Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Every anecdote tells another story

@glynmoody picks up a #securitytheatre story from Bruce Schneier's blog, If You See Something, Think Twice About Saying Something (May 2010).

It seems someone got arrested for reporting a suspicious package. Bruce seizes on this as evidence that the security regime is stupid - both the rules and the people executing the rule - and Glyn says "we need more cases like this".

However, as @Foomandoonian points out (based on further information posted in the comments below Bruce's blog), the original news story that prompted Bruce's scorn omitted a crucial detail - an alleged identity between the person reporting the suspicious package and the person leaving it there in the first place. Glyn replies "sure, but I'm interested in the larger point, not the *facts*..."

So we appear to have a bit of face-saving and jumping-to-conclusions here. Either the police are unfairly accusing this gentleman of having deliberately made a false report, or Bruce and Glyn are unfairly pinning the tail on the wrong donkey this time.

Bruce is well-known for his criticism of security theatre, and his blog contains numerous examples of the theatre of the absurd. A few years ago, in my post Intelligence or Fear? I used one of his examples to illustrate intelligence and stupidity, in that instance preferring Bruce's interpretation of events to that of the Australian Prime Minister.

Of course it is tempting to draw attention to any incident that seems to confirm one's strongly-held position about something or other.  I've probably done this myself from time to time. But it's not so good if you just find yourself misreading the facts to suit your prejudices.


  1. I've been guilty of posting a link to something that supports one of my strongly held beliefs, only to be rightly contradicted later. Twitter makes this kind of mistake exceptionally easy.

    I see Schneier updated his post. I'd have put the edit at the top to be super clear, but I think that concludes matters.

  2. I'm certainly not picking on Bruce here - I'm a big fan - but I think there is a general cautionary point here about the liberal use of anecdotes in the rhetoric of policy debate.