero in on both the identity of the killer and his whereabouts.
Completely absurd. I’m sure profiling and so forth can be mildly useful, but I’d love to see some evidence that they can actually crack cases with it (beyond getting lucky a few times).
There’s a not-all-that-recent article from Harper’s (for which I will be pleased to let someone else google up the reference) about a study of forensic profilers/behavioral “experts” that concluded their predictions were no better than random chance. Why does the profession have any credibility at all? Confirmation bias, pure and simple.
Thanks for the morning laugh, mistermix. I’ll take it as a compliment, however left-handed (or back-handed) in nature its intent.
I don’t disagree with your second point, either, if one considers that the US is in one big clusterfuck of a mess overall. Some of the things he has done have been positive. They have, in my eyes, made little difference for the welfare of most Americans.
Now if Obama would get the fuck out of Afghanistan, stop talking stupid shit about austerity and giving the Rethug vultures room to yak about the deficit nonsense, sic the fucking DOJ and the SEC on Wall St like ducks on a junebug along with a lot of other things–I might become an Obot myself.
I hate that show. Everything you said, plus they routinely run roughshod over everybody’s rights (what’s left of them) in the process. Not just the “unsub”–everybody. Hell, the black dude practically roughs up people just when he’s using the copier.
And “unsub”–what’s up with that?!
@EconWatcher: There’s plenty of evidence that profilers can assist law enforcement, and it is definitely using scientific methods to refine itself. Every cop is a profiler, knowing that the beaten woman is more likely to have been abused by a man she lives with than some stranger on the street. They learn that certain neighborhoods are more likely to have certain kinds of criminals living and working there than other neighborhoods.
Professionals build their knowledge based on other cases, whether they’re profilers, beat cops, or doctors of optometry. Not all criminals fit the profile, but sometimes that’s because the profile is wrong and sometimes the profile isn’t very refined and sometimes it’s just someone who doesn’t fit the profile. But most criminals do, which is something we ignore at our own peril. If a gang member gets shot in a gang war, chances are that a rival gang member just might have had something to do with it. Not always, but it’s a good starting place for investigation. Yes, of course you want to question the neighbors and the guy who works at the closest gas station, but eventually you have to follow the likely leads.
Dismissing forensic science because of the absurdity of “Criminal Minds” makes as much sense as dismissing the military’s effectiveness because “The A-Team” is kind of silly.
@Joey Maloney: I haven’t seen the article, but are these the experts that get on television shows like Nancy Grace or the experts that you never see because they are too busy working?
I don’t know. I’d put the A-Team over the military most days.
Profiling is a decent method of focusing an investigation. But it is a start, not a result. If you have evidence, this guy would fit the pattern sort of thing. The problem is getting evidence, good hard evidence is hard work, so we stop at start. So much easier.
I think what EconWatcher was objecting to was not the general principles of “profiling”–e.g., that a woman is more likely to be beaten by a spouse than a stranger or that gang members are likely to be shot by rival gang members–but the myth that it is such a precise science that one can zero it in and say, yeah, this one guy did it.
Thanks for the tip, Svensker. I’m just not real good at sugarcoating things and had to shake that subtlety clinging too the last graph in mistermix’s post.
Maybe I should go dig around in the attic and see if I have a an old copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
IIRC, there was an article in the Atlantic discussing this; it seems that profilers are best at post-hoc predictions, so to speak. [I’d post the link, but I can’t find that article]
I hate it too, but unfortunately my wife loves it. And, being the mother of my kids and all, she controls the remote.
@Steeplejack: Maybe, but he did pretty much say it was useless and “completely absurd” was used. Yes, of course the grunt policemen are the ones who find the original stuff that the superhero scientists use to crack the case, usually with the help of new evidence gathered by the grunt cops who are also working to crack the case and finding new stuff all the time as well and crossing off other options and doing their own consecutive investigations. Usually the arrest is made by the superhero investigators on those shows, but that’s for drama. The rest is pretty much how things work: the detectives are those experts while the beat cops are like the science grad students working in the crime lab of life. Who gets the most attention in the Hollywood version? Probably the ones that look best in tight, professional skirts and can take their glasses off in the right way to emphasize that they’re thinking really hard about being intimidating or maybe that’s just a flashback to their own similar story that’s shaped who they are and made her so driven in a way that only the male lead can fulfill but not this season since he’s with someone else, the bastard. Or the quirky assistants with the edgy makeup and hair. But the beat cop? Only as a story arc with a tragic end.
I think behavior when accused is a good starting point for figuring stuff out. Committing suicide, like fleeing with wigs and false passports, is a strong assumption of guilt.
The Moar You Know
@WyldPirate: Dude, what happened? Did you dealer get busted or what, cause you’re ten times shittier than usual.
That’s saying a lot, BTW.
The FBI always gets its man, whether or not he’s the right one.
Jim White over at FDL is a biochemist and has written several technical articles on the likelihood of Ivins as the source of the Anthrax letters. Good, technical information.
Could Ivins Have Produced All of the Anthrax Spores Used in the Attacks?
Most Likely Source of Silicon in Anthrax Attack Spores Argues Against Production by Ivins
Jinx (voting not guilty ; )
There is plenty of evidence that psychics can assist law enforcement, and I know a panel of them that say he didn’t do it.
Uh, besides, 8 out of 10 doctors recommend Lucky Strikes.
The Moar You Know
@DBrown: It is worth reading the Wiki article on him. I personally believe he was hounded to death – the FBI botched the investigation of the guy who likely did do it so badly that they ended up paying him six million bucks. Ivins was a convenient target and suffered from depression.
Nice, DPirate. I love quality rimshot humor!
@PeakVT: Ha, that reminds me of a story my Ed Law prof told our grad class many years ago. He was a devout fan of Westerns and at one time asked the class “What happened in the Old West when someone stole a horse?”
The answer seemed pretty straight forward, so suspecting a trap I stayed silent. One student answered “They hanged the guy”. “No” the prof answered. “Did they shoot the guy?” “You don’t waste a bullet on a rustler.” He replied. A few more increasingly implausible answers were submitted before the class gave up in confused silence. He then explained. “Ok, the first answer actually was pretty close, but not close enough in one important detail. The correct answer is THERE WAS A HANGING. Specifying that the guy who actually stole the horse was the one who got hanged was incorrect. Heck, he’s on a horse, probably miles away before anybody found out. But order needed to be maintained and the people reassured that everything was under control, so the ‘usual suspects’ were rounded up and all was right with the world.”
I never thought things changed all that much, but more and more we are returning to the wild wild west, IMO
That, of course, is possible, too. If the tech evidence points away from Ivins, that should be given more weight than speculation; which isn’t pointless, but is contradicted by what we should know for certain.
unsub = UNknown SUBject
I watched the show for a few seasons and like some of the actors but lately I find the stories about sexual sadism and murder just too upsetting to watch. Even liking the actors can’t get me to accept the story lines.
It seems like a rather screamingly obvious case of blame the dead guy dressed up to look like science. I hope his ghost haunts that distinguished team of mental health professionals.
@cintibud: True, true, but the FBI has more recent track record of fixating on the wrong people, Richard Jewell being the most prominent of them.
@PeakVT: It’s kind of hard to find the right guy when a bunch of Christian lunatics hide him because they’re totally down with his fight against abortion and conveniently ignore his racist evil. But still, they did find that particular asshole.
a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q)
Thank you. My sentiments precisely.
@Incoherent Dennis SGMM:
Yeah, it’s called private practice.
Hmm, the article I read in the LA Times suggested that the panel of psych experts didn’t so much as confirm Ivins’ guilt as they found great fault with the Army allowing him to be hired into his position in the first place. Basically, if indeed he did do it, the Army is greatly responsible for allowing a person with records of both criminal and serious psychiatric issues into one of the top bio-weapons facilities in the world.
Good luck with that. There is no such evidence.
Please provide any evidence that profiling has actually solved a case or even provided information that was useful in solving a case. The evidence I’ve seen pretty much shows that it has not and never will. What you see on “Criminal Minds” is about as accurate was what the FBI profilers do.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in the New Yorker in 2007:
Let me get this straight. Now that the guy is dead, a panel of mental health experts concludes there’s a 50+% chance this guy was a mass murdering terrorists.
But before he was identified as a suspect, no one had any concerns about giving him access to weapons grade anthrax.
This seems like a lose-lose scenario for the government.
The security clearance screening process is grossly flawed whether the guy is guilty or not, right?
I think the real culprits were George Soros and Cass Sunstein.
@geg6: Thanks, although the fact that Gladwell wrote it makes me dubious :(
Was Mitt Romney on this panel? He’s well known for his psychic-psychiatric diagnostic powers.
Personally, I usually like Gladwell’s writing. Not everything and certainly not every conclusion, but he looks at things in ways no one else does. In this article, he writes about Lawrence Alison’s research on this very subject that I linked to in #42. Pretty compelling and absolutely brutal toward the FBI’s Douglas and Ressler, who were the ones to come up with the profiling “methods” used by the FBI (Douglas is the model for Agent Crawford in Silence of the Lambs). Turns out, their methodology was sloppy and no more worthy of consideration than your average psychic.
Oh Please. Bruce Ivins was murdered.
Consider yourself corrected.
He killed himself after months of an intense FBI investigation into every single aspect of his life. He was well aware he was the main suspect and everyone who knew him was aware.
They intentionally tried to isolate and alienate him from everyone in his life. Their intent wasn’t to force him to commit suicide, but to make him more compliant and more likely to confess.
They just miscalculated how much stress he could tolerate.
I strongly disagree: Suicide when the FBI is hounding you and your family for months doesn’t seem to me to prove anything at all. That kind of pressure could easily have driven a guilty or an innocent man over the edge.
About this study, are these people actually diagnosing the mental illness of a patient they have never seen? And not only diagnosing him but also deciding on specific actions his mental illness led to?
Given that we’re discussing this at third or fourth hand, without any of the caveats or alternative explanations they dealt with or the actual phrasing of their conclusions, I’m less than inclined to make any conclusion about THEIR investigations.
@Nutella: I corrected myself later; obviously, “Suicide when the FBI is hounding you and your family for months” is a different beast from the previous reference, which was “suicide after being questioned by the FBI.”
And see what I did there? I made a behavior judgement. Which everyone does, all the time. It’s how we get through the day, from “does that person see me in the crosswalk” to “geez, staying away from him today, he’s in a bad mood.”
Ever since Frist made an ideological call from an edited videotape, it’s become an easy complaint about any psychological motivation speculation. But for heaven’s sake, people do it all the time and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it! If you go to a psychiatrist, they are going to do the same thing, updated every time you see them.
And so does your mother.
When OJ fled with disguises and false passports, it’s perfectly reasonable to see that as evidence of guilt. And I don’t need a degree to do it.
Anthrax? What anthrax?
Didn’t we all decide this wasn’t important once we found out it came from the US military?
It did it’s job in scaring enough Americans to pass more of the Treasury to defense contractors in 2001.
Why bring it up now?
Ivins only killed postal workers while trying the get Democrats by using government resources at the level of nuclear weapons. Open and shut case of lone nut, nothing to see here.
Regardless of whether the psychologists are right, I think whoever did it is now dead, and here’s why: Anyone who hated the government enough in 2001 enough to send @nthrax to politicians would be unable to control themselves today in rubbing the incompetence of the government in their faces. I think they’d be sending a second round in order to embarrass the government. But there hasn’t been a second round.
I am with those who want to know why people are only complaining abut Bradley Manning’s treatment and ignoring all of the other military prisoners who get treated the same way. But then, Jane Hamsher’s movie deal odds would suck if she had to go to the reality side of the fence, wouldn’t it?
@Carl Nyberg: “Can’t fault the system for just one failure” General “Buck” Turgidson
@ Arclite: With both scientist-suspects, the FBI was, if I recall right, not working under the theory that this was someone who hated the US Government. The motive was assumed to be to get the country’s attention, to get more resources and research $ for biological weapons (defense from) research.
That Ivins, with his psychiatric history, didn’t belong in a military bio-weapons lab is obvious, and the US military was careless to let him work there. But a psychological assessment that a suspect is capable of committing the crime is obviously not proof that he did. And this assessment, even if we take it at face value, is not proof; it is only an opinion (albeit an expert opinion).
The FBI couldn’t prove, on the evidence, that Bruce Ivins actually did it. They were never going to get a conviction, even if they had no other suspect assessed as psychologically capable of the crime. The FBI seems to be dressing up what is merely a strong suspicion as proof, and I think the release of this assessment is part of the costume. This is not about Ivins’ guilt. This is about the FBI covering its ass, and maybe salving its conscience, after harassing to his death a man who night well have been innocent.
… might well have been innocent.
@Amir_Khalid: I think that is why the NIH assessment suggested that the FBI’s position involved more certainty than was warranted. I personally think it is likely that he did it, but I do have a problem with law enforcement overstating their case. It undermines justice more than it serves it.
The Office of Special Plans. . .
Wait a minute, I thought Dr. Hatfill was guilty. Everyone knew it. The FBI proclaimed it.
Why do we bother with trials? Just get a noose and a tree.
When it goes well, forensic profiling is called “good police work”. When it doesn’t, it’s a flawed science or a sham. I get that.
There’s a sort of credentials inflation going on in our country and maybe this world. Good journalists never show their diplomas, just their work. Good cops have arrest records, not the most credit hours in criminal science. Good librarians know how to find stuff, not show off their degree from the best university. (I mention librarians because I am one, and the program I took prepared me for some of it but mostly gave me a piece of paper that says I’m official.)