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May 26, 2015


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"While it is understandable that the police might check out the emergency room for patients with gunshot wounds, I believe it is an urban legend that they likewise screen all patients and visitors in every ward. I found no one else who ever heard of such a routine practice."

Does it really matter from an ethnographic standpoint? Behavior is determined by belief, not necessarily objective fact. Ethnography is mainly getting inside a culture and trying to see what they see.


You are right, of course, that it would not matter if Goffman had reported it as a belief -- which indeed it is. But she reported it as a fact.

That's sort of like doing ethnography among Tea Partiers in Texas, and reporting, on that basis, that Operation Jade Helm is actually hiding weapons in tunnels beneath abandoned Walmart locations.


I'm puzzled by this post. It is exceptional for a US state to lack a requirement for mandatory reporting of gun-shot wounds. Its actually faster to list the ones that don't - Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky (but not totally), Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma (except for criminal injury), PA, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. All other states and Washington DC mandate reporting of gunshot wounds.

PA is one of the few where doctors do not have to report.


That is fascinating, brackets. Do you have a source? It makes Goffman's story even less likely.


I just ran a quick search - website on domestic violence law had a state by state listing, with the state statutes cited.

Michelle Meyer

This is fascinating from a research ethics perspective in many ways, Steve; thanks for writing and sharing it. I haven't read the book. Does Goffman say that her IRB required her to destroy her notes? It would not surprise me if her IRB did require her to destroy her notes containing details of her subjects' criminal activity and frankly there are significant risks to subjects if those notes got into the wrong hands (although, as you suggest, there are far less drastic ways to protect subjects than wholesale destruction of all notes). On the other hand, given how intertwined she became with her subjects by the end, it also would not surprise me to learn that she voluntarily chose to destroy her notes to protect them.

(Compare this to the LaCour same-sex marriage canvassing study situation. The NYT reports that he told the editor of Science through his lawyer that he destroyed the data he is now alleged to have fabricated in order to protect subjects. I seriously doubt either that his IRB required him to destroy fairly innocuous survey data or that he took it upon himself to destroy his data to protect subjects. Also, prior reports have him telling his co-author that he deleted it by accident.)


"I spoke with a . . . current Philadelphia prosecutor"
"I sent the relevant paragraphs of On the Run to a source in the Philadelphia Police Department "
"I sent the relevant paragraphs from On the Run to four current or former prosecutors with experience in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Their unanimous opinion was that Goffman had committed a felony. A former prosecutor from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office was typical of the group. “She's flat out confessed to conspiring to commit murder and could be charged and convicted based on this account right now,” he said."

Geeze, Steve, you might not be trying to "censure" her, but you certainly seem trying to get her arrested...

I'm kidding, I'm kidding; her fieldwork was done long enough ago that I think it's fairly uncontroversial that any charges would be barred by the statute of limitations.

Former Editor


Don't kid. If any of her alleged "conspiracy to commit murder" constituting actions were coupled with someone actually getting killed, then there is no statute of limitations for it in Penn. 42 Pa. Code Sec. 5551. If no one got killed, the statute would be five years plus tolling from any period she lived out of state or during which her alleged co-conspirators we prosecuted. 42 Pa. Code Sec. 5552, 5554. Having not read the book and being unfamiliar with the details, I have no idea if she's outside that window.


Hmmm, good point though I was assuming that if a murder actually happened it would have been mentioned at least in Steve's review; I was assuming the 5-year limitations period was applying here. I was not aware, however, of the out-of-state tolling issue though (I have absolutely no background in Pennsylvania law). In that case the review does look a little like it's kind of nudging prosecutors to do something...

Former Editor

This is outside my area of expertise too, but I thought it was worth mentioning. From the way the article describes it, her driving the car was to assist in a coordinated effort to engage in a revenge killing against a specific gang member. It seems more than possible to me that the author's alleged activities in connection with that effort would implicate her in a broader murder conspiracy, even if the actual murder of that gang member did not take place on an evening when she was directly helping and which she does not describe in the book.


Probably would be a hard case to make; the only evidence they'd have would be the book unless they could somehow track down the relevant actors, and she could pretty easily construct an interpretation of the events in the book that took her outside the criminal conspiracy statute, including just saying she made it up.


twbb - as far as I know there is no "statute of limitations" on murder - it is certainly very unusual. Some states have a limit though on conspiracy to commit murder.


There was no murder. She tells the story only of a conspiracy.

Orin Kerr

As I read the code, the SOL in Pennsylvania for conspiracy to commit murder is five years if no murder occurs. Although the odds that a prosecution would be brought in these circumstances seem vanishingly small even if we were within the SOL.

Former Editor

I agree with Orin and twbb that prosecution is extremely unlikely even if there is an unexpired SOL or no SOL. I was only pointing out that it's not a foregone conclusion that the author is protected by the SOL should one of the prosecutors Steve mentions contacting decide the issue is worth looking into.

Enrique Guerra-Pujol

It's doubtful if the story of the car ride is even true. In many ways, Alice Goffman is the new Margaret Mead


[Mack]: It's one thing to have mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds, and another thing for hospitals to give the names of visitors in the maternity ward to the police, which is what Lubet quotes Goffman as writing about.

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