Monday, June 08, 2015

Dripping Integrity

Living in a world of social media, where passion is considered on a par with information and where surrounding oneself with a coterie of sycophants passes for critical thinking and cherry picking sources is as close as most people get to being "well informed" I want to give Greg Ellifritz some kind of medal.

Some background. It's well known in the Gun Rights movement that almost all recent active shooter events have occurred in places where citizens weren't supposed to carry guns. John Lott (economist, researcher) says, "With a single exception, every multiple-victim public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms."   

It's true, and it makes sense. Posting "No Weapons Allowed" signs obviously only works for people who obey signs. Murderers are generally not worried about "Keep off the Grass" signs. The idea that rules control behavior is not just naivety. It is superstition.

Anyway, Greg has a special interest in active shooters. When the shooter's diaries were released, Greg ran with it. And, though the shooting once again happened in a place where a sign told citizens they were not allowed to pack heat, Greg writes, "Although the killer did take security into account (by choosing the movie theater over the airport) there was no evidence (as some experts have postulated) that the killer chose this specific movie theater because it was the only one in the area that banned the lawful concealed carry of firearms.  In fact, there is no evidence in his diary that he even considered the possibility of being shot by a lawfully armed citizen or an off-duty police officer watching the movie.

Though the message won’t be well-accepted by this audience, gun control did not appear to be a factor in the target selection for this massacre.  The presence or absence of armed citizens wasn’t considered in this specific killing."   

Okay, get this. We have an event that fits the narrative ("Spree killers choose places where civilians are unarmed.") Something that anyone with an opinion and any less integrity would have used...and instead Greg admonishes on our ethics: 
"It’s important not to let our personal feelings or hunches replace the facts in cases like these.  In the ever-present debate against the anti-gunners, we have the facts on our side.  We must stick to the truth and the facts we know so that we retain credibility in the debate."     

If I could change one thing in our national debates, it would be to set this as the standard. Truth over emotion, what you want to believe limited by what the evidence shows. There is no reason to lie when the facts are on your side.

This is my wish for the politics in America. My fear, of course, is that emotion will silence reason and  those that feel will exterminate those that think. For the common good, of course.

Thanks, Greg. 


  1. Thanks Rory! I read your website religiously and look forward to training with you some day!

  2. Shows biases at work. We see a behavior and we attribute it to how our biases see things. You can put a spin on it either way. One of the hardest things for people to do is put their biases to the side and look at things from what the data tells says about the situation.

  3. I expect we anchor into our biases because our experience of personal authority gets wrapped up in being "right". Right and wrong is binary and humans are anything but. Funny though, humans like binary thinking because then we don't actually have to do the work-the research- for ourselves. Good to know there are people like Greg willing to stick their necks out and interfere with the shallow-research thinking that directs so much of our current social constructs.

  4. This is an important post about the importance of the TRUTH over bias/tribalism/etc.

    But, Rory brings up another interesting point "The idea that rules control behavior is not just naivety. It is superstition."

    Rules require enforcement to control behavior. Without enforcement, rules are merely suggestions. But the basis of civilization revolves around the idea that rules do control behavior. Rules only control behavior when people respect the rules. But, when they don't enforcement is required.

    It is naive to expect that all people respect the rules. But it is not unreasonable to except that most people follow the rules. The problem arrises from those who don't.

    Getting those people to follow the rules requires enforcement.

    The question of how the "No guns allowed" rule should be enforced is a separate issue.
    So is the question of whether or not the "No guns allowed rule" is effective.

  5. Perhaps not the best example but one of my DH's life mottos is:" After the second "forbidden or do not enter" sign it will be really interesting.
    And I have to confess he's right.

  6. Most people are not able to deal with that level of "In reality, it is complex". They want everything to be in one box or the other. I agree that this type of behavior that you are lauded is awesome, and should be the norm for debate of serious issues. It is not what is encouraged with partisan politics, unfortunately, where energizing the base is a more important consideration than working through the nuances of each subject. That always becomes even more and more the case as we head back into presidential election season.

  7. I am in absolute agreement that integrity is vital in gathering data when it is used to prove/disprove theories. The temptation to skew the data to fit one's preconceptions or agenda, though probably difficult to avoid, needs to be banished from any experiments. That's science, and how science moves forward.

    I would however balk at this word 'truth'. All truth has limits, mostly of scale, but also when the parameters are many and variable, and thus it is hard to accommodate every one of them. Examples of this would be predicting the weather, or any other complex system.

    But even in simpler things like the question is the Earth flat? Obviously we know that it is not, because of history, other peoples' experiences and travels, and the pictures we see from space. But ask someone who lives in a valley surrounded by high mountains who has never left, and it is absolutely true to them that the Earth sits on a plane ... or is perhaps shaped like a doughnut .. or a giant fish. Their truth IS 'true' and they can live their whole life quite happily and successfully, without knowing more.

    You may say it's superstitions, it's belief, not 'truth', which is true, but still, because there is now a human observer, you have complicated this idea of 'truth', and have indeed turned it into belief and experience.

    If you have not read about the Piraha, check this out:

    This is possibly why we all defend our ideas and feelings about stuff so vehemently - because of the limitations of our experience. This also sets up the frustration of explaining things, or trying to change someone else's mind about something. They really may not be able to comprehend what you are saying, and wonder why you are so 'difficult'.

    Perhaps it then follows that whether or not the argument for something is rational, will have very little effect on voting for, or believing in things that are 'good' or 'true' ideas.

    Perhaps we also need to accept this 'flaw' in the human make up and work from there.

    A couple other thought:

    Do you think older people tend to be more rational? (thinking of the universal idea of a council of elders as being trustworthy with important decision making).

    Also, do you think that rational decisions have less unintended consequences than those made by 'feeling' or 'emotion'? (Sometimes true randomness is better for long term success than thoughtful decision making - Remember the article about the method of choosing where to clear cut the jungle using birds)

    Lastly - This is not a new phenomenon. We've been making decisions through a combination of the rational and irrational since we began making decisions! We just know more about the insides of others' heads now, so it's more obvious.

    Everything changes all the time from intended and unintended consequences. Everything rises and falls, even the best, and the worst ideas. And honestly I think it's far better to have a bunch of people disagree with each other in a messy and irrational way, that have everyone march in lockstep behind one 'truth', whether that 'truth' is rational or irrational.

    Chaos, complexity, and diversity, are our friends.

  8. Thought: Three

    Where are you most likely going to be able to break that threshold?

    The incident in Texas at the draw Mohamed contest that is not getting counted as a mass shooting not because the perpetrators did not a temp one but because they were stopped.

    There is this belief in law enforcement and security that deterrence stops crime from happening. At most if the perpetrator is aware a the deterrence measure all that happens is you changed or effected where the crime takes place, Well accept for crimes of opportunity where the only reason the crime happened was the opportunity presented itself. If someone randomly choose the location of the crime then it is up to chance if their is someone in a position to stop them or not. If a drug addict needs a resource or go into withdrawal then a crime is going to happen it's just a matter of where and if they will be successful.

  9. I would just like to respond to Maijia's comment as it was very thought provoking:

    I don't think there is any point in having integrity of data if people are just going to believe what they want to believe and do what they always intended to do and just gather the data for a face saving exercise which in essence is what you are arguing for irrationality having as much weight as rationality.

    In the video about the Piraha, there was an advert there for wateraid which seeks to provide clean water for people in undeveloped countries. The people there seem to be definitely seeking a structured solution to the problem of chaotic clean water situations which seems unacceptable to a great many people.

    People will, I think, accept some chaos but in structured layouts ie there is always a risk for cricket fans in being hit by the ball but it seems to be an acceptable to them, same as with driving a car and the potential for a crash. If there was no structure such as roads and other useful means of transportation far less would get done in terms of productivity. I would not write this message in the vain hope if I wasn't quite certain that it would appear.

    Even in the land of the flat earth believers: I pretty sure that they would form groups or some sort of hierarchy to achieve their goals. Evidence of this is in this video of XXX (the dare devil movie not the other kind!): At 1.10 they start to talk about the anarchy they wish to achieve but then Vin Diesel (triple X) says there will always be rules and government of some kind at about the 2 min mark :-):

  10. I tend to agree with the conclusions of this post.

  11. I wish my fellow pitbull owners would exercise this same intellectual integrity in arguments against those who hate our dogs.