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There's still no scientific way to know who will become a mass shooter
A new report charges that there hasn’t yet been enough concerted research on what makes a person become a mass shooter.
It may be that the era of mass public shootings began way back in 1966 when two occurred within weeks of each other in Chicago and Austin. There have been 306 school shootings since 2013, or about one a week, according to Everytown. Each time such a tragedy occurs, we're first reminded of the easy availability of assault weapons followed quickly by blame assigned to the people—local police, psychologists, social workers—who failed to identify the perpetrator as a danger to their community. But this kind of hindsight is unfair. The truth is there's been amazingly little coordinated study of the psychology behind mass shooters and very little consensus as to what those warning signs might be. A new review of such research was compiled by sociologist Michael Rocque and criminologist Grant Duwe and is in the February issue of Current Opinion in Psychology.
Media finger-pointing exacerbates such lazy misconceptions and hysteria, so in the absence of methodical study, Roque notes, “Everybody's an expert on this issue, but we're relying on anecdotes."
(Photo: John Moore)
Mass public shootings: rampage shootings and school shootings
As defined by Rocque and Duwe, rampage shootings are mass shootings (generally defined as involving four or more victims), taking place in a public location, with victims chosen randomly or for symbolic purposes.
School shootings are any violent gun attack on another person occurring in a school.
The heartbreaking attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day was an example of both types of shooting.
Duwe tells Science News, “There is little good research on what are probably a host of problems contributing to mass violence," and he's not alone in thinking so. Another researcher criminologist, James Alan Fox, has been trying for a decade to get crime researchers to pay closer attention to the motivations of these killers. Criminologists may ascribe the same motives to a mass murderer as they would to other murderers, or consider them simply so psychotic that study of them would be beyond criminology. And in the U.S., gun violence is such a politically charged topic that there's been very little funding allocated for the study of it.
(Photo: Michele Eve Sandberg)
Absent widespread research on learning to identify potential shooters, individual experts have been trying to develop some helpful insights and predictors, and Rocque and Duwe compile some of the latest theories in their summary.
Possible risk factors
Obviously, it's too simplistic and unhelpful to simply pronounce each shooter as mentally ill and then move on to the next tragedy. Most mentally ill people are non-violent. Researcher Louis Klarevas, in his book Rampage nation: Securing America from mass shootings, finds that while 80% of mass killers have some form of mental illness—with mental illness and anger as immediate factors—it's more a "gateway" and not a trigger to action. Another analysis suggests that 60% of shooters have been diagnosed with mental issues. This is three times higher than the incidence of mental illness in the general population, so it's concerning, but it also means that a substantial 40% of shooters have not previously been diagnosed as having mental issues.
Nearly every mass shooter in recent times, 99%, has been male and some suggest a challenge to masculinity is a recent contributing factor in the decision to kill. Sociologist Michael Kimmel posits that mass shootings may reflect the “culture of hegemonic masculinity [that] encourages the use of violence to avenge a perceived challenge to their masculine identity." Intriguingly, most shootings occur in white rural areas where local culture encourages an unambiguously heterosexual form of masculinity.
In today's attention-hungry American culture, it's clear that becoming a shooter is a quick way to fame. Florida media coverage may also encourage potential shooters to become copycats, sometimes perhaps out of a feeling of identification with another shooter. Some experts have suggested that names of mass killers be withheld from media coverage so as not to risk glorifying them in the minds of dangerously like-minded individuals.
The trinity of violence
In his book Rampage nation: Securing America from mass shootings, Louis Klarevas cites a trinity of violence: three conditions that need to be in place for a shooter to commence an attack.
1. The availability of a weapon capable of killing many people in a short time
2. A motivated offender
3. A target or targets
This idea, described by Jack Levin and Eric Madfis in “Mass Murder at School and Cumulative Strain," sees the individual experiencing increasing levels of strain until he snaps. It describes a series of events that may lead to an attack.
1. Long-term strain, from bullying, troubles with employment or family
2. Uncontrolled strain, when the subject has no access to other people who can help relieve the growing strain
3. A specific strain of some sort, a loss or setback, sparks the idea of a shooting
A (de)pressing problem
(Photo: Joe Raedle)
Mass shootings are on the minds of many of us on a daily basis, especially those of us who are parents with school-age children. In 2018, wishing a child a good day upon being sent off in the morning includes the implied “please don't get killed." For the kids, it's a never-ceasing shadow of each day and their social interactions. Alongside common-sense gun-control regulations that protect children, a more aggressive and science- and data-driven assessment of what causes a shooter to shoot is beyond overdue.
These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>