Friday, 19 August 2011

guardian comment on recent riots

link below to an article written by Cliff Stott & Steve Reicher in the guardian comment pages on the recent riots- succinct & v good  critique of coverage and how a lot of it is based on flawed science

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

pseudoscience blog

Link follows below to an article written by Professor Steve Reicher who started off research in the UK into crowd behaviour when he was at Bristol University during the St Pauls' riots (part of a wave of inner city riots that swept the UK in the early 1980s). He argues that the recent riots have resulted in a lot of 'experts' being called up by journalists to talk about the psychology of rioting, but a lot of them don't have a background in the study of crowd behaviour, and instead rely on outdated or flawed concepts that are rejected by current researchers into crowd behaviour. Anyway, he says it all loads better than I could, so I recommend checking it out!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rabble with a Cause: Were the London Riots a Spontaneous Mass Reaction or a Rational Response?

a very good article written by three of the top crowd psychologists I know and highly rate is available at the following link below.
I've also just seen that someone has just got 4 years for inciting a riot in Chester last week that never happened! Now I'm no legal expert, but I thought to be guilty of incitement, there had to be some evidence that you had incited people to do something?!

Friday, 12 August 2011

more coverage...

Some local news website has picked up on my press release. According to one of the comments I've seen, I'm a hand wringing liberal- never been called that before!

let's be rational here!

The media frenzy into the unrest continues. Question Time last night raised some interesting points, but often sensible debate was depressingly stifled by the 'string em up' brigade. People were coming out with emotive responses such as the rioters should not only have all benefits stopped, but also have all their private property confiscated and given out to victims of the riots! I'm no bleeding heart liberal, but if you confiscate all the posessions of a convicted looter, won't that encourage them to turn back to crime to get the material goods that our consumerist society is increasingly obsessed with? I'm no fan of David Davies (Tory MP & former shadow Home Secretary), but he did make a valid point in that laws rushed through in the heat of the moment (such as the new ones being suggested now) tend to be bad laws that we later regret in years to come.
My experiences with the media continue, and seem to be better than those of some of my colleagues. I understand that Cliff Stott (crowd psychology expert at Liverpool Uni) got a bit of a hard time on Radio 5 Live last night when he did a phone-in show on the riots. I turned down doing an interview on the James Whale show on LBC on Wednesday as I worried that his ranting/populist style would just become a shouting match and preclude any sensible debate. But I did agree to be on the Nick Ferrari breakfast show at 8.05 am today (12/8/2011), which went OK, although I did worry that my points were a little oblique to the angle that they seemed to want to take. Link to the show is on;​ari-3466/?CMP=KNC&cmpid=DJs+&+​Shows1-PPC

Thursday, 11 August 2011

ESRC report on riots

The Economic and Social Research Council has published details of research they've sponsored into crowds and disorder that are clearly relevant in the current context. I rate highly both Cliff Stott's and David Waddington's work, so would recommend checking them out if you want to know more about crowd disorder and public order policing from an informed (and not knee-jerk and/or hysterical) perspective!

Here's a link to Cliff Stott talking about the recent rioting on BBC Radio 4 Programme- the World Tonight on 9/8/2011. His bit starts about 15 min & 45 secs into it.

Press Release on recent UK disorder

The Press Dept at LondonMetropolitan University recently asked me to write something for a Press release that they put out about the recent riots across England. Below is the full version of the edited account that they put out;

30 years worth of research by psychologists into a variety of public order situations, ranging from the inner city riots to disorder England football fans, to the recent tuition fees protests, have found that riots always happen in a social context. If one does not consider this social context, then how such situations occur and develop can not be fully understood. Therefore, events such as the shooting of Mark Duggan by Police in Tottenham can certainly be seen as the trigger that sparked off the initial disturbances, but wider social problems (such as young people's sense of alienation from mainstream society, and the economic context of youth unemployment and public spending cuts) can also help explain the rapid spread of disorder to other disaffected communities nationwide.

Furthermore, descriptions of rioters as 'mindless thugs' and 'feral rats' are deeply emotive terms that are not supported by empirical research and can only cloud rational debate and further alienate the very people who need to re-connect with society if such disorder is to be prevented in future. To an outside observer, trashing and looting shops may seem like 'mindless' behaviours, but to young unemployed people, taking goods that they can not normally afford may seem like quite meaningful behaviour. Even apparently nihilistic behaviours such as trashing local charity shops may seem acceptable to those who feel no sense of connection with their local community. This is not in any way an attempt to excuse such behaviours (many of which were by definition, criminal acts), but definitions of 'rational' and 'irrational' behaviours are very much in the eye of the beholder.    

Demands by politicians and the public to give the Police greater powers and/or weaponry to deal with the disorder merely reflect a misunderstanding of the issues involved in public order policing. Such tactics don't tend to be popular with the Police and are most likely to be counter-productive. Use of distance weaponry (such as plastic bullets and water cannon) only tend to be effective in dispersing large static crowds, and would be largely ineffective against small groups of looters that tend to disperse anyway when the Police arrive. Evidence from Northern Ireland has also shown that such tactics usually escalate public order situations and make further confrontations likely. Furthermore, they would increase the disconnection between the Police and local community and take them further away from what they profess to be their preferred mode of policing- by consent not coercion. In the Independent today (11/8/2011) Sir Hugh Orde, who is tipped to become the next Commissioner of the Met, and has been Chief Constable of the PSNI (the only UK Police force with experience of using such tactics) has rejected the current clamour for such tactics to be used;

The disorder currently sweeping cities in England clearly presents a major problem that needs to be tackled. However, there also needs to be a sensible and neutral debate into its underlying causes. To call for such a debate does not mean one is seeking to excuse what happened. But to pursue a line that what has happened is pure criminality is a simplistic interpretation that prevents such a debate happening, meaning that such disorder could happen again if the root causes are not addressed. We all need to work together as a society to bring communities back together after the wounds inflicted by the recent disorder, and knee-jerk emotional reactions will only prevent such a process happening.