For those unfamiliar with the term, “Fox Butterfield fallacy” is named after a New York Times rejoicing under the euphonious name “Fox Butterfield.” Butterfield wrote an article in 1994 that dealt with what to him was a mystifying conundrum: How could there be more criminals in prison if crime rates were going down?
IT has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder.
So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up? Last year, it reached almost 1.7 million, up about seven percent a year since 1990.
The beauty of the latest example of a Fox Butterfield fallacy in a New York Times article is that it is overwhelmed by the exact same paradox that so befuddled Fox Butterfield! Yes, the Times did it again.
This latest entry occurs in an article examining different imprisonment trends in different regions. The Times makes it clear from the article’s title that something very mysterious is going on in small town (i.e., white) America: This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?
The Times’ confusion is made manifest a mere seven paragraphs into the lengthy article. After explaining that America’s urban centers are busy reducing incarceration, the article turns its attention to America’s Bible-toting, gun-clutching flyover regions, where incarceration is increasing (emphasis mine):