The manner of their arrival was unscripted

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

On Friday 11th June 1999, at the headquarters of KFOR, the NATO army being assembled to act as peacekeepers in Kosovo, British Lieutenant General Mike Jackson, KFOR’s commander, and US Navy Admiral Jim Ellis, Commander-in-Chief of all Allied Forces in Southern Europe, met in a run down shoe factory just outside of Skopje, Macedonia. General Jackson’s men would begin to cross the border into Kosovo the next day — but it looked like someone else might beat them to the punch:

At about 10:35, the two men turned on one of the TVs in the operations room and tuned it to CNN to see how the press was reporting that breakthrough. What they saw instead amazed them. There, on the screen, were pictures of a column of about 250 troops and vehicles advancing out of Bosnia, with KFOR painted hastily on them. The voiceover helpfully explained that this was the Russian contingent of KFOR, which their sources said was heading to the Kosovan capital, Pristina.

This was news to both Ellis and Jackson — because KFOR didn’t have a Russian contingent.

“It was fair to say the manner of their arrival was unscripted.” Jackson commented later.

Before the two men could properly digest this, the main phone in the operations room began to ring. Simultaneously, the men realised this probably meant that the one person they didn’t want to see this footage yet almost certainly had.

When they heard the voice on the other end of the phone, this was confirmed.

“General Jackson.” Said Wes Clark, US General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). “You will secure Pristina Airport before the Russians arrive.”

The little green men have been at this a while.

Shotgun or sidearm?

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Shotgun or sidearm? This 1976 Sid Davis police training film for the Pasadena Police Department should help you decide:

Watch the first couple minutes, with the shootout and its immediate aftermath. How far away did the robber appear to be? And what kind of spread should you expect from buckshot at that range? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that pellets should not be hitting six feet off line at a couple dozen yards.

I was pretty surprised when they set up the scenario at the target range at “the same distance, about 50 yards.” OK, at that distance you should expect a fair amount of spread, but more like a four-foot diameter — which is still plenty dangerous on a crowded sidewalk.

The attitude toward revolvers is, well, it’s quite optimistic: “Most cops get a fair amount of practice with their sidearms, but they don’t fire a shotgun very often.” I especially liked this comment: “With his thirty-eight, Don would have hit only the suspect. One shot.” Yeah, a cop shooting a double-action revolver at 50 yards, while getting shot at, is going to hit the suspect with one shot?

Enjoy the whole thing.

It’s hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

The U.S. Navy’s most advanced laser weapon looks like a pricey amateur telescope, and, at just 30 kilowatts, it’s hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of decades ago to shoot down ICBMs, but it is a major milestone, built on a new technology:

The mission shift has been going on for years, from global defense against nuclear-armed “rogue states” to local defense against insurgents. The technology shift has been more abrupt, toward the hot new solid-state technology of optical-fiber lasers. These are the basis of a fast-growing US $2 billion industry that has reengineered the raw materials of global telecommunications to cut and weld metals, and it is now being scaled to even higher power with devastating effect.

Naval Laser by MCKIBILLO

Industrial fiber lasers can be made very powerful. IPG recently sold a 100-fiber laser to the NADEX Laser R&D Center in Japan that can weld metal parts up to 30 centimeters thick. But that high of a power output comes at the sacrifice of the ability to focus the beam over a distance. Cutting and welding tools need to operate only centimeters from their targets, after all. The highest power from single fiber lasers with beams good enough to focus onto objects hundreds of meters or more away is much less — 10 kW. Still, that’s adequate for stationary targets like unexploded ordnance left on a battlefield, because you can keep the laser trained on the explosive long enough to detonate it.

Of course, 10 kW won’t stop a speeding boat before it can deliver a bomb. The Navy laser demonstration on the USS Ponce was actually half a dozen IPG industrial fiber lasers, each rated at 5.5 kW, shot through the same telescope to form a 30-kW beam. But simply feeding the light from even more industrial fiber lasers into a bigger telescope would not produce a 100-kW beam that would retain the tight focus needed to destroy or disable fast-moving, far-off targets. The Pentagon needed a single 100-kW-class system for that. The laser would track the target’s motion, dwelling on a vulnerable spot, such as its engine or explosive payload, until the beam destroyed it.

Alas, that’s not going to happen with the existing approach. “If I could build a 100-kW laser with a single fiber, it would be great, but I can’t,” says Lockheed’s Afzal. “The scaling of a single-fiber laser to high power falls apart.” Delivering that much firepower requires new technology, he adds. The leading candidate is a way to combine the beams from many separate fiber lasers in a more controlled way than by simply firing them all through the same telescope.

There’s much, much more.

Be careful this week

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz recommends that we be careful this week:

Terrorists and crazy people put a lot of credence in the importance of symbolism. Historical anniversary dates are important to them.

This week contains the anniversary dates of:

  • The Boston Bombing
  • The Columbine Shooting
  • The Virginia Tech Massacre
  • The Waco Hostage Siege
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing
  • Hitler’s Birthday

We used to own the night

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

We used to own the night, but so many night-vision devices have fallen into enemy hands that we no longer do:

Taliban fighters, many now outfitted with night vision goggles and infrared lasers, have more than doubled nighttime attacks on Afghan and U.S. troops between 2014 and 2017, according to a new report from The New York Times.

This has presented U.S. military officials with quite the conundrum: Do we give more night vision to our Afghan allies to protect themselves, even if that gear has a good chance of ending up in Taliban hands?

[...]

The Pentagon sent 210 night vision devices to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps in Helmand Province, for example, but only 161 of them were returned. While the 215th Corps attributed the discrepancy to “battle losses,” according to the Times, it’s also quite common for Afghan troops themselves to dump their own gear on the black market to make a quick buck.

“Free reminder: almost every item issued to Afghan soldiers ends up in Taliban hands,” C.J. Chivers, a Times journalist and Marine vet, wrote on Twitter. “If U.S. opts for wide issue of night-vision equipment, within months the Taliban will have even more.”

This was entirely predictable.

Aim for the waterline

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

I always assumed that gun crews in the Age of Sail aimed at the waterline because that was where water could enter the enemy ship, but that’s not the whole story, Tom Ricks explains:

But, I kind of wondered, if that were the case, why not aim slightly lower, where a good shot likely would let even more water in the enemy’s hull, and be more difficult to plug? (I thought the answer was perhaps that at many angles, the cannonball might skip, rather than plunge into the water, but I wasn’t sure.)

Well, now I know better. There is a very specific reason to aim right at the waterline.

I was reading an discussion of wood rot in boats and trees by Richard Jagels, professor emeritus of forest biology at the University of Maine. He offers a much more precise explanation: On wooden ships, the weakest point on the hull is right along the waterline, because that’s where the most rot occurs.

There’s a biological explanation for that, having to do with oxygen and moisture. Fungi need a balance of both to thrive and rot wood. Let him tell you: “Above the waterline, planking is usually below 20 to 25 percent moisture content, which is too dry for fungal activity. Below the waterline, wood becomes progressively saturated until the oxygen requirement is not met; again decay is halted. Near the waterline, conditions are just right for decay to rapidly progress: the Goldilocks solution for rot.”

What caused the 1968 riots?

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

MLK’s assassination kicked up a wave of riots, but why exactly?

Modern thought has a tendency toward economic reductionism, viewing every historic problem as a mechanical working-out of underlying economic processes, and every solution in those terms.

After the 1960s riots, governments leaped in with public housing and economic redevelopment programs that did little to stem the decline of riot-haunted cities. After 9/11, we heard anguished discussions about poverty and economic stagnation in the Middle East. And when the United States elected Donald Trump president, reporters circled old factory towns like vultures, feasting on images of rusted-out manufacturing plants that could be fed to readers as the “reason” behind the political upheaval.

These things do matter. But in the words of sociologist Seymour Spilerman, who did some of the seminal research on the 1960s riots, they’re “background conditions.” The economic deprivation inflicted by America’s racial caste system was real and abominable — and yet, says Spilerman, “in general, it’s not economic conditions which are the immediate precipitants of riots.”

While a general level of deprivation may make riots more likely (if for no other reason than because the poor have so little to lose), variations in economic deprivation don’t. In the 1960s, blacks were economically oppressed everywhere, but there were still places where things were better or worse. So if economic conditions lead to riots, we’d have expected to see the most civil disorder in the places with the worst hardship. But that’s not what the data show.

Nor did economic factors predict when riots broke out. After all, the 1960s were a period of unusually rapid economic progress for black Americans, thanks to anti-discrimination campaigns and the Civil Rights Act. If poverty and unemployment were driving rioters, the 1960s should have been one of the most racially peaceful decades in American history.

What did cause the riots, then? Well, rage and despair and a lot of hard-to-quantify socio-political factors. But taking them all in total, I’d sum them all up with one word: respect. Whatever our economic conditions, we also want — we need — to command a certain minimal amount of admiration from our fellow citizens.

[...]

In the late 1960s, as the legal barriers fell, the gulf between legal status and social reality may have chafed more than usual.

Hanging irregulars and firebombing Dresden

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Mark Safranski (Zen Pundit) mentioned that we need to start trying and hanging “irregulars” who break the laws of war, I noted how odd it is that this concept has completely disappeared, and Tweet Wiv Me pointedly asked if I’d ever posted anything about Dresden. I had, and this led to a larger discussion of Freeman Dyson and Operational Research during the war — including everyone’s favorite OR story about bombers returning after a run:

For the survey, Bomber Command inspected all bombers returning from bombing raids over Germany over a particular period. All damage inflicted by German air defenses was noted and the recommendation was given that armour be added in the most heavily damaged areas.

[...]

Blackett’s team instead made the surprising and counter-intuitive recommendation that the armour be placed in the areas which were completely untouched by damage, according to the survey. They reasoned that the survey was biased, since it only included aircraft that successfully came back from Germany. The untouched areas were probably vital areas, which if hit would result in the loss of the aircraft.

Oddly enough, Dyson never mentions that story, but Douglas Reay (of Less Wrong) traces it back to Abraham Wald:

Wald was a Jewish mathematician from Romania who in 1943 published a series of 8 memoranda via the Statistical Research Group at Columbia University while working for the National Defense Research Committee in America. These were republished collectively in 1980 as “A Method of Estimating Plane Vulnerability Based on Damage of Survivors.” by the Center for Naval Analyses, and are still in use today.

In 1984 Mangel and Samaniego published a fairly accessible summary of Wald’s work in the Journal of the American Statistical Association (Vol 79, Issue 286, June)

Abraham Wald’s Work on Aircraft Survivability

So it seems that Wald is the one who should get the credit for being the first to try to compensate for the evidential problem. Tragically he himself died in an airplane crash, just a few years later (in 1950, aged 48).

The ‘bible’ on this topic, Robert Ball’s “The Fundamentals of Aircraft Combat Survivability Analysis and Design” confirms the problem is a real one, and mentioned the F-4 as an example. When they looked at the F-4s which survived combat, there were no holes in the narrowest part of the tail, just forward of the horizontal stabilizers. They figured out that all of the hydraulic lines for the elevators and rudder were tightly clustered in there, so that a single hit could damage all of them at once, leaving the plane uncontrollable. The solution in that case was, rather than increasing the armour, to spread the redundant lines out to reduce the chances of losing all of them to a single hit.

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Everybody’s lying about the link between gun ownership and homicide:

There is no clear correlation whatsoever between gun ownership rate and gun homicide rate. Not within the USA. Not regionally. Not internationally. Not among peaceful societies. Not among violent ones. Gun ownership doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t make us less safe. The correlation simply isn’t there. It is blatantly not-there. It is so tremendously not-there that the “not-there-ness” of it alone should be a huge news story.

Gun Murder Rate Across US States

Firearm Homicide Rate vs. Guns Per Capita

Inside an accused school shooter’s mind

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

This look inside an accused school shooter’s mind is as disturbing as you might imagine:

Six days before he allegedly opened fire on an elementary school playground, the eighth-grader returned to his Instagram group chat to fixate, yet again, on his most intense interests: guns and bombs and the mass murder of children.

“My plan,” wrote Jesse Osborne, who had turned 14 three weeks earlier, “is shooting my dad getting his keys getting in his truck, driving to the elementary school 4 mins away, once there gear up, shoot out the bottom school class room windows, enter the building, shoot the first class which will be the 2d grade, grab teachers keys so I don’t have to hasle to get through any doors.”

He had been researching other school shooters for months and, determined to outdo them, learned exactly how many people they’d murdered: 13 at Columbine High; 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary; 32 at Virginia Tech.

“I think ill probably most likely kill around 50 or 60,” Jesse declared. “If I get lucky maybe 150.”

[...]

“The coldbloodedness, the callousness of the attack — not only before but afterwards,” said Langman, who was not involved in the case but has reviewed Jesse’s confession. “Even having done it, he’s not struck with horror or guilt.”

In fact, James Ballenger, a psychiatrist who interviewed Jesse for a total of nine hours, found that the teen reveled in what he’d done.

[...]

“I have to beat Adam Laza…” he wrote nine days before the Sept. 28, 2016, shooting in a misspelled reference to the Sandy Hook killer, Adam Lanza. “Atleast 40.”

Two days later, he debated whether he should attack his middle school, from which he’d been expelled, or his elementary school, just up the road. He decided on Townville Elementary because it was closer and had no armed security. Jesse, who considered himself the victim of an unfair world, announced online that he would kill kids he didn’t know and had never met “before they bullie the nobodys.”

“Itll be like shooting fish in a barrel,” he wrote his friends, whose identities remain unclear, along with whether the FBI has tracked any of them down. The agency declined to comment, citing Jesse’s open case.

In the chat, he said he had researched police response times for the area and found that it would take them 15 minutes to get there, maybe 45 for SWAT. He said he would throw pipe bombs into each classroom before he got in a shootout with police and killed himself with his shotgun. He said he had been planning a massacre for two years.

A detective later discovered that Jesse, then a 6-foot-tall, 147-pound wispy-haired blond with a voice that tended to crack, had used his phone to Google these terms: “deadliest US mass shootings,” “top 10 mass shooters,” “youngest mass murderer,” “10 youngest murderers in history.”

Seven hours after he was pinned to the ground outside Townville Elementary by a volunteer firefighter, Jesse acknowledged in an interview with investigators that he’d shot far fewer kids than he’d intended. The problem, he explained, was the weapon. He’d only had access to the .40-caliber pistol his father kept in a dresser drawer. It had jammed on the playground, just 12 seconds after he first pulled the trigger.

[...]

It wasn’t until he moved to a middle school in a neighboring county that his “other side,” as one psychiatrist put it, became clear. He pulled the legs off crickets and smashed frogs against the ground and habitually watched a video of kittens being mutilated. He also posted Instagram videos about Columbine that some at the school considered a potential threat. The teen grew more volatile, insisting that he’d been bullied, a claim investigators later questioned.

After one kid poked his chest, Jesse threatened him.

“When I come back with a rifle, you’re going to be the one I shoot,” he recalled to Ballenger, who noted in court that Jesse “loved how much it scared the boy.”

Then, one day, he brought a hatchet and a machete in his backpack. When another student spotted the weapons and reported him, Jesse was expelled and arrested, serving a brief stint in juvenile detention before being placed on probation.

It was then, as a home-schooler, that he became consumed with violent fantasies, the court evidence showed. How much his parents knew about them remains unclear, but at least once, the couple came across Internet messages he’d written that they found disturbing, and his mother acknowledged to investigators that he’d become increasingly difficult to raise.

[...]

Jesse told police that he also had discovered the “true crime community” on Tumblr, where fans of serial killers and mass murderers gather to delight in their shared devotion. Through that, his fascination with other school shooters, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, bloomed. His Instagram username included “nbk,” for the movie “Natural Born Killers,” and “kmfdm,” for a German industrial band — a pair of pop-culture references that appeared frequently in the writings of the Columbine killers.

[...]

“Now I have a life,” Jesse announced near the end of his confession. “Probably won’t get a job, but I’ll — I’ll at least have a life.”

That sounded bizarre for a teenager who knew he was likely to face decades in prison, but, as the experts who would analyze him soon discovered, the comment spoke to Jesse’s chief motivation.

Ballenger, a psychiatrist with 40 years of experience, had already analyzed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in a Charleston church in 2015, and Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011. What he saw in Jesse was a young man who killed not because of bullies or abuse or a fractured mind, but because he wanted to attain the life and status he’d envisioned.

“He was going to be famous, the best shooter ever,” Ballenger testified. “He was going to be worshiped for a long time — worshiped.”

“Did you see evidence of him looking at statistics of people to see how he lines up?” a prosecutor asked him.

Ballenger noted Jesse’s Google searches for other mass shootings before his attack.

“He actually confirmed that he would be one of the youngest, if not the youngest,” the doctor said.

“And that was one of his goals?”

“That was his goal,” Ballenger told the court. “To be the best shooter — to get 50 to 60.”

Any study of gun violence should include how guns save lives

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Any study of “gun violence” should include how guns save lives, Paul Hsieh argues:

The numbers of defensive gun uses (DGUs) each year is controversial. But one study ordered by the CDC and conducted by The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council reported that, “Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence”:

Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million, in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.

Another study estimates there are 1,029,615 DGUs per year “for self-protection or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere” excluding “military service, police work, or work as a security guard,” (within the range of the National Academies’ paper), yielding an estimate of 162,000 cases per year where someone “almost certainly would have been killed” if they “had not used a gun for protection.”

(In comparison, there were 11,208 homicide deaths by firearm in the US in 2012. There were a total of 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms,” of which the majority were suicides, 21,175.)

The second point he makes is that the value of firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens should be measured in terms of lives saved or crimes prevented, not criminals killed:

As an example of the latter type of analysis, one recent Washington Post story reported that, “For every criminal killed in self-defense, 34 innocent people die”:

In 2012, there were 8,855 criminal gun homicides in the FBI’s homicide database, but only 258 gun killings by private citizens that were deemed justifiable, which the FBI defines as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.” That works out to one justifiable gun death for every 34 unjustifiable gun deaths.

However, this comparison can be misleading. An armed civilian does not have to kill the criminal in order to save an innocent life. As the National Research Council notes, “[E]ffective defensive gun use need not ever lead the perpetrator to be wounded or killed. Rather, to assess the benefits of self-defense, one needs to measure crime and injury averted. The particular outcome of an offender is of little relevance.”

His last point is a bit of a political Rorschach test:

The right to self-defense does not depend on statistics and numbers.

Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

The Heritage Foundation summarizes what we know about mass shootings:

  1. Mass killings are rare, and mass public shootings are even rarer.
  2. Many gun control measures are not likely to be helpful.
  3. Public mass shooters typically have histories of mental health issues.
  4. The United States does not have an extraordinary problem with mass public shootings compared to other developed countries.
  5. Mass killers often find ways to kill even without firearms.
  6. Australia did not “eliminate mass public shootings” by banning assault weapons.

How does the number of steps to buy a gun relate to overall homicide and suicide rates?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

A recent New York Times story lamented how few steps there were to buy a gun in the US versus other countries, so sociologist David Yamane decided to ask the obvious question, Is there a patterned relationship between the number of steps someone has to go through to buy a gun in these 15 countries and the countries’ overall rates of homicide and suicide?

Homicide rates are weakly related to the number of steps it takes to buy a gun in these 15 countries. The polynomial trendline increases through the middle of the range then decreases at the high end (Japan), but the correlation is weak (0.071).

The relationship between suicide rates and the number of steps it takes to buy a gun is slightly stronger (0.085), but still weak and not in the direction suicide prevention advocates would like. The polynomial trendline increases fairly consistently through the range then jumps up somewhat at the end (again, Japan).

Looking at the combined rate of homicide and suicide, we see a still stronger though still weak correlation (0.123) with steps to buy a gun, with the polynomial trendline starting at the United States (2 steps and 14.58 combined rate) and arcing its way upward and leveling off toward Japan (13 steps and 18.71 combined rate). In between you can find two countries with 8 steps but dramatically different death rates by homicide and suicide (Austria’s 12.61 rate and Brazil’s 32.34 rate). Ditto for 7 steps: Germany 9.95 combined rate vs. Russia’s 45.91 combined rate.

The closest countries to the United States are Austria (8 steps, 12.61 combined rate) and Yemen (2 steps, 16.67 combined rate).

We could never have imagined what happened in Venezuela

Monday, March 19th, 2018

We never could have imagined — or prepped for — what happened in Venezuela, a Venezuelan “prepper” explains:

An economic collapse this long seemed like something that was entirely out of the question. It was entirely unpredictable. I would have expected a pandemics or a coup d’etat long before this hungry zombie-like scenario.

We knew something disturbing was going to happen sooner or later. We could feel it in the atmosphere…but nothing like this. We never thought it would be impossible to find a battery, or engine oil, or gasoline (Jeez, this was an oil-producing country!!) or that kids were going to be endangered in the very door of their schools.

He lists a number of supplies he should have stockpiled and preparations he should have made. A few stand out:

A large, buried diesel custom-made aluminum tank with a proper sized generator (there is not too much space left in our place: we live in a subdivision, houses are wall to wall next to each other) with a homemade silencer, and adequately rigged to the wiring of the house for the largest systems, like freezers and air conditioning.

Enclosing our garage before the steel rebar disappeared from the white market and the production was destined to the black and grey market. (I hate fencing, it is like living in a birdcage, but this would helped a lot for peace of mind).

Perhaps a chicken coop with a couple of hens. The eggs price has been so inflated this days that a single egg costs more than the minimum wage. A hen produces more than a laborer. Do you remember that stories about the eggs, chocolate, and potatoes acting as currency in the WWII? It is becoming currency here too.

Another SUV, with a much taller ground clearance, larger tires, diesel-powered with no electronics and a huge front fender. Something heavy, strong, black or dark grey, windows covered by that plastic clear bullet proof sheeting, able to plow a pack of thugs in motorcycles out of the way without a blink.

How psychopaths see the world

Friday, March 16th, 2018

A new study looks at how psychopaths see the world:

Here are people who can understand what their victims are thinking but just don’t care. Hence their actions. But Baskin-Sommers found that there’s more to their minds than it seems.

Most of us mentalize automatically. From infancy, other minds involuntarily seep into our own. The same thing, apparently, happens less strongly in psychopaths. By studying the Connecticut inmates, Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues, Lindsey Drayton and Laurie Santos, showed that these people can deliberately take another person’s perspective, but on average, they don’t automatically do so to the extent that most other people do. “This is the first time we’re seeing evidence that psychopaths don’t have this automatic ability that most of us have,” Baskin-Sommers says.

[...]

The U.S. prison system doesn’t assess psychopathy at intake, so Baskin-Sommers administered a standard test herself to 106 male inmates from the Connecticut prison. Of them, 22 proved to be psychopaths, 28 were not, and the rest fell in a gray zone.

[...]

The psychopaths proved to be “glib, narcissistic, and conniving,” she adds. “They can be aggressive, and they like to tell us gruesome details of murders, I think to shock us. But it’s not like that all the time. They do a lot of impression management.”

After assessing the 106 volunteers, she then gave them a computer-based task. They saw a picture of a human avatar in prison khakis, standing in a room, and facing either right or left. There were either two red dots on the wall in front of the avatar, or one dot in front of them and one dot behind them. Their job was to verify how many dots either they or the avatar could see.

Normally, people can accurately say how many dots the avatar sees, but they’re slower if there are dots behind the avatar. That’s because what they see (two dots) interferes with their ability to see through the avatar’s eyes (one dot). This is called egocentric interference. But they’re also slower to say how many dots they can see if that number differs from the avatar’s count. This shows how readily humans take other perspectives: Volunteers are automatically affected by the avatar’s perspective, even when it hurts their own performance. This is called altercentric interference.

Baskin-Sommers found that the psychopathic inmates showed the usual level of egocentric interference — that is, their own perspective was muscling in on the avatar’s. But they showed much less altercentric interference than the other inmates — the avatar’s perspective wasn’t messing with their own, as it would for most other people.

This sounds a bit like another condition:

Other groups of people also show differences in their theory of mind. For example, in one study, Frith asked people to predict where a girl might search for a marble that had been moved without her knowledge. The onlookers knew the marble’s whereabouts, so could they override their own knowledge to step into the girl’s shoes? Eye-tracking software revealed that neurotypical adults look at the same place the girl would, but people with Asperger’s syndrome are less likely to. They don’t seem to spontaneously anticipate others’ actions. “It is a bit worrying if [Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues] are proposing the very same underlying mechanism to explain callousness in psychopathy that we used previously to explain communication problems in autism, albeit based on a different test,” Frith says. “These are very different conditions, after all.”