Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Learn to read Wikipedia!

Unusual events like the Colorado shooting bring out the stupid in people. A good example is this Schneier link to a horrible article on Slate that attempts to refute gun advocates by pointing out the shooter had body armor.

Except the shooter didn't have any significant body armor. He had a combat vest whose purpose is to hold extra magazines. I can't find a single source confirming that he was wearing metal plates that would've stopped a bullet.

Refuting this nonsense is what Wikipedia is for. It says (as of 2012-08-01): "He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector and tactical gloves". A bullet-proof vest isn't in the list, and none of the other items would've stopped a bullet either. At most, they might provide some protection against a knife if the theater goers had mobbed the shooter.

Moreover, as the Wikipedia article on bullet-proof vests, they aren't really bullet-proof. They are resistant to bullets and help improve survivability. They don't allow you to continue firing into a theatre while getting hit by bullets from victims firing back. Getting shot by a .45 calibre stops whatever you are doing, regardless of the armor you are wearing (Update: or maybe not, see comment below).

I'm not trying to argue gun control in this post, I'm trying to promote Wikipedia. When unusual things happen, information is sketchy, so people twist the information to fit whatever they want. In our industry, this could be power blackouts, Chinese hackers, undersea cable cuts, and so on.

Whenever the argument is too perfect, and the evidence they cite fits too well, it's time to check Wikipedia. They are probably making it up, as William Saletan did in his Slate piece claiming the guy had SWAT gear. Even if you agree with the conclusion, double check on Wikipedia before repeating it to avoid sounding like an idiot.

As for the underlying argument of "gun control", I saw this Batman movie with three people who were armed (and not because of the violence the night before, but because they are always armed). Two are well trained, and would've calmly taken aim and shot the shooter. The third would've gotten excited and shot his own foot off. I don't mean this as an argument for/against gun control, but only as a piece of information.


dildog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Richards said...

First, I find your assertion "learn to read Wikipedia" sort of absurd in the first place. It implies a level of authority that I don't think exists with Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is incredibly useful, don't get me wrong. I use it daily. But it's anything but authoritative.

But to play your game, I clicked the link to the Wiki article that you linked to.

Indeed, the Wiki article says "He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector and tactical gloves." You are correct. This implies that it wasn't a Kevlar vest or other bullet resistant design.

So I click on the citation for that very passage, which goes to:

There it says "Oates said he was dressed in black and wearing a ballistic helmet and vest, ballistic leggings, throat and groin protector and gas mask and black tactical gloves. He was armed with three weapons."

Maybe it was a Kevlar vest. Maybe it wasn't. But the Wikipedia article that implies it wasn't cites a Denver Post article that is phrased in a way that seems to imply it was.

Learn to read Wikipedia, indeed.

Anonymous said...

They aren't metal plates either. They are specially designed ceramics.

George said...

Here's the vest he was wearing. It's a load-bearing vest and not a ballistic vest.

Robert Graham said...

To Williams Richards:

You prove my point. There is no confirmation he wore any sort of protective vest. And yes, following Wikipedia links to the source they site is part of the "checking". You followed the source, and found no evidence.

Yes, you found something confusing. It's plausible that it might be body armor, but that's not evidence. Whether you use it as evidence (like William Saletan) depends upon your ethics.

Anonymous said...

Well, I what Wikipedia should teach anyone is that it is never black or white.

For example, we can quote, which clearly states that the shooters took multiple direct body hits and simply continued, thanks to body armor. Of course, that lead to the use of more powerful calibers among police forces, but it clearly points to the advantage of body armor if you want to cause havoc.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the North Hollywood shootout, those guys were taking body armor to a silly level. They were intending suicide-by-cop, and wanted to make it difficult for the cops. (A profoundly rude way to go, and thankfully it's almost exclusively the domain of the less-competent. These guys were very much the exception in that regard.)

A head shot was difficult for those cops because they (quite sensibly) couldn't close to handgun-headshot distance, and most cops aren't especially good shooters anyway (and shouldn't be expected to be, that's not their job).

In a crowded movie theater in full hair-on-fire panic mode, getting a clear shot is somewhere between hard and utterly impossible. But at least the distance involved is pretty short, making a head shot entirely viable for anyone who actually trains.

Daniel said...

"I'm not trying to argue gun control in this post,..."

"I'm not trying to argue one side of this political debate..."

This "I am not arguing X" while you are in fact arguing X is getting old fast.

Your final para makes your position clear. You are for people going armed to theaters under the theory that trained shooters would calmly shoot the shooter while 500 people in panic are running to the exits in the dark.

It's a bad theory, but what really grates are the faux "I am not arguing" pleas of innocence.

Robert Graham said...


Thanks for input. Maybe I'm deluding myself about trying to see both sides.

But I feel that if you want to argue "gun control", then you should point out the 100 people/day that die to gun violence across the country that's unusually high compared to other developed nations, not the 12 people that died in once incident. Crazies going on shooting sprees is actually not statistically more likely in America -- but day to day gun violence is.

I'm not trying to argue gun control, I'm just trying to argue that "anecdotes" are are for stupid people, statistics and citing references are for smart people.

Skyring said...

Two are well trained, and would've calmly taken aim and shot the shooter.

Well, this is easy to say in hindsight, when you know the facts. But, when you're attending a big budget action movie premiere, you might well see some sort of promotional play acting going on. Calmly shoot one of the actors and you are well in the poo.

Shoot outs for entertainment are not that rare. I've seen one at the Fort Worth Stockyards, for example, and while it's pretty corney, it is a simulated gun battle in a public place.

Mistakes and misjudgements happen every day with guns in public. Just ask any ER surgeon.

As for Wikipedia being a fair dinkum authority, I'm a Wikipedia editor of many years standing, and I take everything I read there with a grain of salt. Vast slabs of the thing remain unsourced, and there are always people who like to slant their opinions into the text. Still, we usually get a good handle on breaking events simply because we have a lot of eyes on the article at the same time.

Dan Farrell said...

I think you have a style problem that presents itself in this blog post. Your level of emotion and use of stronger words either shows you to be a bit of a muckraker or worse... that you are one of your own accused.

Making references to "bringing out the stupid in people" and "sounding like an idiot" for not simply checking Wikipedia is, to me, farcical when you consider that you are talking about the opinion of a cryptographic expert. The man is clearly not stupid.

He may be wrong, he may have gotten the wrong impression, but calling him "stupid" or an "idiot" (in any form) does your point no justice at all, and makes you sound merely reactionary. The result of this is that some of your readers will conclude that you are on one particular side of the issue (and they have commented thusly). If you are, that's fine, but you could still drop the name-calling and still be able to make a point.

I don't comment on this to shame you, but merely because without all the hoopla, you do make a good point. Don't let good points get lost with too much "color" in them.

Robert Graham said...

Dan, you are probably right.

I was really intending to criticize the original article on Slate, which was horrible. I can understand why Schneier would trust that a "well respected" journalist would probably do his job. But that journalist didn't, and in my opinion, deserves strong language to describe his failure.

At least Schneier updated his post, but William Saleton hasn't updated the original article.

Dan Farrell said...

And with that, you have another interested reader... Cheers.