If you spend time reading discussions on social media about gun ownership, you’ll encounter many diverse opinions and styles of debate. These differences can be grouped into a dozen personalities. The personality types aren’t all equally common or equally active in the gun ownership debate. The twelve types don’t include every character that might be encountered in the debate. Even these twelve appear in some places, both on social media and in real life, but not in others.
An individual may manifest a single personality, combine parts of several personalities, or assume different personalities in different discussions. You’ll recognize them when you see them. Personalities won’t cross from pro-gun-rights to pro-gun-control positions, so it doesn’t normally help to yell louder and use stronger language. There are, however, some ways to connect with personalities on the other side of the debate.
Bystanders are people who aren’t actively engaged in the gun debate. They have more pressing concerns in their lives, maybe it’s school or work, family issues, or just hobbies and other pursuits. Guns don’t concern them, at least until they decide to buy a gun or are a victim of gun violence. When they do talk about guns, what they say is even-toned and based on the opinions of people they know. They are harmless, but they are like a sleeping giant because they make up such a large proportion of Americans. When they awake and join the debate, on one side or the other, they will sway the course of gun ownership.
The best way to talk with a bystander is to first listen to their thoughts about guns. Find out what they believe about the gun ownership debate, what they don’t know, and what their concerns are. Correct gross misperceptions but stay casual. They don’t need to know what an assault rifle is or isn’t. They don’t need to be admonished to wake up and get involved. They’ll get there in their own time.
Traditionalists grew up with guns in their homes or communities. They may have received one as a gift when they were young or inherited one from a relative later in life. Their biggest fear is the loss of these traditions. Their opinions are those of the people they know. They believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own a gun but believe some gun control measures are appropriate to safeguard society. When they talk about guns, what they say is only slightly heated. Their agitation comes from their frustration with society. That frustration goes beyond gun ownership and includes society’s lack of morals and religion, the economy, social programs, younger generations, and of course, the antics of politicians in Washington. They are harmless. They just want to lead their own lives as they see fit.
The best way to talk with a traditionalist is to first listen to their history. How did guns enter their lives? Are guns their biggest concern or are there other issues that are more important? Are they more concerned about guns or are they more concerned about the possible loss of their way of life? As with bystanders, correct gross misperceptions but stay casual. Traditionalists don’t like change but they’ll accept it when they are ready.
Practitioners are the most dedicated of gun users. They are hunters and sportsmen, marksmen who participate in tournaments, and professionals working in the fields of security, law enforcement, and the military. They are very well-trained and are strict adherents to gun-safety practices. Their fear is that the guns that are such a central focus in their lives will be restricted, and even taken away. They believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own a gun but believe that some gun-control measures are appropriate to safeguard society. They aren’t usually very active in debates. When they do talk about guns, what they say is only slightly heated because of their frustration with society’s gun-control leanings. Their opinions are based on their own first-hand knowledge and experiences. They are mostly harmless, even beneficial to the debate. They just want to lead their own lives as they know how. They are important because they are the people that most Americans think of as legitimate gun users.
The best way to talk with a practitioner is to first listen to their experiences. Find out what brought them to the opinions they hold. Ask them what gun violence they’ve experienced. Ask how they think gun violence might be addressed. Learn from their experience.
Collectors are people who revel in the technology, and sometimes the history, of firearms. They are often accused of building arsenals for nefarious purposes when their true motivation is actually no different from car enthusiasts, gamers, steampunkers, and others who are fascinated by technology. They have the collection-gene in their DNA, only instead of stamps or stuffed animals or antiques, they collect guns. Collectors put considerable effort into planning, expanding, and maintaining their collections. It’s common to see collectors post images of their collections or their latest acquisitions to gun-related social media. One kind of collector may even build their own firearms, ghost guns, using designs and parts obtained online. Collectors believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own as many of whatever kind of weaponry they want. Their underlying fear is that their collections will be regulated, like homemade cars and airplanes have been. Collectors tend to have extensive knowledge of firearm technology but a less in-depth understanding of policy issues colored by gun-rights advocates. Their rhetoric can be harsh, often charactering gun-control advocates as grabbers. As a class, they are probably mostly harmless although their rhetoric is often worrisome.
The best way to talk with a collector is the same way you might talk to any collector of coins or comic books. Share their enthusiasm. Learn about why they have what they have and what they want and why they want it. Don’t bother asking about their ideas on gun control. It’s not their forte.
Vulcans only want to hear about data and research. They are quick to criticize biased data and analyses from both sides of the gun debate. Opinions are worthless to them. They eschew hearsay and won’t engage in directionless discussions. Their rhetoric is mostly civil unless provoked. They are often heard to say “can you cite your sources?” Vulcans are almost exclusively advocates of gun control and subscribers to the collective-rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are harmless but very important to the gun debate because they expose the inadequacy of currently-available data.
The best way to talk with a Vulcan is to have a well-considered argument using convincing analyses from legitimate sources. They want to engage in information-sharing but it has to involve unbiased, and most preferably, new revelations. That’s a high bar to cross because new research is just beginning to appear from the government after the Dickey Amendment was clarified in 2018 and because gun-rights advocates usually don’t argue analytically.
A great many gun owners buy their first gun because they fear for their personal safety. It’s almost always a handgun, which is notable because most gun-related deaths are attributable to handguns. The media has convinced the fearful that guns are the most expedient way to protect themselves against violent crime. They believe they have the right to own a gun because of the individual interpretation of the Second Amendment yet they often favor some gun-control measures, like background checks. After all, they believe they are not the ones causing the Nation’s epidemic of gun violence; that blame belongs to criminals. Too often, the fearful are underprepared for responsible gun ownership, lacking sufficient training in gun safety and marksmanship, and the facilities to protect their weapon from unauthorized use. The fearful are probably the least aware of the intricacies of all the personalities of gun owners. They don’t often engage in debates about gun ownership. They form their opinions from the people they meet at gun stores and from like-minded handgun owners. As a class, the fearful are worrisome because there are so many of them.
The best way to talk with the fearful is to acknowledge the legitimacy of their fear. Discuss how they are prepared to react to threats. Ask if they’ve had training and if they practice their marksmanship. Ask if they carry and store their firearms safely. Don’t get into how rare it is for guns to be used successfully for personal defense. That will only exacerbate their fears.
Everybody wants to be a hero. Herowannabes are gun owners who want to be the acclaimed good guy with a gun that saves the day in a crisis. They want to play the hero-role they grew up watching on TV, in the movies, and in popular culture. They’ll always be able to cite instances of heroic actions taken by private gun owners in response to an active shooter, despite the rarity of these situations. Their defining moment was the 1966 mass-shooting by Charles Whitman, who shot over 40 passersby from the University of Texas observation tower in Austin. Private gun owners who were in the area returned fire and created a legend that was memorialized in song. The underlying fear of herowannabes is that they will be ignored and insignificance, the same fear of some mass shooters. They believe they have the individual right to own a gun under the Second Amendment, and further, are strong advocates of Constitutional (permitless) Carry, particularly open carry. They can be knowledgeable about gun technology and usually practice their marksmanship. They are unshakable in their opinions and their rhetoric in discussions with gun-control advocates can be harsh. They are worrisome because of their provocative nature and unpredictability.
The best way to talk with a herowannabe is carefully. They won’t be dissuaded from their belief that a good guy with a gun is the best response to a bad guy with a gun. Furthermore, they are committed to the fantasy that they are the ones who could save the day in a crisis. No amount of data or research will convince them that their daydream is highly improbable.
Crusaders are gun-control proponents who want to end gun violence by ending gun ownership. Their underlying fear is that gun violence will continue to escalate as long as guns are available in society. They believe that the Second Amendment was written to protect State militias from interference by the Federal government. Furthermore, because State militias as originally defined no longer exist in the same way for the same purpose, they believe that the Second Amendment is no longer relevant and should be repealed. Their main topic of discussion is the Second Amendment and related Court cases as opposed to gun technology or the effectiveness of gun control measures. Their discussion style combines fact with opinion, and is usually expressed in strong terms involving harsh, provocative rhetoric. For that reason, they can be considered worrisome.
The best way to talk with a crusader is to let them take the lead. Find out what their beliefs are. Because so much of the creation and evolution of the Second Amendment happened long ago, it’s always possible to find elements of disagreement that can be explored for mutual enlightenment. You won’t change a crusader’s fundamental beliefs but you may give them new perspectives to consider.
Bullies fear insignificance and being ignored so they yell as loud as they can at anyone that they can. Individuals may become bullies from a dysfunctional home life and ineffective education which lead to low self-esteem, defensiveness, and anger. They may have experienced stressful or traumatic situations or difficult interpersonal relationships. They may have been bullied by others. Bullies don’t often change because the causes for their behavior are so deep-rooted.
Pro-gun bullies aim to antagonize gun-control advocates in any way they can. They don’t want to debate or discuss except as a means to belittle their adversaries. They don’t deal in facts. The gun-ownership topic doesn’t matter—Second Amendment, violence statistics, gun technology, legislation, Court cases, or politics—all are used as vehicles to attack both individuals and groups. Pro-gun bullies usually rely on overt name-calling rather than more subtle techniques. They call gun-control advocates lefties, anti-gunners, grabbers, derps, idiots, Fudds, and the pro-gun equivalent of the n-word, libtards. They are important because they often set the tone of a discussion. An otherwise civil discussion can be irrevocably disrupted by the intrusion of a bully. They are worrisome for that reason.
The best way to deal with a pro-gun bully is to ignore them, their greatest fear. End the discussion. Walk away. On social media, report and block the user.
Just as there are pro-gun bullies, there are no-gun bullies. Their motivations are similar. No-gun bullies exist to belittle and antagonize gun-rights advocates in any way they can. They don’t care to discuss gun-ownership issues except as a means to provoke their adversaries. They have enough facts and sources to lead adversaries into further discussions. They do engage in name-calling, using terms like gun-nut, gun-bunny, brain-damaged, and testosterone-freaks. More commonly, though, they use subtle techniques of innuendo and sarcasm to impugn their opponents. They question education, logic, and information sources. They question gun-owners’ morality, honesty, and concern for innocent lives. They question manhood, drug dependence, and mental health. Like pro-gun bullies, no-gun bullies are important because they can set the tone of a discussion and are worrisome for this reason.
The best way to deal with a no-gun bully is to ignore them. End the discussion and don’t engage with them again.
Freedom fighters truly believe that the reason the Founding Fathers created the Second Amendment was to enable citizens to rebel against their government if it became tyrannical. They believe that when a government’s abuses and usurpations reduce the population to absolute despotism, it is their right and their duty to throw off such governments. It is their declaration. They ignore the fact that these same Founding Fathers were quick to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion and other insurrections even while they were writing the Second Amendment. Moreover, freedom fighters believe they can amass the resources—supporters and weaponry—to take on the government. This makes them extremely dangerous, as was proven on January 6, 2021. Freedom fighters are very active in debates over gun ownership. Their rhetoric is the most extreme of any personality in the gun debate, even more so than bullies.
There is no best way to talk with a freedom fighter. Nothing could be accomplished from such discussions.
Perpetrators are the gun owners who are the sources of the gun violence in America. They are by definition, criminals. Some are convicted felons and some not. Some are mentally ill. Their underlying fear is not being in control of their lives, the same root fear we all share. They don’t know much about gun technology. They don’t care about the Second Amendment and gun-control policies. They don’t engage in discussions about guns. What they do with the weapons they obtain is their speech. They are the cause of the danger of gun violence.
Talking to perpetrators is best left to law enforcement and healthcare professionals.
Images obtained from Generated Photos.
We fret over the uncommon and ignore the ordinary.
Most of us expect to die peacefully of old age. It doesn’t always happen that way, though. We die in many ways. In fact, the CDC keeps records on over 6,000 causes of death. Of those, just 20 causes—including heart diseases, strokes, cancers, COPD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes—account for 1.4 million deaths per year in the U.S., about half of all deaths.
Some causes of death are exceedingly rare. Between 1999 and 2019, 720 causes of death occurred only once (once in 20 years), 374 occurred twice (once in 10 years), and 179 occurred four times (once in 5 years).
People don’t think much about the most common causes of death. Acute and chronic diseases account for over 90% of all deaths but they aren’t newsworthy. Newsworthy causes of death, like mass shootings and terrorist attacks, captivate the media and horrify the Nation. They are sudden, unexpected, uncommon, and emotionally gripping. Terrorism accounts for over 30% of the news coverage concerning deaths yet is responsible for less than 1% of actual deaths. All the celebrity deaths, wars, overdose deaths, and gun murders in a year don’t equal one month of heart attack deaths.
Causes of human deaths can be categorized into five groups based on the producer and the receiver of death:
- Earth-to-Human Causes: volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, sinkholes, liquefaction, geysers, toxic minerals, famines, droughts, floods, weather, wildfires, and environmental contaminants.
- Nonhuman-to-Human Causes: acute and chronic diseases, and epidemics.
- Human-Creation-to-Human Causes: assaults, airplane crashes, building and bridge collapses, home accidents, industrial accidents, ship wrecks, train wrecks, and vehicle accidents.
- Human-to-Human Causes: assaults, drug overdoses, medical malpractice, war, and terrorism.
- Human-to-Self Causes: drug overdoses, accidents, and suicides.
Earth-to-Human deaths occur when someone succumbs because of a geologic hazard. These events are usually covered in the news, especially if deaths are involved. They are not preventable but some may be predictable.
Nonhuman-to-Human deaths occur when forms of life other than our own—wild animals, toxic microorganisms, extraterrestrials—cause the death of a human. These events are not usually covered in the news, even if deaths are involved. Some may be preventable but are usually not predictable.
Human-Creation-to-Human deaths occur when machines and structures that humans either fail or operate in a way that causes a human death. Some of these events, like airplane crashes, collapses, and wrecks, are often covered in the news, even if deaths are involved. Home and vehicle accidents are rarely covered even if there are fatalities. These events are neither preventable nor predictable, but there are a substantial number of government regulations aimed at minimizing their occurrence and impact.
Human-to-Human deaths occur when one or more humans take the lives of other humans. Only some of these events are covered in the news. Assaults involving sensitive individuals like the young, the elderly, and the handicapped are often covered. Terrorism is always covered. War and medical malpractice are usually covered up. Most of these events are usually neither predictable nor preventable.
Human-to-Self deaths occur when individuals, either intentionally or unintentionally, cause their own deaths. These deaths are needless, highly regrettable, and almost impossible to prevent. They rarely make the news. Society does not devote enough resources to combating human-to-self deaths.
The primary causes of death are also different for people having different genetic profiles, ages, sexes, races, global locations, local environments, general health conditions, sequela effects, and many other influencers.
So, what causes of death should capture our attention and our societal funding. Here are twenty-two notable causes of death, characterized by radar plots. The spokes of the radar plots show six attributes:
The color of the radar icons refers to five categories of causes. Accidents are depicted in gray. Health-related causes are depicted in blue. Infrastructure-related causes are depicted in yellow. Natural causes are depicted in green. Weapon-related causes are depicted in red.
Floods and volcanoes affect many people over a large area, usually with some warning and relatively-short durations of days. However, they often recur over weeks and months because the conditions that caused them persist. Flood deaths are mostly attributable to drowning though there are also deaths from injuries. Volcano-related deaths are usually caused by heat, asphyxiation, and injury from falling ash and other debris. Both floods and volcanoes cause additional deaths by inducing mudflows, landslides, avalanches, and other mass earth movements.
Droughts affect many people over a large area, usually with ample warning. Droughts can be relatively mild, even barely noticeable, to very severe involving crop failures. They often last for years. They can spawn secondary effects, like wildfires and famines. These events often recur in some areas because of the interaction of topography and atmospheric circulation.
Earthquakes, landslides, and sinkholes, like most geologic hazards, affect many people over a large area. There is usually little warning beforehand. They also often recur over weeks and months because the conditions that caused them persist. Deaths most often result from injuries caused by structure collapses, falling debris, unanticipated subsidence, and fires.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, microbursts, lightning, heat waves, cold snaps and other weather phenomena are common and affect many people over a large area. There is usually at least some warning beforehand because of the effectiveness of meteorological monitoring and modeling. Their impacts, however, are not always foreseeable. A rainstorm with uncharacteristically high winds can cause major damage. Most weather-related deaths are caused by temperature extremes, injuries from windblown debris, and drowning in floods.
Famines and wildfires usually affect many people over a large area, often with some warning. These events usually last for weeks if not longer and recovery requires considerable effort to mitigate. They are often caused by droughts and may recur and expand if the conditions that caused them are not alleviated.
Deaths from large ship wrecks are rare, and as a consequence, are especially newsworthy. Most wrecks are small private or commercial boats and do not involve fatalities. These happen every day and there are enough of them to keep the Coast Guard quite busy. The big cruise lines don’t often get into so much trouble that they can’t be rescued, though it does happen with great loss of life. Most large ship wrecks occur outside of U.S. waters.
Airplane crashes happen every day all over the world. Most involve small planes and don’t raise national attention unless some noteworthy individual is killed. But, no crash of a big commercial airliner escapes the news. They combine many of the fears people have about death—unexpectedness yet enough time to panic, no possibility of rescue, low possibility of survival, and death by falling and impact, explosion, or fire and suffocation. Air travel is common, so it is a risk most people face at one time or another.
Accidents happen to individuals everywhere, usually with little warning. They are over quickly and usually don’t lead to additional deaths although they may recur if the condition that caused the accident is not remedied. Vehicle accidents are almost too numerous to count though most are nonfatal. Likewise with home accidents. Industrial accidents, in which an individual worker is killed, occur in workplaces where hazardous machinery or substances are used. In contrast, industrial disasters involve the deaths of many workers and even people in neighboring communities. The Bhopal disaster caused the deaths of at least 3,700 and affected half a million local residents.
Drug overdoses happen to individuals every day and everywhere, usually with little warning. They are over quickly and usually don’t lead to additional deaths unless a particular batch of drugs is contaminated or dangerously formulated. Most overdoses are not fatal but can lead to more serious health challenges and sequela effects.
Epidemics affect many people over a large area, often with some warning. They are often not reported in the news outside of the affected area. In contrast, pandemics affect people around the world. Epidemics usually last for months and sometimes years. The AIDS epidemic, for instance, has continued for decades.
Chronic diseases kill more people than any other cause of death. Heart diseases, strokes, and cancers are the most deadly chronic diseases. Like epidemics, they affect individuals every day and everywhere. By definition they last for a prolonged period, often years. They are not reported in the news except as summary statistics.
Acute diseases and medical malpractice happen to individuals almost anywhere with little warning. They are over quickly and usually don’t lead to additional deaths if the condition that caused the event is remedied. Medical malpractice is not always exposed and is difficult to prove. Some researchers estimate that there are over half a million instances a year.
Suicides are a tragic cause of death everywhere in the world. Often there is some warning in the behavior of the victim but it is difficult to recognize and address successfully, even by experts. Most suicides involve firearms because of their availability and absolute effectiveness.
All methods of suicide except poisoning have uncreased with the increase in the U.S. population.
Assaults occur everywhere to anyone. They are usually sudden and unexpected. Most are non-fatal. Firearms are the predominant agent used in personal assaults. Most causes of death attributable to assaults have not increased as fast as the growth in the U.S. population with two exceptions—firearms and drugs. All the laws, policing, and imprisonment have not slowed these causes of assault deaths.
Everyone the world over fears terrorism even though it is a relatively rare cause of death. It can occur anywhere to anyone. A terrorist attack may take a single life or thousands. Terrorism always makes the news except when it is prevented. That’s the goal of terrorism, creating fear.
Rail accidents have occurred since the 1700s, all over the world, from a variety of causes. The U.S. averages about one major rail accident involving deaths per year. They typically occur without warning and can affect travel and commercial transportation for months. While uncommon, train wrecks can be catastrophic given the hazardous cargos that are often carried by rail.
Structural collapses have occurred since ancient times. Building collapses are relatively common but still often make the news especially when deaths are involved. Bridge collapses are rare but highly newsworthy even if deaths are not involved because of their impact on transportation. Bridge replacement can take years between planning, funding, and construction. Inspection programs limit fatalities from bridge collapses related to normal wear-and-tear, but sudden collapses from design flaws or unexpected events still occur.
Causes of death not only display different profiles of characteristics but also different relative numbers of instances and deaths.
The following graph contains ten pieces of information for twenty-two causes of death. The graph contains radar icons that show information on each cause of death. The positions of the icons represent the relative frequency and lethality of deaths from each cause. The horizontal axis shows the number of fatalities of a cause in a year. The vertical axis shows the relative number of instances from a cause in a year.
Deaths from a cause may change greatly from instance to instance and year to year. For example, the data provide information from before 2020, so the effects of Covid-19 are not represented. Still, the graph shows relationships between causes of death that are not often considered.
Data for nine of the causes reflect world events—airplane crashes, bridge collapses, shipwrecks, terrorism, epidemics (before Covid-19), droughts, famines, earthquakes, and volcanos. While catastrophic, they are infrequent in the U.S.. These icons are associated with small green circles. Data for the remaining thirteen causes reflect typical annual occurrences in the U.S.. These icons are associated with red, white, and blue squares.
Think of the locations of the causes on the graph as representing their commonness (horizontal axis) and their lethality (vertical axis). Deaths from diseases, injuries, and suicides are most common but usually only involve one person, though the sum of those single deaths is huge. These causes can be treated to postpone death but, in most instances, there is no cure. In contrast, famines have the potential to be horribly lethal because they involve everybody within an affected area, which is often regional. Famines can be avoided, however, if suitable action is taken. Epidemics are the worst combination of lethality and prevalence. They occur frequently, from all types of biological agents, all over the world. They can spread widely and rapidly, even becoming pandemics (like Covid-19), and are often difficult to treat.
In this graph, the horizontal axis characterizes the nature of the cause. Causes on the left side of the graph tend to be unexpected, sudden events that are over quickly, like accidents and overdoses. Causes on the right side of the graph tend to evolve and linger for some time, like epidemics and famines.
The vertical axis characterizes the exposure of potential victims. Causes on the bottom of the graph tend to affect a limited number of victims over a small area, like suicides and assaults. Causes on the top of the graph tend to affect many victims over a large area, like earthquakes and droughts.
In this depiction, causes in the lower left quadrant of the graph—diseases, accidents, suicides, overdoses, and assaults—are difficult to predict but can be minimized with preventative measures. Causes in the upper right quadrant of the graph—hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, wildfires, famines, earthquakes, and epidemics—can be forecast to some extent and, while not preventable, can be responded to so to minimize fatalities.
We spend a considerable amount of money and resources on trying to control causes of death. We regulate transportation (planes, trains, and automobiles), drugs, consumer products, and workplace safety. We license professionals in critical positions, like doctors, lawyers, engineers, and hairdressers. We try to prevent crime and terrorism, floods, and wildfires. We monitor Earth hazards (volcanoes, earthquakes, avalanches), weather, the climate, and the safety of our infrastructure. And, we respond to physical and mental health challenges, and food insecurity.
So what causes of death should capture our attention and our societal resources?
- The most preventable? Those would be wildfires, medical malpractice, and power outages.
- The most widespread? Those would be: earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, heat waves, climate change, and famines.
- The most unexpected? Those would be: airplane crashes, shipwrecks, train wrecks, bridge collapses, industrial catastrophes, earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, and volcanos.
- The most vulnerable victims? Those would be: drug overdoses and suicides, assaults, mass murders, people killed by police, terrorism, and war.
We worry greatly about social causes of death—accidents, assaults, suicides, and war—but nature is by far the greater agent of human deaths by disease and Earth processes.
And what should we do address the many causes of human death?
- Conduct more research into medical topics including acute, and especially, chronic diseases and epidemics.
- Improve the quality and availability of healthcare, including more support for potential suicides and better control of medical malpractice.
- Improve infrastructure, including roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, waterways, mines, and industrial facilitates, that may fail and cause a calamity. The reduction in the number of deaths would be small but these deaths tend to be horrific.
- Conduct more research into meteorological phenomenon including heat waves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes/tornadoes, floods, and famines.
- Conduct more research into geological hazards including earthquakes, volcanos, landslides, sinkholes, mass extinctions, near-Earth phenomenon, and climate.
- Conduct more research into firearms, which until 2020 was limited by Congress.
It’s not necessary to expand authoritarian control, including more military, law enforcement and incarceration. This strategy has consumed a large percentage of our resources and the benefits are diminishing. More and stronger regulations, especially for consumer products and services, might be worthwhile. But, some approaches, such as those involving drug use and gun ownership, are only marginally effective and divide Americans over what should be done. In these cases, it might be better to focus on correcting the fundamental reasons behind the causes.
In addition to the source links provided in the article, data for this analysis came from over two dozen sources representing government and private organizations, each with their specializations, definitions, and procedures. Consequently, all of the data are approximate and relative. All graphs were created by C. Kufs except as noted.
Your Health Care May Kill You: Medical Errors – PubMed (nih.gov)
The 2020 U.S. presidential election was contested like no other federal election, both before and after the votes were cast. Now, months later, the data have been compiled and verified, and we can look back at what happened. This analysis largely ignores the electoral vote even though that’s what determines presidential elections. The popular vote is more interesting in terms of what is happening with individual voters in the States.
Three Major Demographics
This analysis goes beyond the traditional comparison of Republicans versus Democrats to look at the third dominant category—Nonvoters. Nonvoters are individuals who could have voted but, for some reason, did not. They may not have voted because of systemic reasons, like eligibility-requirements, the operation of the polling locations, or intentional and unintentional voter suppression. They may not have voted because of personal reasons, like physical, logistical, schedule, or lifestyle challenges. They may be apathetic. fearful of the government, unprepared for making voting decisions, or convinced that their vote doesn’t matter.
Nonvoters can’t be counted the way voters are. The exact number of voters is known based on the ballots they cast. Nonvoters leave no trail. Their numbers have to be estimated from the population of citizens, including those outside the country, who are over the age of 18 and who are not in prison, on probation, on parole, or ineligible because of a prior felony.
Turnout is simply the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot on election day. Overall turnout in the popular vote has increased by about 10% from 1980 to 2020, as shown in the following graph. However, the change wasn’t strictly uniform. It seems that there was an upward shift after the 2000 election. Perhaps all the news about butterfly ballots and hanging chads in Florida made people aware that our electoral system was in a crisis. Certainly, 2001 brought home the message that elections have consequences.
Within the increasing long-term trend in voter turnout are changes attributable to the nature of the political contest for President. Turnout rose to 62% in 2008 for the election of Barack Obama as President. But, turnout dipped to 58% for his second election. The Trump-Clinton contest drew a 60% turnout. After four years of Donald Trump, 68% of the electorate turned out to elect Joe Biden. This pattern is reflected in the turnout statistics for nearly every State, as shown in the following graph of changes in turnout rates.
The 2020 Election
November 3, 2020 was an unremarkable day, other than it being Election Day. The weather throughout the area was mostly dry with mild temperatures in the 60s. Besides Covid-19 restrictions and activities typical before any National election, there were no major events or conditions that would have caused people not to vote. However …
The map of the U.S. at the top of this article depicts the States in which most of the voters voted for Biden (21 States and D.C. in blue) or for Trump (17 States in red). In 12 states, there were more non-votes than votes for either candidate:
- 4 States went to Biden—AZ, HI, NV, and NM
- 8 States went to Trump—AR, IN, MS, OK, SC, TN, TX, and WV
Nine of the States—AZ. AR, IN, MS, OK, SC, TN, TX, and WV—are considered to be Red States. Trump captured all of these Red States except Arizona. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the map, though, is that eight of the States lie south of the 37° N parallel, in the southern third of the country.
So why was non-voting so predominate in this area? Maybe it had something to do with Covid-19, hangovers from Halloween, or football season. Maybe it was related to voter suppression. Or maybe, voters just lost faith in their candidate and didn’t bother to vote. Who knows?
Overall, Biden got the most popular votes and there were more non-votes than votes for Trump. This may show that the electorate was energized but not necessarily by the presidential candidates. If the Democrats had fielded a better-liked candidate or if they had not alienated so many factions, they would have won by a bigger margin. They managed not to lose an election that was theirs to win, like they did in 2016. Trump showed that he was corrupt and immoral, which turned off many voters, but he still represented the conservative ideals of authoritarianism, guns, and hatred of liberals, which is all some people will vote for. Still, it isn’t clear that nonvoters affected the outcome.
And the Winner Is …
So who won? Biden. With or without the non-voters, he won both the popular vote and the electoral vote. That’s a nice change from the elections of 2000 and 2016. And Trump? He came in second in the electoral vote and THIRD in the popular vote. Yes there were more people who didn’t vote than people who voted for Trump.
Causes of Death
Causes of human deaths have been classified and recorded since the end of the 19th Century. In 1948, the effort was taken on by the newly created World Health Organization as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). In the current version of the classification, ICD-10, there are 20 major classes of causes of death, called Chapters. Within the Chapters, there are 6,121 more specific causes of death. Each primary cause of death can have up to twenty contributing causes of death (in the database, that is, life may be more complicated). We die in many ways.
In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control manages the implementation of the ICD. From 1999 to 2019 (before Covid-19), 53,422,612 individuals died in the United States, represented in the graphic. That’s about 2,671,131 per year, more than the current population of New Mexico. more than the populations of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota combined.
The most common causes of death in the U.S. from 1999 to 2019 were diseases of the circulatory system (heart disease and stroke), accounting for 33% of all deaths, and neoplasms (cancers), accounting for 23% of all deaths. Each of these categories account for more than one death per minute.
The next most common causes—COPD,Alzheimer’s, and dementia—each account for about 3% of deaths. Since Covid-19, the flu and pneumonia category will also account for about 3% of deaths. After that, septicemia and Parkinson disease account for 1% of all deaths.
For comparison, Ebola, selenium deficiency, pathological gambling, anal spasms, second-degree sunburn, nervousness, and over 700 other causes have each accounted for only one death in the U.S. in twenty years.
Gun-related deaths accounted for about 1.2% of all deaths, of which about 60% were attributable to suicide, 37% to assaults, and 2% to accidents. Less than 0.1% of gun-related deaths occurred in a mass shooting, about the same as dying in a lightning strike or a cave-in.
Four of the best known contributing causes of death in the ICD database are obesity and usage of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs. By far, alcohol is the worst, at least as represented in the database. There are so many codes, however, that some patterns of causes might be obscured. Patterns also change over time, such as with the opioid crisis.
Some causes of death are not natural. They may be the result of accidents, suicides, or homicides, or all three. For example, alcohol and drug-related causes are usually unintentional. Gun-related deaths are usually intentional.
The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.Josef Stalin, 1943
Society’s reactions to the various causes of death is thought-provoking. People are aghast when hundreds die in a sudden, unexpected natural disaster, transportation accident, illegal activity, or health crisis. But deaths attributable to familiar risks, like cancer and heart disease, rarely make the news even though they account for over a million deaths every year. We barely notice 2,000 deaths every day from heart disease but 10 deaths from a mass shooting make us gasp and demand legislative action. Why do we react so strongly to some deaths and ignore others?
The U.S. spends more than half of its three-trillion-dollar discretionary Federal budget on defense and counter-terrorism yet war and terrorism account for only 0.00006% of deaths. Is the spending wasteful or exceptionally effective? The US spends over $100 billion annually on controlling illegal drugs, yet drug-related deaths account for less than 0.1% of all deaths.
But funding isn’t a good indicator of how people feel about death. Politics is too corrupt and unreliable a filter. Neither is media attention. What makes a death newsworthy?
- Magnitude. The number of people who died, and sometimes, the number of people who might die because of an event, is a primary factor in national news coverage. Chernobyl and Bhopal are examples.
- Victims. Deaths of celebrities and high-status individuals are reported nationally most of the time. Local victims are sometimes reported, especially vulnerable victims like children, the elderly, and the handicapped.
- Manner of death. Unusual deaths garner more news interest, for example, deaths involving exotic weapons and unseen agents like radiation and poison. Deaths that are somehow shocking, such as those that are sudden and unexpected, especially if preventable, are more newsworthy.
- Relatability. Deaths in malls, churches, schools, theatres, sporting events, concerts, and public places that make the viewer wonder if it-could-have-been-them are newsworthy.
The media believes that these are the deaths you should know about … but there are more, many more. And that’s just one of the many mysteries of death
Nature—from its mightiest planetary forces to the tiniest of its microbial inhabitants—does more to control our lives and deaths than anything humans do to each other or to ourselves.
Here are data on gun-related deaths from the CDC. Download the Excel file for more details on the entries.
Even as SATIRE, this concept will get nasty comments from both sides of the debate.
I’m not averse to gun ownership. I have never owned a gun that wasn’t a toy and never will until phasers become available. This is fortunate because if I did own a gun, I would shoot everybody. That Nun walking her dog across the street puts me in fear for my life. I went to Catholic school so this is legitimate. If guns had a STUN setting, the gun-rights versus gun-control debate would be easier.
I believe that people have the option to own guns. They have since the 1600s, a century before James Madison was even born. But it’s not a right. We also have the option to wear those wide-brimmed hats with buckles on them, but that’s not a right ether. Rights are concepts that bring you to who you are as a person. A hunk of metal is NOT a right. Neither is gun ownership a need. A need is something you have to have to survive and flourish, like air and food. Guns are a want, to fulfill a desire for comfort and power.
While the buckle-hats made a killer fashion statement for the Puritans, they were never used to kill people. Guns are. That’s why guns were invented, to kill animals and people. It’s also why we’ve had gun-control laws since the 1600s.
If you study the long history of firearms in the U.S., even before it was the U.S., it is clear that the Second Amendment was meant to ensure that the new Federal government wouldn’t impede the States from managing their militias. It had nothing to do with individuals. Gun ownership by individuals was assumed, as it had been for a century. The only caveat was that you had to abide by applicable gun laws, of which there were many.
Neither James Madison nor any of the other Founding Fathers discussed gun ownership by individuals in any of their conversations about the Constitution and the new Nation. For that matter, neither does God mention gun ownership in the Bible. To gun-rights advocates, though, the Constitution consists of fourteen words — the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Everything before that is, as Justice Scalia contended, prefatory. Everything after that is … well, who cares if it’s not about guns.
Today, the Second Amendment is irrelevant. Like the Third Amendment, it has been pointless since the Federal government committed to maintaining a large, permanent military to defend the Nation. But it has persisted as a Constitutional issue for one reason — gun-control advocates want to abolish gun ownership and gun-rights advocates have no counterargument except their absurd misinterpretation of the obsolete Second Amendment. But there’s an alternative strategy gun owners could take — declare gun ownership a religion.
The concept is simple. The First Amendment prohibits the government from making any law prohibiting the free-exercise of a religion. It is a more strictly held right than any other in the Constitution. If gun ownership were a religion, no laws could be passed, Federal or State, that would control it (without passing a free-exercise challenge from the Supreme Court).
Could this be feasible? It can with the NRA’s help. It would be older than several established religions, including the Churches of Scientology, Eckankar, All Worlds, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It would be almost as old as the Churches of Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists. Consider the fourteen characteristics the IRS uses to recognize an organization as a church.
The NRA would provide the foundation of the religion:
- Distinct legal existence
- Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
- Distinct religious history
- Literature of its own
They could derive from their history
- Recognized creed and form of worship
- Formal code of doctrine and discipline
They would have to define the qualifications and responsibilities of ministers and establish programs to train and organize them. They would need:
- Organization of ordained ministers
- Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
- Schools for the preparation of its members
- Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
This shouldn’t be a major obstacle. The NRA has been training its followers about firearms for over a century. Finally, the new religion would need:
- A membership that is not part of any other church
- Established places of worship
- Regular congregations
- Regular religious services
Think of all the people who already claim to worship guns. Think of all the gun shops and firing ranges across the country that could serve as churches. As churches, they would be tax-exempt. They already have congregations (customers) and regular services (operating hours).
To keep their status as a religious organization, the NRA would have to make one BIG change, they would have to curtail their lobbying efforts. That would be a good trade because without laws restricting gun ownership, there would be no need to lobby governments. It wouldn’t prevent them from advertising and Ted Nugent could become a televangelist.
There’s so much drama in Congress over increasing the minimum wage. Our plutocrat leaders can’t agree on what to do. And can you blame them? Most of them have never had to endure subsistence living. They may have had to scrape by at times to pay the mortgage on their vacation home, but that’s different from knowing that your paycheck won’t cover both groceries and rent. And there’s no end to it. If you manage to make it to the end of the month, there’s always another month.
So here’s an idea to help our beleaguered plutocrats make some real changes to the minimum wage.
- Set a different Federal minimum wage for each State. Everybody agrees that each State has their own economic challenges, so tie their Federal minimum wage to those economies. If a State wants to set their State minimum wage higher, as many states now do, let them. If a business wants to pay a lower minimum wage, as many now do, let them by paying the same penalties as they do now. There’s not much of a change here.
- Index each State’s Federal minimum wage to the equivalent wage of the Top 1% of household incomes in the State. States with strong economies will probably have higher incomes in the Top 1% of incomes, so those States will be given a higher Federal minimum wage. Less economically strong States will have lower Federal minimum wages.
Each State’s Federal minimum wage would change every year because it would be indexed to the income of the Top 1% of households. The IRS determines that income every year anyway so there would be no additional work. There would be no debates or negotiations, just some simple calculations. The minimum wages may go up or down from year to year, depending on State economies, but there will be no more long-term wage stagnation. Congress wouldn’t have to do anything once the system is in place.
To put the system into place. Congress would have to do two things—decide on the percentage to be used to index the State minimum wages and write the legislation. The percentage to be used to index the State minimum wages is actually easy to determine with a spreadsheet. All Congress has to do is decide on a goal for the minimum wages. Here are three goals they might consider.
- Scenario 1: MINIMUM of $11 Wage for all States. This is a goal suggested by Joe Manchin. It would allow a full-time worker to live above the federal poverty line. In this scenario, the minimum wages would be 7.595% of each State’s Top 1% Wage. Maine would be assigned a $11.00 minimum wage, inconsequential because they already have a $12.00 minimum wage. New Jersey would be given a $30.47 minimum wage, a boon to minimum-wage workers now making $11.00. The overall average minimum wage for all the States would be $17.37.
- Scenario 2: AVERAGE of $15 Wage for all States. This goal would implement the $15.00 minimum wage proposed by several members of Congress as an average of all the States. In this scenario, the minimum wages would be 6.560% of each State’s Top 1% Wage. Maine would have a minimum wage of $9.50, again, inconsequential. New Jersey would have a minimum wage of $26.32, much better than $11.00. 17 States would have a minimum wage below $15.00 and 34 States would have a minimum wage above $15.00, depending on their economies.
- Scenario 3: MINIMUM of $15 Wage. This goal would implement the $15.00 minimum wage for all of the States. In this scenario, the minimum wages would be 10.358% of each State’s Top 1% Wage. Maine would have a minimum wage of $15.00, a $3.00 increase, and New Jersey would have a minimum wage of $41.55.
The following table shows how all the States would fare under the three scenarios. For each scenario, the left-hand column is the calculated minimum wage for the state and the right-hand column is the difference between the existing State minimum wage and the new minimum wage indexed to the Top 1% income. The percentage under the scenario title is the index for achieving the scenario goal.
These scenarios expose some of the problems with the current minimum-wage system. Maine currently has a minimum wage of $12.00 but is a relatively poor state. The average income of the Top 1% households is only about $290K. In contrast, New Jersey currently has a minimum wage of $11.00 with an average income of the Top 1% households of about $800K. Minimum wage workers are much worse off in New Jersey than in Maine. Kentucky and New Mexico also don’t treat minimum wage workers as well as Maine. Overall, the correlation between the States’ minimum wages and the equivalent wages of the Top 1% of households is quite low.
It is ironic that indexing the minimum wage to the income of the Top 1% might create a new dynamic in American society. Instead of hating or being jealous of the incomes of the wealthy, minimum wage workers might appreciate their doing well. An increase in the equivalent wage of the Top 1% would lead to an increase in the minimum wage. A rising tide lifts all boats. The Top 1% wouldn’t be taxed to support the minimum wage. They would lose nothing. And despite what the naysaying fear-mongerers claim, increasing the minimum wage would benefit the economy. There would be more purchasing from local businesses and less of a need for public support.
There are many other scenarios that Congress could consider. This is an opportunity for them to show leadership in correcting an undemocratic system.
Conspiracies are everywhere. Prosecutors use them all the time in court. And the Internet … well, ‘nuff said. Conspiracy theories are like animals. Even within a single species, they come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. You need a taxonomy to keep them separated in your mind.
A conspiracy is a plot by two or more people to do something unsavory. A conspiracy theory is an attempt to explain something unusual. Some conspiracy theories are false, some are unproven, some are unprovable, and some have turned out to be true.Attacks on Conspiracy Theories Are a Conspiracy
Categories of Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories can be categorized in many ways. This is useful for understanding that they are not all the same, just like all animals are not the same. Characterizing QAnon-based theories as typical conspiracy theories is like saying a Komodo dragon is typical of all animals. Any fifth-grader knows that’s just silly.
Here are seven ways that conspiracy theories can be classified.
People forget that many of the conspiracies that have been proven to be true began as disbelieved theories. That makes them useful for understanding the fundamental characteristics of the theories without getting caught up in all the emotional baggage of extraterrestrials operating a sex-trafficking ring from Area 51. Proven conventional conspiracy theories tend to be not too unusual and fall into five groups:
- Government conspiracies, those perpetrated by governmental organizations rather than by rogue individuals, tend to be nationwide, aimed at controlling information, involving thousands of participants organized in a hierarchy, and not uncovered for years. Examples include the Holocaust, Operation Paperclip, Prohibition poisoning, Operation Clearview, War on drugs, Gulf of Tonkin, My Lai, Fruit Machine, Indian residential school system scandal, Military Nuclear Accidents, weapons of mass destruction, White phosphate in Iraq, Enhanced interrogation (torture), Tuskegee experiment, Human experimentation in the US, Project SUNSHINE, MK ULTRA, COINTELPRO, warrantless wiretapping, and High School spying.
- Political conspiracies, those perpetrated primarily to acquire power, tend to involve only tens of individuals in a group, operating in secret but manifesting on a national scale. They continue for months before being discovered. Examples include the FDR coup, Watergate burglary, Koreagate, Reagan’s hostage fraud, Iran-Contra conspiracy, Clinton-Lewinsky affair, CIA-leak scandal, PRISM, Coingate, Debategate, Bridgegate, and Ukraine quid-pro-quo.
- Business conspiracies, perpetrated by organizations for financial gain, tend to be organized in a hierarchy, compartmentalized so that only the top tier of conspirators understand everything. They can continue for years before they are uncovered by investigations. They are often mistaken for capitalism. Examples include Enron, WorldCom, Halliburton, Tyco, Volkswagen, Lehman Brothers, and Bernie Madoff.
- Sports conspiracies, perpetrated by either organizations or individuals to gain some competitive advantage, tend to be national in scope, group activities that may fall apart in days or persist for years. Examples involving teams include Patriots spying, deflategate, Saints bounty hunting, Black Sox Scandal, Houston Astros sign-stealing, and Olympic badminton. Examples involving individuals include steroid scandals, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Tanya Harding, and Skategate.
- Crime conspiracies come in varieties—small, local conspiracies that prosecutors handle in court and huge, well-organized, activities that are carried out overtly for years before being exposed, usually by whistleblowers. Examples include pedophilia in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, USA Gymnastics, and Jeffrey Epstein’s sex-trafficking ring.
Russian-Doll conspiracies are those in which a simple, readily-apparent conspiracy theory serves as cover for one or more much more complex conspiracy theories. The challenge with Russian dolls is that you don’t know which doll, if any, holds the truth. Often the whole purpose of a Russian doll is to cast doubt on which of many alternative theories might be true. There are quite a few examples, and as you might expect, the government is associated with many of them.
Take the conspiracy behind the 9/11/2001 attacks. Was it a small, privately-run conspiracy involving a few dozen people operating from a cave on the other side of the world (the cover doll), or was it a huge, compartmentalized set of concurrent conspiracies involving hundreds of people from government and business interests (the inner dolls), or neither?
Was the 1947 incident near Roswell, NM the crash of an alien spacecraft as originally reported (the inner doll) or a simple weather balloon (the original cover doll) or a top-secret intelligence-gathering device (a revised cover doll)?
The huge election-fraud conspiracy of 2020 (the cover doll) turned out to be no more than a few isolated cases (inner dolls) of individual voters voting, intentionally or unintentionally, more than once.
While there aren’t a lot of Russian dolls, there are probably more than you might imagine.
Sometimes it’s not the original event that captures everyone’s attention, it’s what happens after the event that spawns notable conspiracy theories. Look no further than Watergate. One simple, local, political conspiracy to commit a burglary turned into a HUGE national conspiracy that led to the first resignation of a U.S. President.
Governments are the leading raison d’être for rebound conspiracy theories. In trying to suppress scrutiny of a conspiracy, they instead draw attention to it, called the backfire effect. Actions taken that often cause the backfire effect include:
- Denialism—maintaining that a conspiracy is unlikely or even possible. This is the universally-accepted first response to any questions about a conspiracy theory.
- Cover Up—withholding incriminating evidence.
- Whitewash—releasing misleading evidence.
- Mischaracterization—making a strawman argument that focuses on one interpretation or aspect of a theory while ignoring more relevant parts.
- Misdirection—focusing on obfuscatory details instead of the gist of a conspiracy. Misdirection is sometimes called red herrings or whataboutism. South Park fans know it as the Chewbacca Defense.
- Debunking—using facts and data to erroneously disprove a theory. The issue is that sometimes the debunkers are biased and unqualified, and their analyses are faulty, but they create the perception that the theory is invalid when it is not.
- Defamation—attacking critics by making ad hominem arguments.
Almost all government conspiracies have a rebound component. The CIA at one time paid operatives, called mockingbirds, to spread false conspiracy theories and other misinformation.
Most conspiracies involve a single event or a series of occurrences; only a quarter or so target an individual or a group. Any theory that targets people instead of events is probably suspect. They are too often just gossip, products of bias, bigotry, or hate. Still, they are repeated because people forgo critical thinking and surrender to their worst failings. Emotionally charged conspiracies can be:
- Individual Conspiracies. A theory with an individual at the center of the conspiracy. It seems like Hillary Clinton is involved in many of them. Other individual conspiracies include Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Valerie Plame, and Alexander Litvinenko.
- Cohort Conspiracies. A theory with a small, well-defined group at the center of the conspiracy. Many conspiracies fit this category, mostly in which the cohort consists of the conspirators rather than the targets. Examples include Bernie Madoff, the Watergate burglary, the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair, Debategate, Bridgegate, the Harding-Kerrigan Attack, School spying, and the Jeffrey Epstein sex-trafficking ring.
- Class Conspiracies. A theory with a large class of individuals at the center of the conspiracy. Examples include Trump-supporters are all racists and Liberals hate guns. There are also a variety of theories involving political ideologies, genders, and religions.
It’s important to distinguish whether an emotionally-charged theory focuses on the conspirators or the targets. Theories that target specific individuals or groups should be treated with skepticism.
- Event conspiracy theories—conspiracies related to specific events, like political assassinations, murders of celebrities, and 9/11.
- Systemic conspiracy theories—conspiracies having broad goals to infiltrate and subvert existing institutions. Examples might include Jews, Freemasons, Communism, or the Catholic Church.
- Superconspiracy theories—combinations of multiple alleged conspiracies. His cited examples are the ideas of David Icke and Milton William Cooper.
Barkun’s classification is aimed at some of the more speculative conspiracy theories.
Theories with Many Interpretations
Proven conspiracy theories are straightforward. All the facts are pretty much established. But unless all the details are known, a conspiracy theory can mean different things to different people. They’re like Russian dolls except that instead of there being a limited number of separate, complete theories, there are a seemingly infinite number of minor variations. It’s difficult to debate a theory because people who agree on major elements may disagree on details.
Theories about the 9/11/2001 attacks are a good example. One person might believe that Flight 93 was shot down by a military jet and another might believe that the jet crashed because the passengers fought the hijackers. One might believe that the Twin Towers fell because of structural deficiencies and another might believe it involved explosives. One might believe that Building 7 fell because it was hit by debris and another might believe it was intentionally demolished. One might believe that the Pentagon was hit by a passenger jet and another might believe it was a missile. There are many variations.
Vaccines are another example. Most people no longer subscribe to the conspiracy concerning autism that was exposed in 2004, but there are other reasons people have for avoiding vaccines. Some people believe that some vaccines are no longer needed because of natural immunity or because the diseases they are supposed to prevent are disappearing. Some people believe that vaccines can be harmful because they contain potentially harmful ingredients (thimerosal, aluminum, formaldehyde) and are administered too early in a child’s life, too often, and in too many combinations. They believe vaccines can cause side effects and allergic reactions, and even weaken the immune system. Or, they believe they should have the freedom to choose whether their child get vaccinated. They may just mistrust the government, “Big Pharna,” or science in general. Some people have religious beliefs that say they should avoid vaccines. You can’t just lump everybody who avoids vaccines into one group.
I won’t even get into the variety of theories involving secret societies ruling the world … they might read this.
You have to understand what the details of a conspiracy theory that a person believes are before you can discuss it with them. If you don’t, you are just an arm-waving bully.
Theories with Many Instances
Some conspiracy “theories” actually represent many separate instances of the same phenomenon. The interesting aspect of theories with many instances is that if you can prove that one instance is true, it may follow that all or most of the other instances are likely to be true.
UFOs are a good example. There are thousands of photos, videos, eyewitness accounts, and other types of evidence supporting the notion that extraterrestrial craft have visited Earth. None of that evidence, however, is considered to be definitive. But, more than 700 cases, described in the U.S. Air Force’s 1947-1969 Project Blue Book UFO investigation program, could not be explained. If even one of those cases could be proven to involve extraterrestrials, the others would be worthy of further evaluation. Surely, the proof has to be incontrovertible. The Navy’s video of a UFO doing unearthly things won’t do it. We need to see a real alien.
Cryptids are another example. They can be considered to be a conspiracy theory in the sense that their existence has been claimed, without acceptance, for years. Some legends of cryptids go back hundreds of years. The coelacanth was thought to be extinct for 66 million years until one was caught in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. The 13th Century legend of the Kraken was solved in the 1850s when giant squids, unknown before then, washed up in several parts of the world. The gorilla, the manatee, the Komodo dragon, the kangaroo, the platypus, and many other animals used to be classified as cryptids. We’re just one Yeti away from having Netflix move Harry and the Hendersons from the comedy section to documentaries.
Hunting a Craze
Like the animal kingdom, you can learn a lot by observing conspiracy theories. For instance, how did a particular theory come about? The Moon-Landing-Hoax started as a NASA joke. The vaccines-cause-autism theory started with an article in the medical journal Lancet. The Russia-assassinated-Alexander Litvinenko theory started when they found plutonium in his tea. None have been proven so why do these theories persist? What are the grains of truth that keep a particular theory from collapsing into a pool of absurdity and disappearing from our consciousness?
Evaluating conspiracy theories can reveal much about both the individuals who hold them and about the segment of society that supports them. Such evaluations benefits from understanding how theories, proven and unproven, compare with each other. This is no different than comparing competing scientific theories; you examine evidence, reasoning, and predictions. Doing this benefits from having ways to classify conspiracy theories.