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The world is full of experts and since Al Gore invented the internet it is getting more full by the minute.  Every 12 year old that has access to a computer and a connection to the “Information Super Highway” has a blog these days and it seems has a burning desire to share his opinion with the world at the speed of electrons.  You know what?  That is OK.  As is often stated, everyone has a right to their opinion.  Sometimes that opinion is based on knowledge, obtained through long hard study, and sometimes it is just a sort of wishful thinking.  It is far from our place to judge which is which.

Some people write books or post articles online, or give speeches or conduct training in order to “be seen of men”, others have a desire to help others and share some of the knowledge and experiences they have gained.  Quite often the presenter might be doing both and it would be difficult to assess the balance of one or the other – the two extremes are not mutually exclusive.

Too many times someone will publish a thoughtful piece only to have others snipe at him and argue with the thesis only to miss the point entirely.  What one must do if one would learn, is to realize that the writer / speaker / instructor might be looking at the topic from a completely different angle. 

I’m sure you have realized that the above graphic is one of a cut diamond.  Diamonds have small flat spaces on the surface called facets.  What you see if you gaze intently into the heart of the diamond will depend on which facet you are peering through!  Like topics, diamonds can come with a few facets or they can come with many facets…some almost impossible to count.  Different people will look at the diamond from different angles and see different colors or patterns.  They interpret them differently also.  As they say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

It is this way with the study of self defense.  The topic is like a diamond with so many facets that they are uncountable without great effort.  There seems to be experts on the topic of self defense shooting.  Let us limit this discussion to shooting merely because opening it up would be even more complex… it does not mean the other aspects of self defense are unworthy of consideration.

When I was 15 I knew it all.  While I had excellent parents, I was of course smarter than they were in most things, though I recognized there were just a handful of things they might understand adequately enough to get by… barely.  When I turned 21 they had improved some.  By the time I was 50 they had become wise.  I am sure glad I was there to train them!  I’m sure you recognize the facetiousness of that remark.

The point here is that when one is young he, or she, may be intelligent, gifted and even adept.  He or she might also think that some day they will understand everything there is to know about a topic and be considered one of the “experts” in that field or maybe even the expert.  If you aspire to be one of the recognized authorities on the field of self defense I have some news – get real!  No one gets to the point they know everything about this topic.  At least not in a sufficient degree to consider their opinion definitive… there are too many facets!

Let’s take just one.  People will wax eloquent (I have done so myself and boy do I feel foolish) on the “stopping power” of a pistol.  Everyone seems to have their own particular choice and will “prove” that choice by some sort of “scientific” approach to the topic.  Well folks, I’m in the bubble bursting business (and some of the bubbles I bust are mine!) there aren’t any scientific approaches to assessing stopping power.  At best it is an educated guess.

I can identify over 70 factors that affect the outcome of a fight.  Some of those have literally thousands of values that could be assigned to just that one factor.  Take shot placement for example – the typical human has over 200 bones and, 78 organs, some 15 of which are considered “major”.  Even then, if a bullet passes through one of the organs, just exactly what path a bullet takes through that organ can have great effect.  Astute observers believe that a hit low in the heart is less effective than one high.  Hits to the periphery of a lung are believed to be less effective than one closer to the center of the body.  Does your “study” distinguish the exact location of the hit?

One of the most crucial aspects effecting the cancelation of a threat is the mindset of the threat his or her self.  How do you even go about quantifying that?

The implied goal of all the “research”, in this area, is to compare a candidate caliber or load to another by assessing performance in the “real world”.  The problem is that it may be the real world but the numbers you get will be misleading – or at best unreliable.

If you have any interest in the science of math, and specifically those of statistics and probability, you know that you can at least fathom the number of possible outcomes if you have a finite set of variables.  Let us take for instance rolling a pair of dice.  If they are 6 sided (there are other kinds) with progressive numbers then each die has 6 possible outcomes.  So if I roll two dice only once then the total possible outcomes is 36 – 6 times 6 .  If there were three dice then the possible outcomes just went up to 216 (6 X 6 X 6).  The idea is to multiply the possibilities of each sub event (6 numbers on each die) times the possibilities on the next sub event times the next.  Lost yet?  Probably not, rolling the dice is really just basic in the study of statistical probability.   If you have 3 dice then the odds of you guessing which number will come up is one in 216.

But what if there are more measurable aspects that have an effect on the outcome of the event?  For the sake of example let’s say there were just 20 factors (there are far more factors in assessing the results of a fight) which could affect the outcome and each one had 10 different possibilities (in truth some of the factors effecting the outcome of a lethal encounter cannot be measured – the possibilities on just bullet placement / path number in the thousands).  20 factors with 10 possibilities each would end up being 10 to the 20th power?   That is 100 billion, billion! 

Anyone got that many cases in their file?

OK enough of the science.  Are Stopping Power Studies totally useless?  Perhaps not totally.  They may serve as some sort of reality check but one has to know so much about each case that it would be impossible to track scientifically.

Does this mean we should ignore all that is written on the topic.  No, we might pick up something worth learning but we should put it in perspective of the lack of accuracy and predictability that it actually produces.

The outcome of a gunfight depends on factors that are much more complex and immeasurable than rolling  a whole hatful of dice!  Don’t get caught in the statistical trap.

This is in no way meant to demean people whom I highly respect (some of them no longer with us) who’s opinions I highly regard.  But I also realize that they were trying to achieve the impossible.

So, let’s lose the “I know all there is to know” approach and discuss these things with a little more light and a little less heat.

AuthorJames Higginbotham