Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Simulating the effectiveness of guns

As far back as I can remember, any time there is a mass shooting, there are always these two generic responses, among many others: "gun control/ban would have prevented it" and "more guns would have prevented it."  The general logic of each is that one tries to stop the shooter from ever becoming a shooter and the other tries to stop the shooter once he's started.  Of course no law has the total intended effect, so the first idea would in practice act as a reducer, not eliminator.  And the second, well that's what this post is about.

Why not run some simulations of the effect of particular staff having weapons available?

Make someone the shooter.  Make a bunch of people students or whoever is the victim in the particular incident.  Make a few people the armed but otherwise normal members.  The shooter tries to maximize body count or reach some goal and escape, whatever was the goal at a particular incident.  The victims try to survive.  The armed members try to keep victims alive.

On the most basic level, it would be just a custom first-person shooter level.  If we want to make it more advanced, go all the way up to actual training exercises used by military and police, though obviously the first is a lot cheaper.

Run multiple trials.  That's key: get a sample of more than one, so we can see not just how a particular incident turns out, but how they turn out in general.  Find the trend.  See what the average is, just as we'd do in a scientific experiment.  That's the goal, to see whether adding guns helps, harms, or has no overall effect, in a manner similar to a drug trial.

 I would not make this open to the general public.  Making it a training ground for shooters would defeat the purpose.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The streetlight and the keys

There is a short story intended to be humorous and enlighten us about the human mind.  As copied from Wikipedia (since other people tell it better than me),
A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is."

This is supposed to be about the stupidity of looking in the obviously wrong place just because we can find something.  But is that the actual situation?

Let's step back and actually analyze the situation.  We may be biased against him from the start because he is described as drunk.  We label him and see his actions through that lens.  Let us instead imagine that a complete sober Einstein is doing the crawling.

Is it still stupid?  Maybe.  What are the alternate courses of action?

He could not look, but that will be of no help.  He could try in the park, where he apparently cannot see.  So now he is under the streetlight.

What are his chances of finding his keys?  You may say no chance at all, but why?  We don't know that he actually lost them in the park.  Maybe he misspoke and meant that he noticed in the park.  Or simply that he only noticed when he was in the park and is back-tracking, searching where he at least has some chance to find them.  Maybe he kicked them as he went along and now they are near the light, even if they did not start there.

So far what we have is a choice between a few bad options: not searching, searching where we cannot see, and searching where we can see but they have a low probability to be.

The smart thing to do is to break out of these three scenarios.  Find a flashlight.  Get better tools so you can broaden your search.

Alas, that is rarely the lesson people take away.  They are content to look at the surface and declare the search to be stupid, failing to recognize that of the available options, it is hardly the worst and is not guaranteed to fail.  They criticize the attempt without offering the alternatives.