Tag Archives: bias

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Science and Politics: When Feelings Trump Facts

Looking back on it, there was a time when the US was set on making science a priority in learning. Advancing our technology and teaching our children to strive toward excellence in math and science put us ahead in the Cold War and we desperately wanted to catch up with and surpass the advances made by other countries. The US made major progress – we even became the first nation on earth to land people on the moon!

By its nature, science is constantly growing and evolving (see what we did there?). We know more now than we did before – DNA, genes, the solar system, cancer research, etc.

So when did it become not only politically expedient, but popular to deny science? Science has long faced opposition from religious sources/forces, but more recently, it has been filtered most often through the lens of politics. Cases in point: we hear about climate change, evolution and vaccinations, and can immediately conjure up the last time we saw major opponents to their acceptance. These people are shown prominently in mainstream media, but more than that, are in charge of policy. Here’s where it becomes a problem.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica science is:

…any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.

The key word in that definition is “unbiased.” That means science should be an impartial resource that is equally relevant and accessible to those with myriad political opinions.

LCG has touched on this topic before, specifically with regard to news coverage of hot debate:

For us, it brings up the journalistic idea of balance wherein journalists try to get “both sides” of a news story. But what if there is no balance? Certainly, while part of the climate change story does include the fact that there are some people who deny that humans are helping to cause global warming, the deniers, by and large, are basing their claims on right wing political views, not real science. Should journalists feel compelled to include that in their stories? Currently, the jury’s out on this one, but we certainly don’t think so.

While it’s true that not everyone is a scientific genius, that does not excuse deliberate scientific illiteracy. We have professional scientists worldwide who have studied these issues extensively for decades and reached almost unanimous consensus. Not only that, some of the most important aspects have national and global consequences. Vaccination, for example, is vital to maintaining public health (as we recently saw with the measles outbreak); opinion does not counteract fact, and the ramifications of ignoring that truth can be catastrophic. Similarly, this applies to climate change. 97% of active climate researchers and the Academies of Science from 80 countries agree that humans are causiJng climate change. Of course, there should be room for political debate, but it should be over how to act, not whether to bother. For the record, it is possible to be a Republican climate scientist.

Many of us learned about scientific reasoning and methodology in school. Our society’s development owes so much to this field of study (think what would happen if we were still debating the morality of electricity instead of using it!). We are doing a disservice to ourselves and our country to turn our backs on science.

We remember past generations for their progress in this field; how will our descendants look back upon us; upon our actions and inactions? Can we really afford to make science a partisan issue?

The ever fabulous John Oliver illustrates our point.

Or, to put it differently, there’s this: