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The Logic of Steel: Story Over Stats
Notes on The Author's Methodology
© 2012 James LaFond
Just today I was trying out my new antivirus protection and actually looked up some reviews on my violence book from Paladin, The Logic of Steel, from 2001. Most people like it and that was nice. Some people really did not like it and that was informative. The primary criticism is my attempt to apply statistical analysis to the anecdotal study I did. That is also my main problem with the book. I value it largely as an oral history.
My reasoning for generating statistics and asking 48 questions in each interview [This was not always possible and I would proceed as long as I could get the basic 8 questions.] was an attempt to get my bias out of the way. As I am a certain guy, at a certain size, in a certain place, with a certain mindset and certain acquaintances, we cannot base broad conclusions on my experience alone, and must be suspect of my deductions.
Now, I did not make anything up, and did jettison a couple of stories that I thought were fictitious. Oddly enough, the most entertaining stories were very easy to verify. The problem was partially with the narrow geographical scope and open-ended time frame of the information gathered. However, there is also a huge problem with the way law enforcement numbers are gathered, with most sub-lethal violence never becoming part of the data base. I saw—and still do see—my sloppy un-sanitized approach as a useful counterpoint to the neat sanitized manner in which law enforcement numbers are gathered by municipalities pressuring their officers to under report and sometimes reclassifying reports.
The biggest problem with my statistical method was the fact that I am basically a caveman where any sort of math is concerned, and actually needed my son to assist me. And, as he tells me now that he is in college, statistics is really tough, and there is really no way I could hope to graduate from such a course, let alone implement the methods. Putting me in charge of a Gallop poll would be like sending the guy who is in charge of it into the cage to fight Anderson Silva. For this reason I made two broad conclusions after this book was looked over by Mister Ford and Mister Janich at Paladin.*
1. It is the big numbers that you can trust the most, like the fact that virtually everyone who picks up a knife and attacks you with an ice pick grip will chase you if you run, and the fact that very few people [1 in 10] hold a knife or shank like an ice-pick.
2. Every number, like every anecdote, is suspect. That is why you collect a lot of them, so that the really weird stuff and the lies get filtered out by the very weight of the process.
Finally, it is intriguing to me that the pretty frightening looking dudes on these forums, who apparently pack knives and guns, and know how to use them [unlike the birdbrains in my study] seem to envision me as some kind of urban badass. I see myself as being in the bottom half of the bottom half of the urban population, physically speaking. And, well, numerically, I am both singular and befuddled. The truth is, I’m just so damned curious, and value my actual life and standard of living so little, that people mistake this for confidence or courage, or something more sinister.
Guys, I’m just a knucklehead trying to make sense of my surroundings and doing my best to enjoy the process. I began my violence survey so that I would not just be another specific part of the problem spouting off an answer. I truly hope my work has helped save someone, somewhere, from having a knife—or something that was less effective but more handy—shoved into their guts.
*Mister Janich was flatly critical of my tactical deductions. Mister Ford at Paladin was a tough editor who helped me out a lot. He said such humbling things to me as, “The title is too important to leave up to an author” and, “Look, James. I mean no disrespect. But you are a high school dropout who has been getting punched in the head for thirty years. Imagine my concern with you teaching yourself to translate ancient Greek! Get an academic to review your work!”
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