Political scientist James Q. Wilson has died at age 80.
He was the rare social scientist who gave the impression that the social sciences are a blast. And why shouldn't they be? Lots of guys study statistics to be better sports fans. Dr. Wilson studied statistics to fight crime. He was like Batman with a reverse Polish notation HP calculator on his utility belt.
He's getting praised for coming up with the "broken windows" metaphor of crime-fighting in a 1982 magazine article, but probably his even more important idea was "incapacitation" in his 1975 book Thinking About Crime. This was the simple observation that criminals can't prey upon civilians if they are in prison. Therefore, lock more criminals up for longer sentences. That this was considered a revolutionary insight in 1975 says a lot about the academic atmosphere that helped get us into an era of high crime.