Popular news media are often accused of simplifying complex issues, and no doubt this is often true. But equally often, popular news coverage makes simple issues complex. A recent example is the accounts of the retraction of an academic paper about police shootings (David J. Johnson, Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario, “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings.” PNAS August 6, 2019 116 (32) 15877-15882; first published July 22, 2019 ).
The offending phrase in the paper was “white officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than nonwhite officers.” In the absence of context, this could have two interpretations. Police officers fatally shoot about 0.5 black civilians for every white civilian. If white officers shot 0.8 black civilians for every white civilian, and black officers shot 0.2 black civilians for every white civilian, then white officers would be more likely to shoot black civilians than black officers. The paper found this was not true.