May 22, 2006

Somebody's been sleeping in my bed

nf-goldilocks.jpgAs an anti-fan of dramatic, totally unverifiable numbers in news stories (e.g., $20B, $10B, $1B, $134,121), I was delighted by this Legal Times article [hat tip: Vance] on Alberto Gonzales's recent claim that "at any given time, 50,000 predators are on the Internet prowling for children.”

But where did that figure come from? Spokespersons for the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire say it’s not based on any research they’re aware of. The AG’s press secretary has the answer, though: "That number is actually pulled from [NBC newsmagazine] Dateline and other media outlets."

LT the points out that Dateline sources the figure only as a "number that was widely used in law enforcement circles." And now that the attorney general himself has used it, that's even more true!

But the best part of this takedown are the terms of art employed by Ken Lanning, a former FBI agent who advised Dateline, or at least tried to. Lanning calls the stat possibly, "a WAG — wild-assed guess," and "a Goldilocks number": not too small and not too large.

PS: There's one final Update today at the end of the original kiddie porn industry post.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

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