Post Hoc Ergo Proptor Hoc: Air Conditioners Cause Rapes

Post Hoc Ergo Proptor Hoc: Air Conditioners Cause Rapes

By cdmichel | Published February 6, 2014

I was reminded of an old criminologists' inside joke when recent news reports announced that global warming will lead to higher crime rates (which is odd since crime in America has been in a two decade decline while global temperatures have crept upwards). Long ago someone noticed that more rapes occurred during the summer months, and also noticed people ran their air conditioners during the summer. In an attempt to show the absurdity of some pseudo-scientific thinking applied to politics, they made the absurd statement linking rape to cooling down your apartment.

(For the intellectually curious, rapes do increase in summer, mainly due to people being outdoors more, intermingling, and some would contend wearing less clothing and being both more attractive and exploitable)

People with politically unpopular objectives often turn to "causality" arguments; the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), maintaining that the second event was a direct consequence of the first (Latin lovers know the disease as post hoc ergo proctor hoc, or "after this, therefore because of this"). But this "thinking" is a first order logic fallacy because it is based on the observation of only one possible cause, not the dozens, thousands or even millions of possible causes.

This logical disconnect is the father of much bad thinking in politics, which is why the gun control movement loves to use it.

Let's take one example that was lavishly documented in the book Shooting The Bull, a tome on propaganda analysis and gun control. Back in 1988, only 10 states provided any means for the average non-criminal citizen to carry a concealed firearm in public places (today it is more than 40). When Florida - a high-population state and thus a potential bellwether - tried to pass a "shall issue" concealed carry weapons (CCW) law, the gun control movement launched a stunning campaign of hyperbole, all based on speculative causation. Some of the cause-and-effect scenarios they pitched to the public included:

  1. Street corner shootouts over fender-bender accidents.
  2. Shoot-outs at PTA meeting between parents.
  3. Mistaken identity shootings in public places.
As you haven't read in any newspapers, these were false claims. Yet the cause and effect scenario is always in play, because anything that sounds remotely possible and frightening motivates people. Indeed, in the aftermath of more than 4/5ths of states supporting shall issue, the only attempt to paint shall-issue CCWs as a bad idea is a rather lame little web page by the Violence Policy Center (a Joyce Foundation funded cabal once co-managed by Barack Obama) that tallies the number of homicides committed by CCW licensees. What the VPC fails to calculate is that among the more than 11,000,000 CCW permit holders, 0.004% of them killed anyone and some of those were justifiable homicides. And once again, the permit did not cause a crime, any more than a driver's license causes car accidents. Would a murderer not drive to a victim's location of his driver's license was revoked?

Gun control propagandists can go further in their air-conditioner-rape type studies and thereby arrive at any conclusion they choose. What they don't do is what working criminologists and economists do every day, namely: multivariate analysis. Such an analysis examines many relationships between possible causes and effects to determine which ones actually produce an effect, by how much, and if some are co-contributors. But this type of analysis is brain-breaking, even for people intimate with statistics and the few thousand dollars needed to buy the really good statistics software. And heck, why bother when an uncritical media parrots your talking points regardless of mathematical fidelity?

Upon occasion, gun control "researchers" will proffer a multivariate analysis of their own, which to untrained eyes looks legitimate and which "clearly shows" that guns and their availability are Bad Ideas. But almost without exception, the researchers limit the variables that they test. Cherry picking variables can produce really cherry results. For example, if they were researching the causes of rape, they might test variables like air conditioner use, median age of dogs, the percentage of the population that likes the color yellow, and the change of household income of Eskimos. They would ignore variables like early prison release programs, locality of tangent crimes, inner-city economic fluctuations and the use of "party drugs".

The other thing gun control advocates never research is the inverse of their cause-effect claims. Common critical thinking requires examining both the positive and negative. The theory that Barack Obama is a genius should be tested against the theory that he is an idiot (current Vegas odds have "idiot" by a three point spread). Likewise, gun availability causing crime should be tested against the counter theory that gun availability does not encourage crime, or that private gun ownership prevents crime. To have predictive value, each theory should be tested against a horde of other variables such as strict sentencing laws, police funding, economic conditions, provisional release programs, drug and alcohol consumption, and if anyone still finds Dr. Dre interesting.

One useful aspect of causation is that disproving causality can be easily performed. Take a theory, find data on what it claims to control, and if the data doesn't fit, then you can't acquit.

For example, a recent propaganda guidebook published for the gun control movement ended with the absurd claim that "we know how to protect people from gun violence." Let's test that theory.

Restated, gun control groups say "we advocate gun control because it will protect people from gun violence." The era of gun control popularity and legislation ended in around 1990, when shall issue CCW laws started passing en masse and strict incarceration laws (ala "three strikes") began being enacted. If gun control were a good idea, then the effect of those laws would have reduced violence in general and gun violence in particular. The chart above shows the actual results.

So much for causation theory vis--vis guns. If Joe Biden says anything about manmade global warming and rape, recycle the same grains of salt used here.

This article is filed in the following categories in the database: Legal Frontlines.