Steven Pinker: Are guns to blame for America’s homicide rate?

We need to enact policies founded on solid research — more importantly, though, we have to stop suppressing research into hot topics.

STEVEN PINKER: One of the big puzzles when it comes to understanding violence is why the American rate of violence is five to ten times higher than that of other wealthy democracies. There are countries that have spectacularly high rates of violence mainly in Central America and North and South America and in Southern Africa. But it's funny to see the United States not quite up there but much higher rates of homicide than our peers in the British Commonwealth and in Europe.

Now the ready answer is well, that's because we have all those guns. And that is part of the answer but it's not the total answer. Because even if you subtract out all of the gun homicides in the United States and you just look at all the murders committed with ropes and candlesticks and knives and so on. The United States still has a higher rate of homicide.

But and we also don't know for sure whether the favorite remedy of many people on the liberal left, namely tougher gun control, would have an effect in lowering homicides given how many guns are already out there. The United States has more guns than people so restricting the sale of future guns is a small measure. Maybe it does but no one really knows for sure. And we do know that the United States itself had quite a spectacular reduction in violent crime starting in the 90s and again in the 2000s. It certainly wasn't because massive numbers of guns were taken off the streets. Quite the contrary. So there's a lot we don't know but tragically and boneheadedly the U.S. Congress passed a law that the Centers for Disease Control was not allowed to study gun violence as a public health problem. Now that is insanity. That is an example of political interference with conductive research.

In the United States gun rights are a sacred cause of the right and anything that might compromise the right of everyone to have a gun is squelched. I've talked about many of the threats to academic freedom from the campus left but the political right is far more pernicious because they actually have power. I mean academics, it's often said that academic debates are fierce because so little is at stake but when it comes to government a lot is at stake and the suppression of research on gun violence is an example of how the right is also guilty of suppressing freedom of inquiry and it's one of the reasons why we really don't' know how best to reduce gun violence in the United States.

  • One of the reasons we don't know whether limiting access to guns would effectively decrease the homicide rate in America is because the Congress passed a law that bars the Centers for Disease Control from conducting such related studies.
  • In the United States, gun rights are a sacred cause of the right and are protected vehemently. As Steven Pinker says, "anything that might compromise the right of everyone to have a gun is squelched." The word "anything" seems to even include research.
  • A lot is at stake — people's lives — by not conducting research to find out how to control gun violence in America. We need to keep politicians accountable to the people, and pressure them to enact policies founded on solid research. This first means though that such research is no longer suppressed.

The world and workforce need wisdom. Why don’t universities teach it?

Universities claim to prepare students for the world. How many actually do it?

Photo: Take A Pix Media / Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Many university mission statements do not live up to their promise, writes Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva, a university designed to develop intellect over content memorization.
  • The core competencies that students need for success—critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and cross-cultural understanding, for example—should be intentionally taught, not left to chance.
  • These competencies can be summed up with one word: wisdom. True wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge appropriately when faced with novel situations.
Keep reading Show less

Six-month-olds recognize (and like) when they’re being imitated

A new study may help us better understand how children build social cognition through caregiver interaction.

Personal Growth
  • Scientists speculate imitation helps develop social cognition in babies.
  • A new study out of Lund University shows that six-month-olds look and smile more at imitating adults.
  • Researchers hope the data will spur future studies to discover what role caregiver imitation plays in social cognition development.
  • Keep reading Show less

    New study connects cardiovascular exercise with improved memory

    Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.

    Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
    • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
    • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
    Keep reading Show less

    Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

    A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

    ESA
    Surprising Science
    • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
    • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
    • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
    Keep reading Show less

    Learn a new language—super fast. Here’s how.

    According to a man that knows more than 20 languages, the key is to start in the middle.

    Videos
    • Canadian polyglot Steve Kaufmann says there is indeed a fast track to learning a new language. It involves doubling down on your listening and reading.
    • By taking the focus off grammar rules that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remember, you can instead develop habits by greater exposure to the language. Kaufmann likens the learning process to a hockey stick.
    • In the beginning you make major progress as you climb the steep hill of the hockey stick, whereas the long shaft of the stick is the difficult part. Because you're not seeing day-to-day changes, you might lose motivation. So, stay the course by consuming content that interests you.