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September 8, 2010
Parental Fears vs. Realities
Based on surveys Barnes collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:
- School snipers
- Dangerous strangers
But how do children really get hurt or killed?
- Car accidents
- Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
Why such a big discrepancy between worries and reality? Barnes says parents fixate on rare events because they internalize horrific stories they hear on the news or from a friend without stopping to think about the odds the same thing could happen to their children.
No surprise to any regular reader of this blog.
Posted on September 8, 2010 at 6:06 AM
• 81 Comments
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The difference is that the first 5 are generally considered to be outside of a parents direct control and contain a considerable portion of unknown influences.
The second set of 5 are less so. I can drive safely, put a life vest on them, watch for signs of abuse or depression, etc...
Having lived in DC during the sniper situation, rationality is challenged when you think about taking your kid to soccer practice knowing that people are getting shot on a regular basis. Yes, the odds are miniscule that it would happen to me or my child, but it was happening and it was a totally powerless feeling. Perhaps it's that feeling of powerlessness that separates the two sets of concerns.
That could be the difference, but my worries would indeed be traffic, drowning (water everywhere in the netherlands), and then maybe 'dangerous' people like "that strange guy you never see outside", etc. Homicide? You'd never suspect yourself nor your husband/wife. Abuse/neglect: same thing.
This is a silly comparison. Item 2 of the second list is "Homicide." Items 1-4 in the first list often lead to homicide, hence the fear.
My kids being hit by a car. That is always my #1 fear.
Terrorists? School snipers? Then again, I'm not in the US...
Exactly Johnny. My biggest fear isn't cancer, or heart attack, even though they are huge killers, because I can do things to control the likelihood of them occurring. My biggest fear is that there's ancient ones out there who will consume Earth because they are bored. Now, is that likely to happen? No. Do I walk around scared of it? No. But it's the greatest thing to fear, because its the least likely thing that can be combated.
Of course the media builds up and creates the hysteria about the top five perceived/rank fears. What is sad is that parents & relatives can contribute to the welfare of their children regarding the top 5 real risks.
@MV: There are dangers that exist in the light, and those that don't, both literally and figuratively. Drowning exists in the metaphorical light, that is, it is something we understand, is a function of a normal activity (swimming), and can be managed. Snipers and kidnappers exist outside the light, in the places we can't see, just like a strange sound in the dark. I believe most people would much rather risk life and limb undertaking an understood activity, then facing the unknown in the dark.
Not rational certainly, but true nonetheless.
@JohnnyDime: What you describe, the concept of risks where you lack control being scarier than risks you have some control over is a common but irrational risk assessment that Bruce has many posts about, which is exactly why he added that last sentence.
So if the goal is to actually reduce risk (with a side effect of reducing fear if the knowledge is disseminated properly) we should be focusing on the actually dangerous risks rather than the improbable risks. If, however, the goal is merely to reduce the perception of risk (with only minimal actual reduction in risk) then we should be focusing on the improbable and unlikely but "extreme" risks.
I would much rather be safer and informed (so that I know that I'm actually safer) than be reassured about an unlikely risk.
I'm not sure that I agree with the conclusion, at least not for the purpose of explaining the difference between the two groups.
The question (as I presume it was worded) has respondents evaluate their individual risk factors - not necessarily the aggregate risk of the group. It's likely that individuals rate their own individualized risks much lower than average, for many reasons.
In particular, individuals have strong reasons to rationalize away the risks in the bottom list: how many people would voluntarily assign themselves a dangerously high risk in driving if it meant that they couldn't drive their children? What rational person is going to assign himself / herself a high risk of killing a child through abuse? You can find plenty of movies and miniseries about women rationalizing away their chances of abuse by loved ones.
So, while I might agree that publicity helps determine the rankings of the first list, I think that willful self-deception is much more likely the reason why the items in the second list don't show up at all.
Be sure to follow the link http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/... in the NPR piece for a very sobering, if dated (2001), DoJ study. Most of the deaths by persons known to the victim are asphyxiations of infants by family members or shooting deaths of black male teens by acquaintances, strangers, and unknown assailants in their teens and 20s (aka "waiting for the bus minding your own business"). God Bless America!
The notion of being able to "control" the 2nd list of factors is absolute bunk. Yes, you can drive safely, but if a drunk driver runs a red, you'll can still be T-boned. Accidents happen all the time regardless of how safe a driver is.
The same goes for suicide or drowning. In all of the cases of suicide that I've heard about, parents, friends, etc knew that there was something wrong with a person, but they didn't realize quite how depressed someone was to commit suicide.
To believe that you can control the above is irrational...then again, maybe they do believe they can control their driving fate which is why they fear snipers as it's all irrational.
What I'm surprised isn't on the list is school violence and gangs. When I went to less-than-savory schools, school violence was quite rampant, but upper crust schools had next to none. A lack of fear of school violence or gangs seems to show what kind of demographic was questions in this matter.
@No One: We're in agreement that it is irrational.
"I would much rather be safer and informed (so that I know that I'm actually safer) than be reassured about an unlikely risk"
Therein lies the fundamental problem. You can be safer and informed about drowning (survival strategy), but not about being sniped, because they don't exist in the same context. Certainly you can do the math and determine the odds of being shot, but that isn't a survival strategy, it's a risk calculation, and therefore isn't in your control (real or illusory), it's just a fact.
I've read a significant portion of Bruce's essays on the topic and generally agree with his conclusions. However, rational risk calculus isn't going to make the problem go away because the root isn't math, it's human biology and by extension, human emotion.
Not saying I have the answer, but I think the topic is interesting and worth continued study here and elsewhere.
I've criticised commenters on this blog before for using "accident" in relation to motor vehicle deaths: they aren't actually accidents. You get hit by a drunk driver and that's a societal problem. Someone chose to drive to a bar, not walk, they chose to drive home, people chose to serve them. It may not be as malicious an action as saying "I will put a pipe bomb in a school playground in Lurgan, Co. Armargh" (as someone did last week), but drivers make decisions which often result in the death of other people. Usually it is the pedestrian or the cyclist who dies, so the risk is externalised: you don't pay the penalty.
Death-by-Motor-vehicle is not only the primary cause of death of young people, it's the fastest growing world wide, and gets a fraction of the attention of other problems. Is that fair? Probably not. But its accepted because people don't recognise the structural issues and view the cost as acceptable.
Maybe reason of those inconsistence exists in human mental ability to fear something, wich could help an social evolution, our ability to perception negative factors through culture, historics, education?
At the other hand this is could be only reflex, nothing more.
@JohnnyDime: "...human biology and by extension, human emotion...."
The use of the word "human" here is intended to convey a connotation of authenticity and thus an endorsement.
But in fact these "human" characteristics have not made us what we are today. If we had relied exclusively upon them, today we would today have nothing and we would be nothing. We have got where we are, we have become what we are, by overcoming and suppressing them through education. The entire enterprise of modern civilization is based upon this.
My vote is for restoring the effectiveness of education.
Great piece. Its good to get perspective on these things especially as a parent who is aware that she is doing just what is described above re: fear internalization.
I recall reading somewhere that the minute you have a child/children your heart is out walking around outside your body. So you have this person(s) you love so deeply and you know you can't really protect them from life's bad things though you want to. Its an irrational emotional thing from the minute you look at that babies face or the face of the kid you adopt. We really aren't a bunch of dopes in the US, but we do have a media/human tendency that focuses on bizarre and awful things that happen even when it happens to kids. Our local paper goes into gruesome detail about such cases. Its hard to put those images out of mind when you read that in the paper and then look across the table at that little kid eating his cereal.
Its truly, as Bruce and others have said here, a process of internalizing. What if that happens to my baby? Sure its statisitics, but nobody wants their kid to be that number.
I wonder if other countries have a stronger sense of community that supports families or just less Barnum and Bailey media stuff going on?
> Terrorists? School snipers?
> Then again, I'm not in the US...
:) Exactly what I thought. Can't imagine being afraid of terrorists unless I'm in .. say.. israel.
It will always be hard to convince my wife that kidnapping isn't something to be overly worried about. When she was a teenager there was a guy kidnapping, raping, and killing teenage girls in her rural town and near by towns. Some are still open cases. The victim in one open case has the same age, first name, middle name, and last initial as her youngest sister. In this sphere, rationality lost out to emotion years ago and I can't blame her. Like JohnnyDime said about living in DC during the sniper situation. It's hard to keep rationality when you actually experience the rare and horrible.
"The notion of being able to "control" the 2nd list of factors is absolute bunk."
No, the idea that we can't apply simple preventatives to predictable occurrences is absolute bunk, and an abdication of our responsibilities as parents and adults in our communities.
"Yes, you can drive safely, but if a drunk driver runs a red, you'll can still be T-boned. Accidents happen all the time regardless of how safe a driver is."
Wearing seat belts is a significant preventative to injury and death in all types of vehicle collisions, even when being T-boned by a DUI.
"The same goes for suicide or drowning. In all of the cases of suicide that I've heard about, parents, friends, etc knew that there was something wrong with a person, but they didn't realize quite how depressed someone was to commit suicide."
Untreated depression is the primary risk factor for suicide. Your anecdotal impressions say nothing about whether the suicides were being treated, and even less about all the depressed persons in your circle of family and friends who have not committed suicide.
Drowning is certainly controllable. Swim lessons, PFDs, and not consuming ethanol while boating are the usual solutions.
"What I'm surprised isn't on the list is school violence and gangs."
Unless your parents or caregivers strangle you in your crib, most homicides of persons under 18 years of age result from urban youths shooting each other (gang violence).
The terrorist threat in israel is present, but it's not as if you go all day thinking about it. The important issue is to be vigilant. Far more people in Israel die from car accidents than any terrorism.
What about domestic accidents? As a father it's at the top of my worries list.
Honestly, I have to say that the only one of these that I am really routinely concerned about, and take regular direct precautions against, is car accidents. Drowning is an issue, but it's mostly a case of being able to swim, which I view as a necessary life skill for living on any planet with significant quantities of free liquid water in any case.
Terrorism? School snipers? In any average year in the US, my kids are more likely to be struck by lightning. 9/11, Stockton, Columbine: these were aberrations. And frankly, none of my kids are stupid enough to screw around with drugs, or sheeplike enough to be pushed into it by peer pressure. Hell, I'd like to see some fratboy try to talk my fifteen-year-old into having a beer. If he pushed it hard enough, she'd probably deck him.
I'm afraid that if I let my kid do something eminently reasonable, like ride the subway by herself, the hordes of bleating dogoodniks will have her taken away by the state. Where does that fit in?
I agree with Andre. My biggest fear is Social Services coming up with an excuse to take my children. It nearly happened to one of my neighbors, and it's turned their lives into a nightmare.
The second list (at least much more than the first) is of things that, if they happened to your kid, you would be stigmatized as a bad parent. And not a lot of parents are willing to consider themselves as bad parents, even hypothetically or prospectively.
Add that to the scary no-control out-of-the-blue nature of the items on the first list.
"Accidents happen all the time regardless of how safe a driver is."
Define an accident...
I call it negligence or wilfull disregard for safety, by one or more persons.
There are realy no such thing as accidents every effect has a cause, the real question is can the effect be seen and mitigated in a meaningful manner.
As an outlier we know at some point the Earth is going to be hit by an object from space, it happens all the time, are these strikes accidents (physics says no, they are fully determanistic and in many cases can be detected years in advance).
We also know that around every 60K years an object sufficiently large to cause major devastation if not species wipe out occurs.
Currently we chose not to do anything about it, why?
Basically once in sixty thousand years pluss or minus twenty thousand puts it well outside the terms of human existance and in most peoples cases beyond comprehension. Also it is very easy to avoide the issue by saying "there's nothing we can do".
This reasoning is what underlies "accidents" because it absolves people of blaim.
"What I'm surprised isn't on the list is school violence and gangs. When I went to less-than savory schools, school violence was quite rampant, but upper crust schools had next to none."
That appears to be the case but actually in the UK we find gangs and violence in all schools. Thus it could be a case of "better of" means "better cover up" in various ways.
In the area my son goes to school there are both good and bad schools, the better ones tend to have more responsable teachers who are actually proactive in deed not just in name.
I've seen many 5-gallon buckets sold with an image imprinted on the side of a child crawling into it headfirst.
The image is usually accompanied by stern written warnings about not leaving water in the bucket, to prevent drowning.
Is that a common occurrence? Or is it a rare one? Was it rare before such warnings became common? Or has it become rare since the warnings became common?
"The difference is that the first 5 are generally considered to be outside of a parents direct control and contain a considerable portion of unknown influences."
Now look through history for all the superstitions that people had in an attempt to control (or influence) the uncontrollable.
And interesting study would be whether that list could be changed by telling fake stories of child deaths to parents. Interesting ... and evil.
And then, whether the parents would feel safer with some kind of placebo that would protect their children from the threat in the faked stories.
I don't want them kidnapped and then get hooked on drugs by a dangerous terrorist sniper stranger.
As another commenter, I also lived in the area during the time of the "D.C. sniper." My head told me any related fear was totally irrational. However it brought out a strange sense of fear anyway!
@Frank Wilhoit: I wasn't endorsing or suggesting exclusivity. Your assertions are accurate, but incomplete. Yes, humans routinely overcome certain fears, sometimes through understanding, and sometimes because greater fears motivate them. Regardless, fear has been and continues to be a primary motivational force in humans, at both the individual and species level.
Agreed on education.
"Unless your parents or caregivers strangle you in your crib, most homicides of persons under 18 years of age result from urban youths shooting each other (gang violence)."
So, if you exclude the great majority of cases, then you get to focus on a much smaller minority. Doesn't do you as much good as focussing on the majority though...
It remains true though that most homicides of young people are committed by family members or caregivers (at least in Canada - not familiar with other countries' stats). So, the people you need to worry about are probably your spouse, your siblings, your in-laws. Are you turning a blind eye to your husband's depression, your mom's drinking problem? That's actually the real homicide risk right there - you can protect your children by getting them into treatment.
I wonder if growing up in a really small town gave me a bit better perspective on the odds. Kids in my town died of car accidents, suicide and drowning. Most of the car accidents involved alcohol, one involved cocaine.
Nobody got kidnapped and nobody shot up the school...
This was, of course, before Fox News...
"'Unless your parents or caregivers strangle you in your crib, most homicides of persons under 18 years of age result from urban youths shooting each other (gang violence).'
So, if you exclude the great majority of cases, then you get to focus on a much smaller minority."
Not at all. As I read the study http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/... in the USA infanticide occurs at roughly half the rate of teens shooting teens. Given your different demographics and absence of handguns Canada's numbers may well be different.
It's the news.
It used to be that, if something horrible happened in the next city, there was emotional distance. There was the thought of "it's over there, not here". You'd read about it in the paper, and any pictures they ran weren't horrifying.
Nowadays, it's on the television, with all of the immediacy that suggests. If it's a visually presentable crime, it appeals to TV producers, and so it becomes more prominent as well. The result is that TV news watchers are exposed to more horrible stories, and these have more of an impact.
The human brain has an availability heuristic: if somebody can think of several examples of something, that person will think that something has to be reasonably common. The TV news feeds rare events to the viewer as if they were common, thus creating a feeling that these events were common, hence to be feared. (Another factor is that there are simply more people around than several decades ago, and therefore more events total, and therefore more rare events.)
The human brain also has a story heuristic, and TV news is good at creating mini-stories. It can present a montage of pictures of the victim. (This can be emphasized by looks: any reasonably attractive young woman with blond hair and blue eyes that has something horrible happen to her has an excellent chance of having her name appear on a bad proposed law.)
Encourage people to watch less TV. As a side benefit, if they do this during political campaigns they'll be a lot happier.
Although the connection between parenting and Apocalypse and Bubbles -
http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/09/... - may not be obvious there are parallels... or maybe it's just one more thing for parents to worry about!
@Clive: ""@Mat: Accidents happen all the time regardless of how safe a driver is."
Define an accident... I call it negligence or wilfull disregard for safety, by one or more persons."
Clive, have you ever hit a deer that jumped in front of your car? I have. I guess that was my fault for driving the speed limit on the road I was on? There are lots of other car accidents that are not negligence. What about the tree limb that falls just as the car is going underneath it? Perhaps we shouldn't drive at all?
The deer was clearly negligent.
I agree with the facts: car accidents. My teenage daughter having a car accident and not surviving it is one of my biggest fears. The thought of her driving without me in the car turns my stomach. Kidnapping from the survey is a bigger worry for my 5yr old.
"The deer was clearly negligent."
Unless the deer was Canadian it might have been suicidally depressed due to a life of abuse by family members and neighborhood gun violence.
"Define an accident...
I call it negligence or wilfull disregard for safety, by one or more persons."
That seems very narrow, and overly optimistic about the capabilities of humans.
Everything can be distilled to cause and effect and everything seems easily preventable in hindsight. Unfortunately, every action we take involves a lot of variables, and humans can neither process them all nor live mistake-free lives.
Accidents happen not only because of willful negligence but also because people have imperfect control over, and and incomplete information from, their surroundings. Even if you wanted to gather and analyze more information about a situation or action, the time you spend in that effort could make you lose track of something else, resulting in an accident elsewhere.
It's not to say that we should throw our hands up and disown personal responsibility, but at the same time it's important to realize our limits.
To answer your question, here's a (better) definition of accident: "an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss"
@ne01: Negligent is different than oblivious. If the deer was repeatedly darting across a busy road just because it might be fun, that would be rather negligent. If the deer was fleeing some other threat, and its mind was concentrating on that threat, it might not have the ability to gather other information from its surroundings and deal with everything at once.
This follows from my point above: sometimes we just get overwhelmed, or we miss important cues. It's not that we don't care, but we simply don't have the ability to deal with it all.
It's like swerving to avoid debris in the road, but overcorrecting and causing an accident as a result. It's not that you were negligent and didn't care about getting into an accident: the entire point of swerving was to avoid the obstacle in the first place.
Some accidents are obviously the result of negligence, but not all.
Mat says, "The notion of being able to "control" the 2nd list of factors is absolute bunk."
I wholeheartedly disagree. You can dramatically reduce the risk of all five, and even if one is "unlucky" and exposed to extraordinary risks, doing the right thing at the right time can and will save lives.
Car accidents: wear your seat belt; SLOW DOWN; talk to your teens about the ugly consequences of speeding, drunken driving and/or texting while driving; buy a car with air bags, buy a car with good safety features, take a defensive driving course and make your teens do the same, drive within your limits (ditto), avoid unprotected left turns across high speed traffic, know how to respond to a traffic accident, take a first aid course.
Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger): teach basic personal safety skills including situational awareness (the goal is to stay out of trouble), encourage good social skills, encourage your children to choose their friends carefully (avoid 'bad apples'), take a realistic self defense course (if you don't get to beat the snot out of an assistant instructor wearing a mugging suit, it's not realistic)
Abuse: know and apply the warning signs of potential domestic violence with respect to single parents who date; teach these signs to your teenage children; don't have children if you have a drug or alcohol addiction, and if you're a single parent, don't date anyone who does either; last but not least, any parent presently in an abusive relationship should Get Out For The Sake Of The Children.
Suicide: keep the lines of communication open between parent and child, establish from an early age that suicide is Not OK, make sure that teens know that help is out there such as prevention hotlines, parents should ask about and look into potential warning signs of depression or mood swings, establish gun safety at an early age and keep firearms secured when not in use.
Drowning: don't drink around the water, NEVER EVER DIVE except at a location where the water depth is known and adequate, know how to swim, wear a life jacket during water activities, respect even small pools of water, never drive across flooded water, know what to do (mostly not panic) if your car goes into the river
So tell me again that there is nothing that can be done to reduce a parent or teenager's risk of being killed in a car accident, murdered, committing suicide or drowning. In point of fact there's quite a lot that can be done about all these things, and the challenge is to do it without pretending that we all live in a fantasy world where there is no risk.
Did the survey list these items for them? Because out of the blue I am more likely to come up with "Zeppelin accident" or "Hit by meteor" than "School sniper." In fact, I am vaguely annoyed that A Fear is the singular term "School sniper," as though this happens weekly.
Stupid. I presume stupid survey and stupid analysis as much as stupid parents. Except me. I am totally rational about all my decisions.
The NRA will tell you that infants drowning in buckets is more common than a lot of other causes of deaths in the age group. Don't have access to the real numbers myself, but it's not real hard to believe, having known a few infants and how they love to crawl into things like that.
I live in a deer-rich area, where nearly everyone has hit one (some every couple of years) -- no *fatalities* that I know of, locally.
It is my take that it's mostly not an accident. I drive often well above the speed limits myself, and in 30 years have gently tapped exactly one deer (knocked it cold and it became an unemployed neighbor's food).
Why is that? Because I drive properly maintained cars with good brakes, and I pay close attention to the sides of the roads (mostly woods here) because I know it's an issue -- that's no accident.
Not overdriving my visibility isn't an accident either.
Maybe the first time, decades ago taught me better and others are slower learners. Adhering to that does make the twisty roads around here a little less fun, but...I once came around a blind corner -- there was a tree down and cars backed up behind it all the way to the corner. To avoid hitting them, I had to cross the lines -- but the idiots had gotten out of their cars and were blocking that path too, chatting -- so I went off the road to avoid killing people too stupid to either move the tree (I did that for them, I had someplace I needed to be) or send just one back to warn oncoming drivers...No accident there either.
I also am especially careful when I know the deer are on the move (dawn and dusk). Nothing accidental about that, and hence the superior track record of not hitting deer.
I think lots of it is a blame passing game. I cringe when "fog caused a major pileup". No, it didn't -- it just sat there being fog -- it made it more likely that stupid drivers would pay for their idiocy, at most. Didn't cause a thing. When you can't see -- don't drive. 100% caused by drivers, no accident, just that they get lucky often enough that they think they can cheat the odds.
Ok, on the nearby superhighway, one person was killed in the last 10 years by hitting a deer (watch those mini-suv's with the gentle hood slopes, the deer slide up and through the windshield). They were speeding of course, but the window to see and avoid is less there too. Maybe we call that an accident. But how about the next 5 people who died in the same "accident" because they were either following too close, or just weren't paying attention and came along later and hit the mess -- accident? Nope. Overdrive your vision, that's a conscious act, which has risks for you and others.
Not an accident -- an act of will.
All that said, I agree with Bruce on most of the particulars here -- people are just plain irrational, and the media helps that along as much as they can.
The problems with cars, at least where I live (and most of this country) is that it has gone from a privilege to a necessity to have one -- with society setup as it is, you almost cannot live without one in most places -- can't get to work, can't get to groceries, and so on. This means the system has adjusted such that it's pretty hard to lose one's license to drive. Because dealing with an unemployed starving person costs the state even more than the odd "accidental" death, and they know it.
The same sort of statistics apply to molestations (another hot-button parenting issue). I've argued that if mothers really wanted to protect their children from molestation, they'd divorce/leave the father, then remain celibate (removing the (unfortunately) statistically salient threats from father / stepfather / boyfriend-of-Mom). As a side effect this also eliminates molestation threats from siblings (if done consistently), by eliminating siblings.
Unfortunately creepy uncles and the odd coach/priest remain threats.
It's interesting because I read a recent study about this... according to the study (off the top of my head), kidnappings and cases of abuse or molestation are predominantly from people the victim already knows, as mentioned above. This has real world applications and problems. When I was a kid, I would walk almost a mile to a bus stop, same with others in the neighborhood. Today kids are picked up outside of their house by the bus drivers, which - depending on the route, interferes - **heavily** - with normal flow of traffic. It drives me nuts every time I'm behind one of these buses knowing the stats of the real dangers. How are they really helping? They they're helping yet what doing is interrupting other facts of life - like traffic. Wasted resources and money applied to the wrong area by people who believe too much what they see on CSI and/or the news.
I would have put drugs near the top of my fear list
I'm calling BS on this study. I know a lot of parents (have 2 kids of my own) and I guarantee that there's not a single one of them whose "top fear" is kidnapping or school snipers. This smells of poor methodology.
I notice that "Grande Mocha" already remarked on this, but most of the difference between these lists is because they are compiled in different ways; consequently, some items on one list are a subset of, or overlap with, items on the other. Without uniform rules about how they are compiled, they are simply not comparable.
A case in point: parents are afraid of exposing their children to "dangerous strangers", and in fact it turns out that child abuse and homicide are actually quite high up the list. But, most child abusers and child murderers are not strangers, they are someone who knows the victim.
So does that mean that parents are wrong to be concerned about strangers? Of course not, that's idiotic. The reason that most child abusers and child murderers know their victims is that our society already spends some effort to protect children (and other defenceless members of society) from strangers, and these efforts, if imperfect, are reasonably effective. It can't exclude access to children by *everyone*, and so the observed statistic results. By if we were to, say, routinely allow eight year olds to wander around rough neighbourhoods at night, then see how that stat changes.
As it stands, it is completely useless to compare these lists. We simply do not know if parents rated car accidents too low because they underestimated the risk, or because of they way they were asked.
I have another small quibble about the list. Why stop at 5? Why not the more usual 10? The reason I wonder is that recently, in writing an essay, I had recourse to compile such a "league table", and I noticed that if made my list 7 items long, it made my case very strongly. But all the next 3 items undermined it. For just a few seconds I was wondering about excuses for making the list 7 items long, and then it occurred to me that a 5 item lists would be "best" -- makes the case strongly, yet not too suspicious. You will be gratified to hear that I snapped out of it, gave myself a good slapping, and let intellectual integrity prevail. However this lead me to Roger's Observations on League Tables:
1. League tables are nearly always junk science. If the data really supports the thesis, just show the data.
2. To have even a ghost of statistical validity, league tables lengths should be chosen _a_priori_. Since the reader does not know the process for choosing the length, this leaves only two valid lengths: either the standard "top ten" items, or *all* the data. Anything else should be regarded with suspicion: did the author choose a list of this length _a_posteriori_, because it makes his case? (The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.)
3. Short tables are particularly suspect. The sort of data that shows very strong differences between the first few items is usually not presented in this format: instead, the polemicist will say "more people chose products A and B than the next three products combined", or something like that. Hence, there is often no significant difference between the first few items.
4. Similarly, comparing the ordering in two lists is often a meaningless exercise, unless it is accompanied by information about the strength of the difference between the items. It may well be -- and often is -- that a tiny statistical variation, or a subtle change in the data collection method, can completely re-order the list. Thus agonising over why item 3 in List A is in position 6 in List B is a waste of time.
Finally, as with all self-reported or surveyed data, great care should be taken in the interpretation, depending on exactly how it was collected. That is, unless you know the exact wording of the question asked of the parents, the setting in which it was asked etc. etc. then it is dangerous to make any interpretation at all.
1. To be precise, nearly all child homicides fall into two distinct groups, if one actually reads the linked PDF file. Very young infants have a relatively high rate of homicide, in which they are smothered or beaten to death by the child's own parents or carers. Very often this is the result of post-natal depression. Once the child has successfully settled in to the family without being murdered, child homicide rates are extremely low until the teen years are reached. At this point, the rate begins to rise again, and the majority are youths from minority groups, killed with a gun by a hostile member of their peer group, in a matter involving drugs -- so not *technically* a stranger, but not family members and by no means a friend!
When did it become trendy to redefine “accident” to specifically exclude motor vehicle collisions?
And the first five are the reason children are now driven to school.
And naturally the dangers of multiple double parked SUVs maneuvering around outside every school gate aren't even on the list.
The items on the first list get national, prolonged news coverage when they happen, precisely because they are, well, news, i.e. rare and notable. A kid killed in a car accident doesn't get mentioned in the next county.
It would be interesting to correlate degree of public fear of something with the number of column inches/TV minutes (or some appropriate measure of coverage in the new media world) it rates.
Unfortunately, this effect generates a positive feedback loop, since the more scary an event is, the more it's covered, generating more fear, and even more news coverage.
And certainly political operatives know how to exploit this effect to generate "useful" fears in the public while hiding real worries in plain sight.
Various people including my mother predicted that terrible but unspecified
awful problems would arise if I never learned to drive. I'm now 44 and these terrible unspecified problems have never arisen. My wife has never learned either. OK, we don' t live in the US and have to choose where we live bearing our non-driving in mind, but it's never been a problem so far. The only time I've ever thought it might really be useful is when moving house, but if I only drove at intervals of several years, and on those occasions drove huge trucks, I imagine I'd be a liability.
This touches on one of my personal policies: if you can't affect the result of something, then don't worry about it.
This of course presumes that I have to do certain things, eg I could significantly reduce the probability of dying in a car accident if I never got in a car again for the rest of my life, but obviously that is stupid. It would also probably increase the odds of my dying some other way, eg as a pedestrian.
Why sacrifice something with a low probability for something with a high probability?
Interesting to see that drugs are on the feared list and suicide on the actual risks list. I would have thought that the correlations between drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and self-harm are so strong that separating them into cause and effect and assigning separate risk factors for them would be very tricky.
Apropos drowning, how good is the evidence that being able to swim actually reduces the risk of drowning? I sometimes worry that being able to swim a little might actually increase the risk of drowning by encouraging risky behaviour and over-confidence.
I have to agree with Steven Hoober's and HavaCuppaJoe's comments up there somewhere.
Were these points listed to the participants to choose from? None of these would be at the top of my list of 5 fears if asked to come up with them from my own head.
Probably very poor methodology, fault sources not taken into account, etc.
In any case, this Barnes' insanity is clearly visible in the last paragraph of the article;
"So, what’s a worried parent to do? Barnes has a simple prescription: helmets and seatbelts. Yup, that’s right, helmets and seatbelts. "I know it sounds boring," she says, but according to her research, making kids wear protective gear and buckle up in the car cuts kids' chances of death by 90 percent and their chances of serious injury by 78 percent."
Holy Mother of Everything Nice. Helmets and seatbelts? Yup...that'll take care of the drowning risk, at least. No? Oh.
My number one concern when my 7-year-old goes out alone is traffic. Like most kids her age, my daughter can be impulsive and inattentive, and I worry that she might not exercise enough caution when crossing the street.
On the other hand, when I visited my family in the USA this summer, my mom was really concerned when I let my daughter go out and play in the front yard alone, citing the risk of stranger abduction. When I was my daughter's age, my mom let me go to the neighborhood swimming pool and stay there most of the day alone. If anything, the neighborhood my parents live in now is safer than the one I grew up in. The only thing that has changed is the culture of fear.
@csrster: "I sometimes worry that being able to swim a little might actually increase the risk of drowning by encouraging risky behaviour and over-confidence."
I think in general being trained in what to do in an emergency helps you stay calm and do the right thing. I can't speak for everyone, but for me being able to swim a little kept me from panicking when I fell into (shallow) water as a young child. I swam until I got to where someone could pull me out.
I personally never took risks in the water due to overconfidence. Even now, as an excellent swimmer, I know my limits and prefer not to push them.
> This is a silly comparison. Item 2 of the second list is "Homicide." Items 1-4 in the first list often lead to homicide, hence the fear.
The difference is that the homicide is usually committed by someone they know. Unless you're claiming that most kids know snipers, and terrorists, equating those things is unreasonable. Not only that, but by definition, they can't know strangers or those people wouldn't be strangers. Kidnappers are the only thing left. Sadly, the kidnapper is usually one of the parents or a family member who lost custody, so they actually do know kidnappers.
That means that while it's not unreasonable for parents to worry about their children dying, none of those causes of death can be equated with "homicide" as it appears in the second list. You should also note that "kidnapping" is not really a form of "homicide" even if that sometimes happens. It's not as common as the media leads us to think it is.
But maybe it would take a more full breakdown of actual ways children are murdered vs. the ways parents fear they will be murdered to convince you.
"Clive, have you ever hit a deer that jumped in front of your car?"
Simple answer no even though I live and travel in an area of England that has a fair number of them and have enjoyed eating road kill caused by others. I also hunt them from time to time, but the previous UK Political incumbrants have made that extreamly difficult one way or another with the result some dear are significant pests.
"I have. I guess that was my fault for driving the speed limit on the road I was on"
That depends on your view point. Go back and look at how I defined what I said. Thus your "accident" may not be due to just your actions but the inactions of others...
So first question : why did the dear jump in front of your car?
Dear are naturally shy and retiring wood dwelling creatures that unless you know what to look for you could easily walk within a couple of feet of and not know they are there.
When I was a lot younger I managed to stalk up on a dear and catch it by hand, I don't know which was more surprised me or the dear (I also used to regularly catch rabbit that way as well).
I have seen a lot of dear startled by "dogs off the lead" where thoughtless "townie dog owners" let their dogs run free on "country walks". Likewise with horse riders, noisy people and those who showld most definatly know better.
So you might view the dear jumping in front of you as accidental, I view it as a question of,
'What startled the dear to cause it to behave unnaturally?'
You don't say where this happend so it is difficult to atribute a probable cause for it's actions.
Then there is the issue of your speed, the fact that you hit something in the road says that on this occasion you where traveling to fast plain and simple. Afterall you said "hit a deer that jumped in front of your car" not "had a deer jump on your car", thus for some reason you where not able to stop in time.
Now the question is, 'If you or others are to blaim for the speed you where traveling at to be the cause of "your accident"?'
The speed limit on any road is generally a maximum (yes there are places where you can be prosecuted for driving to slow) but it is advisory on normalised road conditions.
I suspect you would regard some one driving at the speed limit in pouring rain who came off the road to be at fault?
So I assume I can say there are times with the appropriate fore thought a sensible person would drive at less than the speed limit?
The weasle words in the speed limit setting statment above are of course 'advisory on normalised road conditions' which is another way of saying a "probablistic measure" of "an acceptable incident rate".
That is somebody has decided for whatever reason the number of traffic related incidents caused at X mph is acceptable for this road.
Thus the "safe stopping distance" for speed X does not prevent incidents with animate objects (logically it cannot stop that even if it was set to zero).
So I suspect if 'dear incidents' became to numerous on the stretch of road then either X would be reduced or other measures such as dear fencing would be taken.
The fact that dear incidents are probably quite low and thus the speed limit is what it is does not mean that your dear incident was "unpredictable" and thus what you chose to call an "accident". Far from it somebody has made a very rational choice as to setting the speed limit based on what they consider acceptable risk and your "dear incident" was an "an acceptable" outcome of that choice.
Likewise you made a very rational choice to drive at the speed you did a little faster or a little slower and the dear would not have been hit by you.
So truthfully I would have to say yes to your question,
"I guess that was my fault for driving the speed limit on the road I was on"
Even though it was legal and may well have been perfectly acceptable immediatly prior to the start of the incident that gave rise to you hitting the dear with your vehicle.
This is the crux of the issue "fault" and "culpability" are not the same thing and also you may not have been the only person at "fault" and no person may have been directly culpable (only indirectly). The cost of establishing culpability has to be paid by the general populous which ever way you view it because it consumes recources. Thus a trade off has to be made does society establish culpability in every case at impossibly high cost, or does it accept that society is better served at lower cost by ignoring culpability and calling it an "accident"?
Which is why we have the "man sitting on a Clapham Omnibus" test of reasonable behaviour / forthought in English law.
Should you feel guilt at hurting / killing the dear, I cannot say I was not there. The probability is if it did not happen to you on this occasion it would happen to somebody else either then or at another time. As a society we accept this will happen as we try to find the "cost minimum" but as I said originally it is in some measure predictable not "just an accident".
"There are lots of other car accidents that are not negligence. What about the tree limb that falls just as the car is going underneath it?"
I don't know about where you live but in the UK the landowner has a very clear duty of care with regards liability for "over hanging boughs and limbs" not just on "public property" but on any property including their own. There have been a number of legal cases of recent times where "Tree Presevation Orders" have been placed on trees preventing the land owner from effectivly dealing with trees that are arguably a risk to others.
Again in normal conditions tree limbs do not just drop there are very clear signs of rot or other extremes in the tree prior to this. Failure of a landowner to inspect the tree is plain simple negligence. In abnormal weather conditions such as stormy weather a driver like any other responsable individual should be aware that trees are dangerous to be near. Afterall we tell our children not to stand under trees in a storm not just because of lightning strikes but also due to "limb shear". So the driver is making a calculated risk by driving in abnormal weather conditions.
With regards your question,
"Perhaps we shouldn't drive at all?"
How many people a year die in your area from driving related incidents?
Now compare it to deaths by aircraft or train or other public transport.
Then do a cost minima calculation...
It is interesting to note that although fatalities in driving incidents is falling with increased safety measures the number of incidents is rising.
Now it varies from place to place but I beleive that the % number of incidents in the US is rising faster than the % increase in population, and in parts faster than the % increase in the number of drivers.
One conclusion from this is that yes less people should be "forced to drive" by other social issues. As others have noted above driving was once a privaledge now for many no mater how good or bad or whatever the circumstances they are forced to drive.
As an employee in the past I've either been late or not able to get to work due to adverse weather conditions stopping public transport. When it has happend my various employers have moaned but accepted it.
However when I used to get myself to work by my own transport one employer gave me a "verbal warning" for not comming to work because I considered the weather conditions unacceptable...
The weather conditions that caused me to consider as a cyclist it was to dangerous to cycle 20miles was 8cms of fresh snow fall. It also brought a large part of the south of England to a standstill and caused "chaos in central London" and had a subsiquent Government enquiry.
But because my "boss" got to work an hour late after his 3mile drive, and even though he had skidded off of the road and damaged the wing of his company car he considered it "safe" conditions for a cyclist...
Needless to say I found another employer shortly thereafter as I find working for "Macho Idiots" to be detrimental to my life expectancy. Oh and just as well as about a year later the company ceased to operate...
Stuart says "When did it become trendy to redefine “accident” to specifically exclude motor vehicle collisions?"
When it became clear that most Road Traffic Collisions -RTCs- where due to one or more parties making a mistake. Saying "accident" implies "nobody to blame", you can say "oh what a terrible accident, five people got hit by a drunk driver" rather than "someone made a decision to drink and drive and these people are a consequence which statistics implies is strongly correlated with getting in a car after drinking". Not an accident, unless your model of causality is different.
Rob says "have you ever hit a deer that jumped in front of your car?"
I have hit a deer, first week in Oregon. I learned to fear sunsets, to fear roads with woods on either sides. In my four (lovely) years there we saw many more deer, but I never hit another one. When you know the times and places they come out, you drop your speeds. Risk management works, you see.
Since you asked... The circumstances of my one and only deer-car interaction came while I was heading north on Interstate 684 about 1 hour north of New York City in the town of Mount Kisco, NY.
As a matter of fact, it was actually the deer that hit me, on the passenger side of the car, as I was traveling in the 'slow lane' (right hand side in the US) of this 3 lane highway. My speed was 55 mph which is the limit for this highway. The road condition was dry, it was in the afternoon around 4pm in the summer of 1996.
If you live in this area of the USA (just north of NYC) and you drive a car, no matter how careful you are, sometime in your driving career, you will hit a deer, you will be in a car that hit a deer... Or a deer will hit you. When I lived in Australia, many cars & trucks had "roo bars" that helped mitigate the damage when you ran into a kangaroo. Maybe we should get "bambi bars" or at least add more venison to our diet?
Then again maybe they are not accidents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzoYOmfiEjI
It's the Avalibility Heuristic in action - media covers, and people talk about and tell stories about, the sensational and rare events that make for good stories, not the stuff that happens all the time like car accidents. You hear about it more, so you think you need to worry about it more. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
There are automobile accidents. There are things that happen while driving that could have only been prevented by having some knowledge of the future that a human being cannot possibly have.
For example, a friend of mine had a five pound piece of metal ram through their engine block when it fell off of a tractor trailer in front of her. A few inches higher and it would have gone through the cabin, and her. She had less than a second to react.
Her car became undrivable and the person who was responsible never even knew.
I have just noticed that the predictive typing on this mobile is giving me "dear" not "deer" hmm brings a whole different meaning 8)
If the deer hit you from close cover then no not your fault.
I once had a rabbit run into my rear wheel on my racing bike in Richmond Park London, messy was not the word. It had been spooked by a Golden labrador that was off the lead and came up to claim it's kill much to the horror of the lady that owned it. I'm glad it was not one of the red deer stags I doubt I would have survived some of them are big bruts and weigh in around 250lb.
I narrowly missed getting kicked in the head by one once when sneaking up on a rabbit set at dusk, not an event you forget when it's hoof breaks your favourite night optics and your wrist at the same time. Which was unfortunat as I was well out of London and the nearest A&E (ER) was over twenty bone rendering miles in the back of a Land Rover.
There's a lot of prime meat on a stag that size and it would keep a family in "healthy option" "Bambi Burgers" for quite a while and if you'r into charcuterie then the lights and other offal make some great sausages and meat puddings :-P
And if you are into even stranger things such as making traditional Mongol style composit bows, you can boil up the horn and tendons with eel heads (works almost as well as the traditional swim bladders fish glue) to do the laminating.
Clive, I profess platonic love for you. Don't ever leave us.
Based on the restrictions my mother expressed when I was growing up, her five greatest fears (for me) were:
- me getting kidnapped while riding my bike farther than one block away from home
- me getting drugged in a mall bathroom and dragged away to be sold into the sex trade
- me getting raped in a mall parking lot by someone who got into my car and hid in the back seat
- me sitting on a hypodermic needle placed in a movie theater seat by evil people
- me getting eaten by a bear while camping
As you can clearly see, the urban legends captured her imagination.
When MY son was growing up, here is the list of my biggest fears, in chronological order:
- him getting kidnapped from a store
- him getting into a car accident while driving
- him getting in with the wrong crowd and getting executed for a drug deal gone wrong
- me coming home to find him hanging in his closet
- one particular bully "friend" coming over to the house and killing him after their friendship ended
Yes, some of the fears were based on news items, but most of them were based on the idea that my son was *near* a danger (he disappeared in a store, he was an inexperienced driver, he was a dumb teenager with dumb friends at one point, he went through depression, he was bullied) and the danger could possibly have touched him.
I don't fear a plane crash unless I'm actually in a plane. I was recently t-boned by an inattentive driver who ran a red light, now I fight a jumpy feeling when cars approach an intersection from my left (but I'm OK with all other situations). Ironically, the EMT who took me to the hospital had just previously dropped off an unresponsive toddler found in a swimming pool. Did I fear drowning when my son was young? He loved wakeboarding. Not really, I thought about it but I knew he was a good swimmer. I feared him swimming in the ocean though, as I'd experienced its overwhelming power once.
I think we fear dangers that we feel are "near" in some way.
Teach your children to have a security mindset. Teach your children to defend themselves. Teach your children to observe and remember. Teach your children to pick locks and improvise.
Above all teach your children how to make good decisions and provide them with good fundamental morals (however you see fit) and learn to trust them.
The first "serious" book that my kids will read, if I am blessed enough to have them some day, will probably be one written by Jeff Cooper.
Well, it's a surprise to me that you did not also include or at least guess at the top five worries of the children themselves.
I have a feeling an entry like boogeyman might also make your point.
"Apropos drowning, how good is the evidence that being able to swim actually reduces the risk of drowning? I sometimes worry that being able to swim a little might actually increase the risk of drowning by encouraging risky behaviour and over-confidence."
I have only anecdotal evidence, but it's pretty good anecdotal evidence. Here in Australia, nearly 90% of the population lives close to the coast. We have a strong beach and swimming culture, and in coastal cities it is practically obligatory to learn to swim. Saying that you don't know how to swim would mark you out as someone a little weird, and definitely unfortunate. Children who are not yet old enough to be tactful may well ask you "what happened?"
However, swimming skills are general less common and less developed among country kids from the frequently parched interior. Some have nowhere to swim at all, and those who do will only have swum in small, shallow bodies of still water. Every now and again a country school will organise an excursion to see the Big Smoke and the mighty Pacific , and some of the kids might go for a swim. When they do, the per capita incidence of drownings is said to be (sorry, I don't have actual stats) much higher than amongst kids who grew up near the pounding ocean. To the extent that it is recommended that orgnisers contact the SLSA so they can arrange to have extra lifeguards on duty.
Being used to swimming in the sea doesn't just make you better able to cope with dangerous situations, it also makes you better able to recognise and avoid them in the first place.
This is probably related to the psychological bias known as the "illusion of competence": basically, novices at some skill tend to overestimate their prowess, experts tend to *underestimate* it.
1. On slow news days, taking kids to see the Pacific often receives media coverage, because it is amusing to watch the reactions of kids who have never before seen a body of water more than 50 m wide!
Roger - thanks for the info. I'm sure you're right and I'm making sure my kids learn to swim, but sometimes I'm worried that the older one, who's quite a strong swimmer might become over-confident and get herself into difficulties.
That actually brings to mind another source of parental confusion about risk that I've also encountered - parents who are so concerned about the risk of sports injuries that they actively discourage their kids from too much strenuous physical activity. I'm not even going to explain why that one is fallacious, and hopefully it isn't as common these days as it was when I was a kid.
Question -- how do you compare 'hurt' and 'killed'?
Which is a more serious threat:
a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting killed in a car accident or a 1 in 200 chance of becoming a drug addict?
Here's a puzzle:
Parents insist on kids wearing helmets on their bicycles. Ok. Some risk reduction. Probably saves lives.
Same parents do not insist on them wearing helmets in the car. Hmm.
The first answer that occurred to me: Car accidents happen at such much higher speeds, and so the chance of actually saving a life is correspondingly reduced.
I'll point out that fighter pilots however, wear helmets. Given the mass, it must make significant differences in the pilot's ability to see everywhere at once. One concludes that military boffins figure that helmets are a good idea.
It would be worthwhile to continuously educate people on the relative risks.
E.g. How many kidnapping cases per million kids happen each year. How many murders by strangers to kids....
Reacting to stories is sensible. In a small community in particular anecdotal evidence is all we have, and chances are that the community is too small for meaningful statistics. However in a world where sensational news from far away drowns out the mundane everyday from nearby, our 'anecdotal risk analyzers' are skewed.
Canadians in general think that the murder rate in the U.S. is a major threat. I looked it up one year. Yes. At that point is was 8/100,000 and Canada's was 2/100,000. But curiously if you took out black & hispanic perps & victims, it was about the same as Canada's. In the U.S. murder isn't a general problem. It's a race problem. Now in Canada we are starting to get a rise -- and it's almost entirely related to race based gangs (In our case, mostly orientals)
@Steve and @Clive
An accident is an unintended consequence to a willful action. (Asteroids, Clive? Really?) To say that something was an accident is not to absolve anyone of responsibility for their actions. It is just a separation by intent.
Re: Helmets in cars vs. bikes.
The bike helmet is meant to protect the head from an uncontrolled fall from about 5 feet. This is not much of a risk in a car. The child is already surrounded by the car, they don't need a helmet.
Re:Fighter pilot helmets
In case of ejection, the pilots head may hit the canopy on the way out. Also, the helmet connects to the radio and the oxygen supply. I would bet that the helmet stays on a lot better than the headphones I use.
>> Clive, I profess platonic love for you. Don't ever leave us. Posted by: Pat Cahalan
+1 here. Someone with brains on the other side of the pond.
In the editorial "Crime, Mourning, and Outrage" by David E. Ross, the following question is addressed: When a young girl was sexually assaulted and murdered by a stranger, why did 5,000 persons attend the victim's funeral? (If a child had died due to a more mundane and common cause, would the number of mourners have been as great?)
Cycle helmets. Not reducing injury as much as received wisdom would have you believe: cyclehelmets.org
Our worst fears are almost always a culmination of everything we've heard or read in the Internet, and the reality, albeit ordinary, but nevertheless emotionally wrenching.
But I'm quite surprised about the school sniper fear.
Interesting facts on risks for children are in the "Paranoid for Parents" guide, paranoidparentsguide.com
They provide a rather funny "paranoid fact of the week"
When researching for the book, the statistics used came from the CDC, FDA, Mayo Clinic, MORI poll, etc and then verified as the most reliable by government health officials. Only surveys carried out over a sufficient time, demographic, etc were considered.
Just a note: Parents were not asked what scares them the most but what do they worry about for their children.
I found that parents were worried about the scariest stories on TV 24/7 and were missing the less 'entertaining' dangers that happen. Parents think "If it happened once then it can happen to my child" and not "Does this happen rarely or frequently to the average child or children in my neighborhood?"
Be concerned, be aware, empathize with those hurt, but don't think every danger is equally likely. We wouldn't pack a snow shovel for a trip to Las Vegas, but we will lose sleep over dangers even less likely. And it can be very hard to let go of 'our worst nightmares'.
Yes drugs and bullying are concerns but education and prevention are working in some ways and not in some ways. We need those details and not a sledge hammer "Do something, do anything. The more we spend the safer we are" approach.
We teach stranger danger when it is 'friends and family' committing homicide, kidnappings and abuse(over 1 in 5 kids). (Friends and family well over 99% of the time)
If you want or need more data, just ask!
(Watch out for our Paranoid Parents cartoon series coming soon. Every child hurt is a tragedy that we do not belittle but, for example, more parents poison kids from cooking than any Halloween Candyman (Urban Myth) or the not amusing expenditure of $250,000 by some schools for school shooter-proofing.)
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.