Thursday, March 27, 2008

You can give a mouse a cookie…but that doesn’t make him a baker

From today’s boingboing.net:

Pilot shoots hole in cockpit - trust is not transitive
Posted by Cory Doctorow, March 27, 2008 5:34 AM

Remember when they gave pilots guns to increase airplane security? On Saturday, a US Airways pilot accidentally fired his gun in the cockpit while trying to stow it, blowing a hole in the plane. Security expert Peter Biddle uses this as an object lesson to explain why "trust isn't transitive."

Let’s look at this quote from the article in question, attributed to Mike Boyd: “if somebody who has the ability to fly a 747 across the Pacific wants a gun, you give it to them.” This is a horribly flawed assumption, because it assumes that trust is transitive, when clearly it isn’t.

The reason trust isn’t transitive is because trust is most often based on data regarding the past which allows us to make assumptions about specific competence, quality of performance, and behaviors in the future.

We can assume that a trained pilot, when facing piloty thingies, will act like a trained pilot. WE CANNOT ASSUME THAT A TRAINED PILOT WILL ACT LIKE A TRAINED LION-TAMER WHEN FACING A WILD LION.

Skills from one domain cannot simply be moved from that domain to another. Saliently, the pilot in question must have thousands of hours of flight time, has done the pre-flight check hundreds or even thousands of times, has been steeped in pilot-ness and thus pilot-safety, probably since he was a late teen. He’s very likely an extraordinarily safe pilot. We can assume that every experienced 747 pilot has a keen awareness of the potential lethality of full loaded 747. In the past we can assume that they at least had a deep appreciation of the potential for harm to their own passengers, and post 9/11 we can assume that they appreciate the harm their plane can be to thousands of additional people.

The argument that Biddle makes goes directly to the heart of the larger issue of guns and self-defense. Pro-gun advocates have long claimed that people with training in how to shoot and handle a gun are qualified enough to own a gun for self-defense.

I have always had problems with that line of reasoning, but Biddle nails it in his explanation: We cannot assume that a trained pilot will act like a trained lion-tamer when facing a wild lion. I would add: You cannot assume that a mechanic or accountant or store clerk will act like a trained police officer when facing a criminal.

Showing someone how to shoot a gun is not the equivalent of attending a police academy and coming face to face with criminals on a daily basis. Police officers are trained over many months in how to act in stressful, life or death situations and, once on the job, they face those kinds of situations frequently.

As a writer, I simply do not encounter life or death situations where I have to decide whether to pull a trigger or not. How can I predict how I would act if I had a gun in my back pocket and I felt threatened? Yeah, I know how to aim and shoot the weapon, but my hand will be shaking, my mind racing, my adrenaline pumping. Will I make the right decision? Will I hurt or kill an innocent bystander? Is it a burglar rummaging around downstairs or my oldest son making a surprise visit home from college?

Giving a person a gun and showing him how to use it is not the same thing as training him about when, where and why to use it. Skills from one domain cannot simply be moved from that domain to another.

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