CONSPIRACY THEORIES, OCCAM’S RAZOR, AND THE LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF FORCE
There are times, when a law enforcement use of force is evaluated in public by a law enforcement executive, politician, the media, and/or a societal commentator, with a complicated, subjective, and possibly criminal, narrative then provided for the reason the event occurred. The narrative would, out of necessity, require the appropriate intent, potentially advanced training, and logistical/operational planning and coordination on the part of both involved and supporting law enforcement officer(s), and a predicable course of action and response by the “victim.” However, the requirements (temporal, spatial, material, capability, intent, etc.) for such a scenario are not generally addressed in the required detail by societal commentators or demanded for examination by any who would publicize or endorse that narrative. As a result, the alternative narrative, or conspiracy theory, is neither accurate nor subject to objective and/or scientific scrutiny, and then adopted to the detriment of society.
A conspiracy theory is typically provided as “explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy without warrant, generally one involving an illegal or harmful act carried out by government or other powerful actors. Conspiracy theories often produce hypotheses that contradict the prevailing understanding of history or simple facts (Wikipedia)” and provides a seemingly implausible course of events as causation. Presumably, as a means to make sense of a tragic result, the conspiracy theorist may propose their version due to a lack of foundational knowledge, unmanageable bias, and/or an inability or unwillingness to address ignorance of the associated data, circumstances, and human performance capabilities and limitations.
Ignorance of methodology and data may not be the only reason for conspiracy theories. Chisum and Turvey opined, "A person or organization that does not provide their data and theory for analysis (providing for corroboration, modification, refutation), may maintain unaddressed examiner bias (2007)."
Perhaps, the theorist may also be attempting to conceal or deflect attention from an examination of the data and actual circumstances of an event. Sober advised, “For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable (1994).”
To the un-involved, but concerned, observer, another preliminary analytical tool can be used to evaluate an event of phenomenon- Occam's Razor.
Occam's Razor (or Ockham's Razor) is a principle used to examine the potential reasons or causes of an event or condition. Such philosophical razors may be used to initially examine an event as an analytical principle, or rule of thumb, allowing the examiner to eliminate (or "shave off") unlikely explanations for a phenomenon. When faced with competing hypotheses, the razor suggests that the examiner select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. In essence, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
Occam's Razor is used to adjudicate between theories that have already passed "theoretical scrutiny" tests and are equally well-supported by evidence. Furthermore, the razor may be used to prioritize empirical testing between two equally plausible but unequally testable hypotheses; thereby minimizing costs and wastes while increasing chances of falsification of the simpler-to-test hypothesis (Baker, 2010).
In the context of evaluating the reasonableness of a law enforcement use of force, the examiner can consider whether the event was the result of a coordinated and widespread professional and/or institutional philosophy towards racism, excessive force, and homicide, with the understanding that each event is documented and publicized by the public in some degree, or more simply, the tragic outcome of human performance factors.
Is it important that the scientific method be employed in the objective analysis of a crime or critical incident? Why, or why not? What are the potential consequences for each approach?
Is it important that the scientific method be employed in the objective analysis of a law enforcement use of force? Why, or why not? What are the potential consequences for each approach?
What, if any, utility does Occam’s Razor have for the objective analysis of a law enforcement use of force? If none, why?
What is to be concluded by an event that was evaluated using the scientific method? What if one of the stakeholders disagrees with the findings? What is their scientific recourse and responsibility?
Baker, A., (2010). "Simplicity". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. California: Stanford University. ISSN 1095-5054.
Chisum, W.J., Turvey, B. (2007). “Crime Reconstruction”. Elsevier Academic Press, Burlington, MA.
Courtney, A. and Courtney, M., (2008). "Comments Regarding "On the Nature Of Science"" (PDF). Physics in Canada. 64 (3): 7–8. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
Sober, E. (1994). “Let's Razor Occam's Razor”. From Dudley Knowles (ed.) Explanation and Its Limits, Cambridge University Press, pp. 73–93.
The Philosophical Views of Ernst Mach Erich Becher The Philosophical Review Vol. 14, No. 5 (Sep., 1905), pp. 535–562 Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review.