Autism and mass murder

21 May

Minority report Philip K Dick

Some thoughts on the new study that finds a link between autism and mass murder (here). I’ll turn it into a proper blog when I have time but in the meantime it’s the tweets I sent earlier today together with the responses of the lovely twitter people. Below are links to mainstream media coverage.

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This morning, there was an interesting piece on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme reporting on a study which reported a link between autism, head injury & mass murder. One of the researchers was interviewed, together with a professor of criminology who provided an interesting critique.

It was  a shame that the presenter seemed unsure how to pronounce “autistic”. And a very great shame when he repeated the harmful misconception: “surely murderers are psychotic”. And funny to learn that the study into mass murder and serial killing was done at the Glasgow Institute of … Health and Wellbeing.

Of course, as with other such studies looking at the characteristics of people who’d committed heinous crimes, The implication is we’re to walk down the street keeping our eyes peeled in case someone with & chops us up with an axe. What is the purpose of such studies? What’s the desired outcome from going through old murder case? And to what use can the results be put? The aim of such studies seems to be to find similarities between those who commit heinous crimes – to come up with groups & percentages. But what then? What’s the purpose in knowing these groups & percentages when such heinous crimes are incredibly rare? What’s the use? It must be a buzz for researchers when they come up with a theory ( + = mass murder) then find it works in other cases. The researchers claim the purpose of the research is predictive & preventative: to predict future murders, & prevent them. But can we? What prediction can we make by knowing a certain % of mass murderers have , when mass murderers are a miniscule % of people with ? What prevention can we do by knowing a certain % of mass murderers have , when mass murderers are a miniscule % of people with ? What prevention can we do by knowing a certain % of mass murderers have , when mass murderers are a miniscule % of people with ? How would we predict or prevent mass murder & serial killing – using some sort of screening programme? Who would we screen? And how? Screen all people convicted of one murder to see if they have & then predict they’re at risk for serial murder? Then what? Screen all people with to see if they have &, if they do, predict they’re at risk of being serial killers? And then what? What do you do with such predictions? How do you turn that into prevention? And how will you know it’s worked? If you screen people then predict their likelihood to be serial killers, what do you do with them – lock them up based on a prediction? Screen people & then, on the basis of statistics, predict they’re at risk for being a mass murderer, then lock them up? How long for? Where? Who does the screening? Who does the prediction? Who decides who gets locked up? Psychologists? Psychiatrists? Who? Considering such questions makes it plain & clear that prediction & prevention of mass murder in this way are non-starters. Predicting & preventing heinous crimes using screening programmes based on statistics from old cases will not & cannot work. Statistics & screening to predict & prevent heinous crimes makes for a good science fiction plot – but would not work in practice. It’s a simplistic solution with a superficial appeal which breaks down under any sort of scrutiny. Yet locking up people preemptively purely to prevent heinous crimes was looked at in the UK very seriously a decade ago. It was almost law. Remember the proposal to detain people with dangerous and severe personality disorder even where they had committed no crime? At the time it was said that 6 people would have to be detained to prevent 1 from acting violently. What about the other 5? So why – when screening, prediction & prevention could not work – do researchers quote them as justifications for their work? Hard to say. What is the reason for carrying out such studies? What do we hope to learn? And to what use can such knowledge be put? Hard to say. What is easy to say, however, is that studies linking with mass murder & serial killings raise fear & concern by & of people with ASD. Even though researchers – rightly – say the vast majority of people with are LESS likely than the general public to be violent. What are the benefits of such studies (other than to the intellectual curiosity of the researchers)? Press reports I’ve seen don’t say. The purpose & benefits of such studies are unclear. But, on the other hand, the harm caused to people with is clear. With mass murder & serial killings so rare yet so common, that’s a huge number of people needlessly labelled “potentially violent”. If you want to prevent (or reduce) violent crime, there are better ways to do it than screening people with . If you want to prevent (or reduce) violent crime, you will not do that by creating fear & suspicion of a vulnerable group. As Prof Wilson of Birmingham Uni said, theorising about mass murder doesn’t help us or get us any further in understanding mass murder.In other words, such studies shed more heat than light: they are inflammatory & stigmatising, without providing any helpful information. And yet they get reported. Because heinous crimes are rare & therefore newsworthy. And that gets researchers excited. Have people with or those who care for them learned anything helpful from the study? No. They’ve just got another reason to be fearful.

 

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