Ten ways to spot bad science in the tactical community

OK, I use the phrase “tactical community” because I don’t have a better one for describing what we all know I mean by it.  Suggestions welcome.

There’s getting to be a plethora of theories, articles, books, and training venues revolving around the subject of “applying science to shooting (or something else “tactical”) performance”  There’s a ripe audience for that — hey who wouldn’t want to have the edge that “science” provides?  Who’d want to continue to train in dark ages-vintage technique?  So yeah, there’s a sucker born every minute…I mean there’s a large audience for this stuff.

Don’t get me wrong.  My undergrad degree is in engineering, and I strongly believe in science.  Real science.  And there is a fair amount of it to be applied to “tactical” activities.  More every year, in fact.

But there’s a crap-load of bullshit masquerading as science out there too.  Most cops, soldiers, shooters, and ordinary people concerned with self-protection aren’t scientists nor do they have any kind of hard science training.  They couldn’t define “double-blind experiment” nor “regression”.  So they fall for the shite that uses pseudo-scientific sounding terms.  (Another arena in which this happens is health and nutrition…even more so in fact!)

So, off the top of the head, below are 10 clues to fraudulent “science”.  Naturally there’s more.

  1. Typos and/or spelling mistakes in an article or book
  2. No index in a book
  3. No bibliography
  4. No peer review (associates in the authors “organization” don’t count)
  5. No studies referenced
  6. Referenced “studies” are all from the same author or his “organization”
  7. No dispassionate acknowledgement of an opposing view, with point/counter-point discussions
  8. “Studies” that don’t control for obvious variables, or any other variable than the one being discussed
  9. An unprofessional tone, or ad hominem attacks
  10. An author that won’t debate his findings in public with acknowledged experts

My favorite pseudo-scientific, completely wrong, factoid is:  you can’t focus at close distances under stress.  This is contradicted by any number of people who have had a revolver stuck in their face and were later able to vividly describe the striations on the noses of the bullets in the charge holes.  As my textbooks used to say, “It’s left as an exercise for the reader” to describe why you may not want to focus close-in during a highly stressful situation…but that’s not the same as not being able to.

Science is inherently conservative and skeptical.  You (and I) should be too.



One thought on “Ten ways to spot bad science in the tactical community

  1. Thanks for writing about this topic. While us coppers are not scientists we can learn to use logic. Sadly most trainers try to use studies where few actually apply or apply logic in the wrong context. Without high speed cameras during our gunfights we are left to reason why someone won or lost. But logic and reasoning are often absent in our field.

    Sadly I could use your list or any list to make anyone discard the ideas of Einstein. He made a few mistakes on your list.

    For me, I repeatedly ask why like an annoying five year old kid. When all the why’s are answered we usually have a clear answer. If the question has no clear right or wrong answer we usually have a large amount of context to decide how to fit something into our plans that actually acts as a system.

    Most people who carry guns never take the time to develop a system or to ponder how their decisions will work out within that system. Their decisions are more akin to a religion than a science. But no matter how we decide, we all decide and then live or not live with the results. Sometimes good enough is enough. Sometimes good enough really wasn’t enough.


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