December 28, 2012

when NPR gets unlistenably stupid:

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 6:06 pm

During elections, arguably during pledge drive season and, apparently, after school shootings.

I consider myself a pretty liberal left-leaning NPR-friendly sortof guy (describing what I actually am involves a lot more -isms), but I find myself turning off NPR in disgust a lot more since sandy hook. This story, for example, was so mindblowingly dumb I had to turn off the radio, because I was afraid I might plow my car into a telephone pole:

Yang is from China. She says that in college there, she studied math, and then suddenly — totally without prompting — I find myself in another conversation about possibilities and probabilities. Yang, it turns out, specialized in statistics, and since the shooting has been thinking a lot about possibilities and probabilities, reconsidering her original feelings about them.

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of a shooting happening to her specifically was very small. But since the shooting she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."

"If the base is big enough," she explains, "even though the probability is small, things will happen with certainty."

By Yang's reckoning, this is how the large number certainty theorem applies.

...

"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that school shootings were so rare they would probably happen to someone else, the shooting has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for gun control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.

I .. I just .. What do you say to this? First, I love the hilariously awkward and blatant appeal to authority in the way that they present her as some sort of statistics expert because of a "rule of statistics she learned in college". See? It's a theorem! That sounds very sciencey! You can't argue with FACTS like that!

A fun mental exercise is to substitute literally anything into this line of thought:

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of slipping on a banana peel and splitting her skull open specifically was very small. But since some other guy slipped on a banana peel and split his skull open she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."

...

"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that slipping on banana peels open was so rare it would probably happen to someone else, the dude that slipped on a banana peel has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for banana control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.

SCIENCED!!!

December 15, 2012

LET’S ARGUE ABOUT GUN CONTROL

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 8:13 pm

Just kidding, I don't want to argue. Gun control is not a passionate issue for me, and I've written just about all I have to say about gun control here. (Note that I focus on inner-city violence, which is really the largest and most tragic location of firearm violence in this country, even if it's not as headline-grabbing as school massacres.)

Mostly I just want to recommend that everyone read this article. Especially this part:

The general decline in gun-related violence and the inability even of mental health professionals to identify future mass killers should be the essential starting points of any serious policy discussion generated by the absolutely horrific slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We should also add a third starting point: Few good policies come from rapid responses to deeply felt injuries. Many of the same people who are now calling for immediate action with regard to gun control recognize that The Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was a terrible piece of legislation that ultimately did nothing to protect Americans even as it vastly expanded the state's ability to surveil law-abiding citizens. There's no reason to think that federal, state, or local gun control laws promulgated now would result in anything different.

If hard cases make bad laws, it's even more true that rare crimes make terrible public policy. In a piece for Quartz, journalist Lenore Skenazy recalls that the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history took place in Michigan in 1927, when a disgruntled school-board official blew up 38 people, including himself. She writes that the real difference between now and then is the immediacy of the media, which shrinks the distance between victims and the rest of us. Even as that allows us to have more empathy for the grieving, it creates the conditions for an overreaction that will ultimately be little more than symbolic.