Archive for November, 2018

How to do good with your career

There’s an interesting new episode of Future Perfect (a Vox podcast) discussing how to choose a career that has a big positive impact. Is it better to make a lot of money so you can donate a lot, or make less money more directly doing good? If you decide to devote your career to solving a problem, what problem should you choose?

The episode spends part of its time on an org called 80,000 Hours, which has done a lot of research on the latter question. I’m looking forward to digging into their site (and podcast, apparently) more!

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The impact of gun control policies

I’ve been meaning to share a bunch of stats and articles about gun control for a while, but it’s still a bit of a mess.  In the meanwhile, here’s a link/podcast roundup:

  • Vox’s Today, Explained podcast had an excellent recent episode in the wake of the latest California mass shooting entitled The simplest way to fix our gun laws. on what California is doing wrong (and right), and what Massachusetts is doing better.  Both states have among the strictest gun control in the US and among the lowest per capita rate of gun deaths, but California doesn’t enforce some of its laws as much as it should.  Massachusetts makes you do a test/interview in order to get a license to own a gun, which seems to help a lot.
  • Gimlet’s Science Vs. podcast had a recent two parter on guns, the second of which addressed gun control — among other things, looking into the effects of massive changes to gun policy in Australia and the UK.  They concluded that better background checks would have some impact, but not a lot — many gun buyers don’t have a criminal record and/or don’t buy from an official dealer.  Expanding mental health checks also wouldn’t catch too many more shooters, and it’s nigh impossible to predict who will be violent.  Gun buybacks on a small scale are insufficient to combat deaths; comprehensive national laws are more effective.  Forcing owners to register with the government seems to help as well.
  • The NY Times looked at What Explains Mass Shootings [and more], and concludes it’s the sheer number of guns that explains the rate of gun violence in the US (as opposed to factors like mental health, immigration, racial diversity, or violent video game consumption).  The fact that Americans have 42% of the world’s guns but only 4% of the population leads to a high rate of lethal crimes per capita:

…the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

Rather, they found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

  • A couple years back (following another California mass shooting), FiveThirtyEight found that mass shootings are indeed on the increase in the US; it’s not just an increase in media coverage.

A few points worth noting: mass shootings, while the primary focus of some of the above links and a lot of media attention, are a tiny fraction of gun deaths.  The much bigger category of homicide rates overall, as well as most types of crime, have dropped substantially in the US over the past couple decades.  However, as noted above, crimes like robberies are more likely to turn lethal when firearms are involved.

Far more frequent even than homicides – suicides make up 63% of gun deaths.  Waiting periods for guns reduce suicide rates.

Mass shootings are not limited to the US.  Which country has the worst rate of shootings/fatalities depends on what exactly you count (but the US has the largest number of mass shootings by a lot, and the rate is on the rise).

Police shootings deserve a separate post, but in 2015 they made up 3% of US firearm deaths, and 10% of the victims were unarmed.

And, if you really want to, you can dig through my hodgepodge of notes & stats on gun deaths that I keep meaning to turn into a bigger post (last substantially updated in 2015).


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