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Summing up Observations on Objectivity, Validity, Generalizability, and Science with Respect to the Legal Definition of Crime

If the observations in the preceding sections and chapters concerning objectivity, validity, generalizability, and science in relation to the legal definition of crime are appropriate, then, as criminologists, we must come to grips with the implications of these observations. We must be willing to admit that beginning with the legal definition of crime as opposed to an objective, scientifically derived concept that criminologists identify as crime has been a logical error that potentially impacts much of the empirical literature on the causes of crime. If this is true, criminology would need to be reexamined and criminologists would need to reorient their research and face the possibility that existing explanations of crime would need to be retested with a valid concept and measure of crime. Criminologists ought to begin by working toward some agreement on a conceptual definition of crime that can be implemented consistently across time and place.

We have also assessed the logical errors criminology makes when defining and measuring crime as a violation of law. These errors suggest that there are problems with the validity, objectivity, and scientific nature of the legal definition of crime. On all these accounts, it has been argued that the criminal-law definition of crime suffers from numerous deficiencies that open doubts about its continued use.

In Chapter 5, we address these issues with respect to the effort to examine the causes of crime as defined by the legal definition of crime across individuals. Individual-level explanations of crime pose particular problems when the legal definition of crime is employed. Criminologists who perform individual-level tests of causal explanations of crime have yet to address these problems. It is toward this discussion that we now turn our attention.

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