Local governments vs. PATRIOT


Harvard's Elaine Scarry on resistance to the PATRIOT Act, with some library-related statistics that bear repeating:

Attorney General Ashcroft dismissed the idea that the Justice Department could conceivably care about librarians or library records, an act of jeering that echoed the earlier derision of FBI officers ...

The derision is puzzling since it seems to imply that librarians do not have any history of serving as political actors, an implication starkly at odds with national and international history. More to the point, and perhaps as a result of their lack of interest in libraries, the attorney general and his assistants appear not to have read the University of Illinois study that found that by February of 2002 (four months after the Patriot Act was passed) 4 percent of all U.S. libraries, and 11 percent of all libraries in communities of more than 50,000 people had already been visited by FBI agents requesting information about their patrons' reading habits.

Complete article from the Boston Review, via Metafilter.


Excuse me, but why should we care in particular what a professor of "Aesthetics and General Theory of Value" has to say about the Patriot Act?

Probably for the same reason we should care about what you have to say about it, sport.

Ah yes, attack the messenger rather than deal with the subatance of the message. Your president has taught you well, grasshopper.

I (my library) participated in the
studyuiuc.edu> mentioned in this article back in September of 2003. (An overview can be found

Unfortunately, this survey makes no mention of a control data set to use for comparison. For example, 5 to 6 % percent of libraries responded that they had been visited by federal authorities since 9/11 however we have nothing to compare this percentage to. Is this atypical or common? We need to know the percent of libraries that were visited by federal authorities in years prior to 2001 to make any conclusions about PA 215 and libraries. If someone has this info, please share.

Public perception is also worth noting here. This article from the Boston Review says, “...4 percent of all U.S. libraries, and 11 percent of all libraries in communities of more than 50,000 people had already been visited by FBI agents requesting information about their patrons' reading habits.� However American Libraries referencing the same U of I study in February of this year offers an entirely different spin with the headline of, “Illinois Libraries FBI-Free�. Take your pick.

Leigh Estabrook (U of I), as far as my knowledge, has not conducted a national survey of libraries as mentioned in the Boston Review article e.g. "...4 percent of all U.S. libraries...". The U of I study surveyed Illinois libraries only.

If I stand corrected please share.

I don't see how the AL article's assertion refutes anything here. They're free to get things wrong.

I don't think comparing FBI visits prior to 9/11 solves anything since we're talking about the PA, which didn't exist before then...

Without any prior data, how can we attribute any spike in Fed visits, if there is a spike, to PA 215?

The article doesn't assert that there's been an increase in Fed visits. Why would we then need prior data?

You're absolutely right. The Boston paper does not explicitly state that there has been an increase in Feds mucking with libraries post 9/11. (Nevermind the cute reference to our AG and the U of I study)

And as for prior data, again complete agreement. Survey results are certainly much easier to use without having any prior data possibly interfere with preconceived conclusions. I'll have to remember this next time someone offers to show a declining trend in public support of the PA by using prior data.

I stand corrected.

The messenger was set up as "Harvard's Elaine Scarry." That she teaches aesthetics at Harvard is completely irrelevant to her prejudices regarding the Patriot Act.

To the moderator: must be nice to have the power to label those you disagree with as "trolls." I bet you consider yourself a staunch defender of intellectual freedom, too.... The irony of it all.

Tomeboy seems to have it right this time, Madcow. In the world of science, an experiment is meaningless unless there is a control to check it against. That's why in pharamcology studies of new medicines, there is a group that gets neither drug or placebo. I'm not sure how that principle applies to statistical analysis, however, and that's mathematics. You can do some fun and wierd stuff with math that you can't otherwise get away with, but statistical analysis is about comparing numbers. Without pre-USAPA data, I'd say there is no baseline against which to compare the post-USAPA data.

I don't see what experiment is being conducted here. Am I missing something?