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Director's Message - NIJ Journal Issue No. 277

Date Published
September 14, 2016

Science takes many forms, and the articles in this issue illustrate several of those forms. But for the policymakers and practitioners who read the NIJ Journal, what is most important is that the articles illustrate how NIJ applies science by providing evidence-based results to help us make decisions about policies and practices.

The NIJ Journal provides scientific knowledge that helps elected and appointed officials at all levels of government and practitioners from all parts of the criminal justice system deal with the challenges they face every day as they work to keep our communities safe.

Science for its own sake — what is sometimes called "pure" or "basic" science — is crucial, and some of NIJ's work is dedicated to such research. But the major thrust of the articles in this issue, as in everything NIJ does, involves using science to understand human behavior, develop more precise measurements, uncover cause and effect, and conduct other scientific inquiries that have direct application to our mission to strengthen science and advance justice.

How you apply the science makes the difference in our shared goal to advance justice. NIJ recognizes that sometimes it is hard to understand what the science actually means for your day-to-day professional life. One of the biggest contributions the NIJ Journal makes is to serve as a research-to-practice translator. Take, for example, the two articles in this issue — one on sexual assault on college campuses, the other on the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy — that sort through and make sense of large quantities of data. The articles explain how to make sense of the many different studies and use the research to address the needs of your own jurisdiction or agency.

Another article in this issue deals with a phenomenon for which, in the past, we have had limited data: violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and men. I especially like the sidebar that explains the differences between two major victimization surveys. The overall message in both of the articles that discuss violence is that data collection and analysis can produce different prevalence rates depending on the definitions, sample size and methods that scientists use.

An article about forensic science explores issues surrounding the need to develop more precise measurements. It points out something we don't think about very often: the similarities and differences between the science of analyzing data and the art of interpreting the data. NIJ's mission is to strengthen the science, but our staff are also investigating cognitive bias and human errors — and not just in forensics but in policing, corrections and other criminal justice areas.

I hope you enjoy the findings from Miami about what makes a cohesive, safe neighborhood. Creating and experimenting with innovative statistical techniques is a scientist's dream come true. I am pleased it has led to a more nuanced understanding of the factors that build safer neighborhoods.

The innovative statistical methods used in the Miami study remind me of another innovative project NIJ has recently launched: the Real-Time Crime Forecasting Challenge. Please encourage all your colleagues to enter the challenge, which is about using real-time crime data from law enforcement agencies, applying innovative models and algorithms, and helping communities find effective predictive tools to improve safety for their residents.

All the articles in this issue are examples of how science builds on itself. One small study can produce findings that lead researchers to expand or deepen our knowledge about a topic. When a larger study or several related studies replicate an original study, those are the building blocks, the foundation that makes research at NIJ exciting and ever evolving.

Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Justice

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Research and development
Date Published: September 14, 2016