On Harm, Damage, and Policy

I noted with interest some of the criticism and critique that came out this weekend against a new project of my colleagues. Essentially, some of the arguments posted were "this data/site doesn't do X, therefore, it shouldn't exist" or "this data harms Y, therefore it shouldn't exist." Of course, the data is helpful in other ways, allowing limited comparisons, but it's rare to see a comment saying "this looks pretty good, ok." So instead, the comments are all "THIS IS AMAZING" vs "THIS SUCKS" and whatever the product is, it feels like a dystopia where completely opposite conclusions are possible.

So it goes with many political and legal policies.

If you experience a crime and the law is such that the criminal is not found guilty, the law feels far too soft. If you are falsely accused and your life is severely harmed, the law feels far too hard. This is the nature of political compromise - some times different interests each have valid perspectives and the right answer does involve weighing them and coming down somewhere in the middle.

In the area of rape and sexual assault, where hard evidence is often extraordinarily difficult to come by (and where I volunteered for years in college), there is no policy that will prevent horrible outcomes - either for survivors that can't get justice or for the falsely accused. I've seen several stories in recent years with long, personal profiles of people on both sides of this equation, and I've realized that no matter how bad the stories are, the overall data is much more important when it comes to identifying the best policy. To some extent, policy making means ignoring single trees to see the dynamic of the forest, but that also feels a little harsh and cold (and to be clear, this is the wrong answer when it comes to supporting anyone who has been through trauma). I'll be looking for examples of leaders and people who walked this line well.