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10 January 2011

The Three-Names Hypothesis

There is a memorable scene in the movie Conspiracy Theory in which Mel Gibson's characters makes the following observation:
Serial killers only have two names. You ever notice that? But lone gunmen assassins, they always have three names. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman--
I thought of this again when news outlets began publishing the name of the Arizona gunman: Jared Lee Loughner. A simple explanation for this phenomenon occurred to me yesterday. It's likely that because these gunmen are complete unknowns before they assassinate, journalists in drudging up information on them look at official sources that are more likely to list middle names, like police reports, birth certificates, and college transcripts. Sorry, Jerry; it's not a conspiracy.


Post Script: I hope that this blog entry does not read irreverently. I simply saw this tragedy (atrocity?) as a teachable moment on causality, logic, and our human tendency for irrationality.

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