Monday, February 26, 2018

Small improvements

This is Joseph

I hope that this argument is a straw man:
Someone will say that mass shooting are rare. Moreover, if a future schoolyard shooter can’t get an AI rifle, he will use an only marginally less lethal weapon. Thus, preventing civilians from legally owning AI rifles would save only a few lives and only trivially reduce the total of gun deaths. So, really, aren’t you just virtue-signalling?
Because, if it is serious, it misunderstands technological advances, public health, and legal systems all at once.

1) Technology is incremental.  No one tweak is likely to have a 100% success rate.  The modern cell phone is the product of a thousand small tweaks over decades improving efficiency.  We did not go from huge analog radios to cell phones in one step. 

2) Medical and public health advances are never 100% effective.  Vaccines reduce infectious disease but they rarely eliminate it (smallpox being a nice exception).  Tactics like hand washing do not drop the rate of disease transmission to zero.  Seat belts do not eliminate auto fatalities, even if they reduce them.  Josh Marshall is good on this point

3) Laws reduce risks they do not eliminate them.  We have a lot of laws that reduce risks but don;t drop them to zero.  We have screeners for airplanes; nobody thinks that they are 100% effective but they are thought to reduce risk.  We require people to be licensed to drive not because it drops the rate of accidents to zero but because it reduces the rate.

I mean one could argue that particular guns are important for some reason or another, or that a specific law is bad.  But it is the balance between cost and effectiveness -- the effectiveness of a specific intervention may be low but so might the cost.  It isn't "virtue signaling" to note that a small improvement in a battery is better, even if it took hundreds of them to make a big difference.

And if we want to make these types of arguments (total benefit is small) then I have an idea for making airports more efficient.

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