Mission Statement - De-Spinning the Pro-Taser Propaganda

Yeah right, 'Excited Delirium' my ass...


The primary purpose of this blog is to provide an outlet for my observations and analysis about tasers, taser "associated" deaths, and the behaviour exhibited by the management, employees and minions of Taser International. In general, everything is linked back to external sources, often via previous posts on the same topic, so that readers can fact-check to their heart's content. This blog was started in late-2007 when Canadians were enraged by the taser death of Robert Dziekanski and four others in a short three month period. The cocky attitude exhibited by the Taser International spokespuppet, and his preposterous proposal that Mr. Dziekanski coincidentally died of "excited delirium" at the time of his taser-death, led me to choose the blog name I did and provides my motivation. I have zero financial ties to this issue.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The small problem of the 11-to-1 ratio...

SECU's Report - ...The Committee was told of a study in the United States of 37 autopsy reports ... taser-associated deaths. Of these 37 cases, a disproportionately large number [20, or 54%] involved individuals with heart problems... This is significantly higher than the incidence of such heart problems in the general population, which is between two and eight per cent. [LINK]

In other words, people with heart problems are about 5% of the general population (2% to 8% averages to 5%), but they represent 54% of the (tasered-then-dead) victims. That's about an 11-to-1 ratio that needs to be explained.

Well obviously [sic] there's no connection [sic] between the taser and the heart. None at all... [ROLLS EYES]

Look: the simplest explanation is that the taser can somehow, directly or indirectly, affect the heart and therefore victims with pre-existing heart problems are dying at a much higher rate (11 times higher!!) than the rest of the population. And thus there seems to be some connection from taser to heart that needs to be further investigated.

Such real world statistics are generally much more trustworthy than wishful-thinking theories coming from the pro-taser minions and spokespuppets.

But the SECU report offers a very peculiar alternate explanation:

...statistics suggests that there is a significant level of heart disease among those who suffer from mental illness and/or use illicit drugs. The Committee was also told that users of cocaine and methamphetamine are known to suffer from heart problems as a consequence of their drug use. ...

What is being proposed here as an alternate explanation is that people with heart problems are over-represented (by about 11-to-1 !!) in the population of those that are going to get tasered. And the implication is that their heart problems are statistically linked to mental health issues or to them being users of extreme drugs such as cocaine and/or methamphetamine (and [to paraphrase] '...their mental and/or drug issues are why they make up so much of the to-be-tasered population...').

This is a very clever theory. I suspect that SECU has been fed this explanation by someone working for or within the pro-taser propaganda machine. It's a very nice pro-taser theory, because it would explain the raw data without leading to any logically-necessary conclusion about a link between the taser and the heart.

There's just one little tiny problem with this alternate theory...

It's wrong.

Here are the facts:

According to a report this week by RCMP watchdog Paul Kennedy, when Canadian police use high-voltage stun guns, or Tasers, their most frequent target is a young, drunk male creating a disturbance between midnight and 4 a.m. [LINK]

So young male weekend drunks are the most frequent taser target in Canada. But they're not the ones being killed (in proportion to their frequency). The ones that are dying - massively out of proportion to their frequency - are those with heart problems. So unless someone can prove that young male rowdy drunks all have bad hearts, then the only explanation left standing (*) is that the taser can affect the heart.

(* Note - One other escape route that will be claimed is that the USA and Canada have vastly different taser victim populations. More data would reveal if this next layer to their overly-complicated alternate explanation can be backed up with real data, or if it is just wishful thinking...)

If you're having difficulty understanding this whole argument, then revisit the logic again, but pretend for the moment that the number '54%' has been replaced with '100%' (this is just a mental-aid trick to make things perfectly clear to those that don't have have good instincts for numbers). The problematic ratio would thus be 20-to-1 (for this mental exercise) instead of the real-world 11-to-1.

So, imagine that it had been found at autopsy that 100% of tasered-then-dead victims had heart problems, but such people are only about 5% of the general populations, then what conclusions would YOU draw? What is YOUR natural gut reaction? Would you instinctively think that the taser might have reacted in some way with the preexisting heart condition to lead to death? Seems logical doesn't it?

And the alternate argument would become that the only people being tasered (100%) are those with heart conditions. The silliness of the alternate explanation is revealed in all its glory.

Now carry those instinctive reactions (which are probably correct) back to the original data (54%) and it'll all make sense.

And if you're confused about the legal issues surrounding pre-existing medical conditions (such as heart conditions), then review this previous post. [LINK]

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