‘There are three kinds of lies,” Mark Twain once observed.
“Lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Twain might not have originated the sentiment, but the logic contained is still spot on.
Manipulating data to bolster a lame or false conclusion has started wars, fostered bad government and sparked a million saloon brawls.
Now you can add trashing Spokane’s reputation to the list.
That’s the result of an online Atlantic magazine story that purportedly uses statistical analysis to conclude that …
“The next mass shooting will take place on February 12, 2014, in Spokane, Washington.”
That’s actually the opening sentence to this rancid piece of speculative crap.
The story is wrong on several levels, but its thoughtless timing tops the list.
It was posted just a day after the rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, when a disgruntled nut job named Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people before dying during a shootout with the law.
So with the bodies barely cold, the Atlantic publishes this crass and classless prediction about where the next massacre will be.
The Spokane angle makes me furious.
Anyone who’s ever known me or read me knows that I’m a jaundiced soul when it comes to the ol’ Chamber of Commerce rah-rah.
It probably dates back to my days as an editor, when I had to deal with way too many smarmy civic boosters who’d sell their granny’s dentures for a spike in the tourism rate.
But this Atlantic article has brought out the booster in me, and I’m crying foul on this cheap shot on Spokane.
Philip Bump, whose byline is on the story, could have written his piece without ever naming a real city.
He could’ve waited for the Navy Yard horror to subside.
But he didn’t. And now we have this dreck floating around for the Spokane-curious to stumble upon with an Internet search.
MOM – “Let’s check out Spokane for your college, honey. I hear Whitworth and Gonzaga rank way up on a national list for regional universities.”
DAUGHTER – “Maybe. But this story I just found says Spokane is going to be the next Newtown.”
MOM – “Oh, no. Really?”
DAUGHTER – “Yeah. It says the shooting ‘will be committed by an emotionally disturbed, 38-year-old white man who will kill seven people and wound six more at a place he used to work using a semi-automatic handgun he purchased legally in the state.’”
MOM – “Let’s check out Seattle for your college, honey.”
Again. What crap.
The article uses the old “window of escape” trick by noting that “the next mass shooting – which will happen somewhere, sometime – will almost certainly not be in that place at that time.”
That made everything all better, huh? Never mind that the entire premise is absurd.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how much data or statistics you crunch through a computer. There’s no predicting normal human behavior, let alone the mind of some psychopath who hears voices in his head.
This Atlantic story was just an excuse to jump on the tragedy bandwagon for purposes of titillation.
“Junk science.” That’s what Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich called it.
If it wasn’t, the sheriff told me, he’d love to have access to the computer program that was used. (According to the story, the data was “compiled and shared by Mother Jones magazine.”)
“There wouldn’t be another crime in the county,” added Knezovich, his tongue pressed firmly in his cheek.
Well, I don’t need no stinking computer. My own careful analysis has allowed me to make the following prediction:
Anyone who would commit such irresponsible journalism will develop a disgusting oozing pox from professional embarrassment on Feb. 13, 2014.
That almost certainly won’t happen, mind you. But you can’t blame a guy for wishful thinking.