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Software to Predict "Troubled Youths" 452

A reader writes "The Times is running this story which talks about a pilot program, called Mosiac 2000, for a software program which is supposed to vet how violent a person is. It's being rolled out to high schools around the United States (20 to start) as a test-bed, in anticipation of more schools getting on board. The program will be used to grade a person's potential for violence against others, and hopes to stop any future Columbines. " Stuff like this just gives me the willies - must everyone conform to one set standard? Just because I'm different doesn't mean I'm violent.
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Software to Predict "Troubled Youths"

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The issue is what happens to the false positives? The American legal and justice system has been portrayed as to operate under the ideal that it is better to not convict a killer than it is to convict an innocent man. That tends to be BS, especially in areas where one demographic (race, money, etc) group has a substantial amount of pull. Why this should be any different is beyond me.

    So suppose your kid is overly imaginative or something. Perhaps ADD or ADHD? (seems to be pretty popular these days.) Watches a bit too much TV but is a generally well adjusted kid. Say he scores in the questionable range. Can the private prep schools reject him now? Can the charter schools reject him? Does he automatically get sent to the gangbanger academe that so many districts have? (no self-fullfilling prophecy there, take the troubled kids and send them to a place with all the other troubled kids, that usually doesn't make them worse, does it? Of course not and that school also isn't in the poor part of town) Can you as a parent be expected to pay for pricey therapy for your kid? What if the test has a margin of error and he's just one of the kids who doesn't fit it? Will he somehow be traumatized by the process? Some of us aren't very faithful in "the system." Can they flag him and then use it against him down the road?

    Could a law be passed that makes the results of such a test public? After all, who wants to send their kids to a school with a bunch of loose cannons? Maybe like the sex crime laws where they announce when a sex criminal is living in the area. Protecting your children is what this is all about though so it doesn't seem that far fetched for some kind of public record to be made of your child's score on the test.

    By and large, I think this test is a spiritually good thing. They are simply trying to avoid future disasters and that is noble. I think it raises a lot of questions when implementation is brought up. They can't come up with an agreeable IQ test, how are they going to do the much harder task of picking out the potential criminals? (I assert that it is easier to determine is someone is stupid than if they are a criminal)

    We need to do this stuff though, or at least start figuring it out. Let's step a few years into the future. What if they could take a DNA sample from a fetus and do psych. profiles on the future parents and come up with a probable profile for the kid? Suppose they could predict, with reasonable accuracy, if a person would grow to become a sexual predator or a mass killer? What if they were 99.998% accurate? There will still be false positives but at some point the public good out weighs the individual.

  • by zztzed ( 279 )
    So this is thing is supposed to pinpoint, among other things, "good kids" who might go on an insane killing spree because they feel victimized by the school system. Anyone ever stop to think that maybe things like this are why kids feel victimized by the school system?
  • It takes time for things like this to be resolved. Part of the problem is that people are looking for the quick fixes. If we as a society of people could communicate better after just 10 years, I would be more than happy.
  • Is this some form of a psychological study? If so, it would have had to pass through national ethics boards (if I so correctly remember from my psyc classes). I would not get too scared if it has, since the ethical standards of national psychology boards are usually good. Perhapse the study includes sufficiently formed questions to allow for creative and non standard people while still finding those that are, say, depressed and reactant. Isn't it sad that we as a society can't just TALK TO EACH OTHER to find out if anyone is in any problems?! No, we must hand out pieces of paper so everything is faster and more efficient, and so we have documented proof that subject 'q' is violent. However, if this is not a structured psychological survey, then look out. That means NO ethics are assured. In fact, from history (I can't recall examples this moment, sorry) most things like this have external motives involved (be that marketing, ethical, religious, whatever). Would I take this test? No. Would I allow my children to take this test? NO. If I ever saw this test in my child's school, there would be lawsuits within 45 minutes and several injunctions. Let's hope someone out there ran through the ethics of this monster first.
  • Doing nothing about a problem sometimes is the right solution, such as when the problem is blown out of proportion by the media. The actual size of the problem is much smaller than the percieved size of the problem, such that the cure is inevitably worse than the disease.

    False positives that unfairly label people as dangerous who aren't is totally unfair. Even ONE false positive is one too many. If this system produces false positives, one of two things will happen: either Administrators will know the test produces false positives and should be ignored (thus rendering the test totally pointless), or they won't know about the false positives, and they will end up harrassing innocent people while convinced they are doing the right thing.

  • Another liability is if the school *did* take action against the student (expulsion, counsellors, etc.) and some violent act still occurs, is the school liable then also? That's a nice little pondery -- how much action is enough; how much is too much? I'd hate to be a judge trying to judge that fine line.

  • I think the point is that many people who have to suffer through the daily stress of constantly having to watch their back for fear of being attacked are likely to have some violent thoughts and emotions. It doesn't mean they'll become murderers, but it would make it alot easier for a computer to brand them with the potential of becoming a violent criminal. Unfortunately the computer, like the administrators, won't do a damn thing about the daily violence that goes on in schools across the country. (Yes, I've been there. No, I'm not a violent criminal... but I've certainly had my share of violent thoughts.)

  • I think this is just a CYA maneuver by the schools. It's a waste of money. School administrators have never cared about the daily violence that goes on in schools. If their asses aren't on the line, they turn a blind eye. I went to 3 different high schools. Two in one city, and one in another. They were all the same as far as violence goes. It happened every day. Nobody cared except the victims, and they had no real recourse. It's no wonder that it escalates sometimes.

  • It has the potential to make them act even less responsibly. They'll just point to a kid that they think is a problem and have him tested. Who needs to think?

  • 800 on the math SAT implies that you answered EVERY SINGLE question CORRECTLY. No blanks, no errors. Are you telling me that 5% of the HS seniors who take the SAT do that, which is what 95th percentile implies?

    False. Depending on when you take the test, you can get one, maybe even two wrong and still get an 800. When I got an 800 (late 96 or early 97), it was 97th or 98th percentile.

    800s are easy to come by. 1600 (combined, obviously) are not impossible either. I had friends from high school who got 1600s, as far as I can recall they never went on any talk shows next to genius chess players, though.

  • I also read (I'm sorry, "READ") the article and the software does not use the process you describe. I agree, that the methodology you detail (comparing the students answers with the answers of other people who have proved to be violent) can be a valid system. However, in this case the inputs are not answers to questions asked a student, but estimations by administrators about various risk factors.

    For example, in the article, this sample question is given:

    "A variety of concerns beyond alarming talk or behavior will be included, from the availability of guns to a youngster's abuse of dogs and cats."

    With these for possible answers:

    "The questions allow a range of answers, from a student who has 'no known gun possession,' for example, to one who has 'friends with gun access.'"

    Those aren't the possibly relevent student answers, those are estimations of subjective risk factors which were drawn from a sample size too small for any relevent data to have been extracted.

    I find this passage particularly amusing:

    "It says, 'Look, we've gone back and spoken to X number of people who have committed these crimes, and these are the risk factors we feel are present in their lives.' It collects these risk factors based on actual cases and organizes them in a way so we can have a consistent approach."

    I wonder what counts as a "similar case"? Given that school violence is extremely rare (you're more likely to be a victim at home, the office, or just about anywhere else). I can't imagine that "X" is very large at all.

    I agree, that people on /. attack articles w/o reading them far too often, but supporting them by making up details is no better a policy.
  • "They're the hard ones for the school administrators to identify," Vita said. "It's easy to pick out the gang members with tattoos. It's these other people that kind of surprise administrators, and these are the ones they really need to identify." First, they say, "Hey, this software should only be used for people who identify themselves as potential problems." Then they go and say, "It's not the ones that look like potential problems that we should worry about.

    So, we should worry about the gang members and profile them, or we should worry about the non-gang members and profile them? Or just profile everyone? Any way you look at it, it's $10,000 for what a school counseler should have been able to figure out with a personality profiling test. Isn't that partially what these school counselers are SUPPOSED to be for?

    (no, I'm not criticizing or commending school counselers... just saying that this program looks like a poor man's version of a counseler -- sort of an eliza for $10,000).

    (wish I could resell Eliza for $10,000).

  • I think this example comes from the book Innumeracy, but I'm not entirely sure:

    Imagine a deadly disease that has infected, on average, one out of every 500 people. Now imagine a test for this disease that is 98% accurate. What proportion of people testing positive will actually have the disease?

    The answer, of course, is around 9%. Now let us consider "potential to blow up the school" as a disease. How accurate is this test? Given my general skepticism of psychological tests, I'd wager less than 90%, but let's give it the benefit of the doubt and say 98% as above. I'm almost certain that 1 in 500 figure above is way too large for this "disease". My estimates may be off, but we certainly have more than 4 million high-school aged children in the US. Even if we assume that only 1% of kids with the potential to go shoot up the school actually do it, that leaves us with under 2000 "potentially dangerous" kids in the us. That's 1 in two thousand, and remember how generous my estimates are. So one in 40 of the kids diagnosed by this test have a one percent chance of shooting up the school, if even that much.

    I'm all for arming school administrators with psychological knowledge about their students, but I strongly suspect that this is just snake oil.

    And let's knock off the BS about the shooters at Columbine having been repressed gay geeks who lashed out at athletes - that was and always has been a press fabrication that everyone bought into.
  • Why are people so upset at this tool? Remember this is not a policy, it is a tool (for the geeks: just as you can call BO a tool and seperate it from usage).

    Psychologists have long been able to point to various behavioralisms that have been shown to appear in more agreesive people. None of the indicators alone is sufficient; they all mean much more when taken in persepective with the rest of the person, but they are not irrelevant.

    Why is it that lifetime offenders can be picked out before they even reach puberty? This is not a coincidence. Why would you try to stop this from happening? This does not infringe on any of you rights as a citizen of human.

    I think that the little information about yourself that you giveup will be healthy for high-school society in the long term.
  • I was trained in a traditional fighting art and *I* don't joke about it. Many people (males, anyway) do, and you can usually tell in context and by body language that they're not serious. But some are truly hostile, scary when they say this, but claim afterward that they were only "joking". It puts a school admin in a tough spot if this is documented. I learned that noone could "surprise" an advanced student in the studio; their body language always gave them away. But when I go to certain neighborhoods, my skin crawls, because half the males there present the body language of an immanent attack. Usually they don't. But I have no doubt that they are capable of it, given little provocation.
    How will this tool be used by a clueless, inumerate (doesn't understand probabilities), possible prejudiced school official?
    - freehand
  • Then they are obliged to take regular doses of Prozac or some similar mind-killing drug, suppressing their dangerous weirdness for the good of the community and turning them into a good zombie.

    Psi Corps, here we come.
  • This is rather disturbing I think. But like drug testing and warrentless searches there will be this effect:

    "I have nothing to hide, go ahead test me. Or, sure officer, you can look in my trunk. Or, I am not a psycho I don't mind that test."

    This is another example of the governments continual assult on our Bill of Rights, in particular, our right to privacy.

    Personally I always give a cop a hard time when it comes to searches. I got pulled over for a missing tail-light once and the cop, for some reason, was not content to just write me a ticket. He asked if he could look inside my trunk. I said no. He said he could get a warrent and I said go ahead. he then locked me into his car ( I am not arrested yet ) and about 1 hour later he got his warrent and he opened my trunk. There was the tail-light! It was blinking away in the trunk. It had fallin in. He searched my trunk and the rest of the car and found nothing. ( There WAS NOTHING ) The scolded me for not letting him look earlier and let me go with no ticket or anything.

    I do the same when they want to look around my apartment.


    This will NOT go away if only 1 or 2 people refuse the test. A majority of folks have to refuse it.

    Our personal rights are at stake here.

  • If I ever saw this test in my child's school, there would be lawsuits within 45 minutes and several injunctions.

    The whole lawsuit thing would be a great starting point; maybe if some lawsuits would start flying around, the Kansas board of education would change their minds about evolution. That's an entirely different rant, though. Anyway, since, in public schools, your tax money goes toward their funding, why stop at a lawsuit if they're doing something you don't feel is ethical? I know if some test like that was performed on my children, they turned out "differently" from their peers, and then the school started treating them more abrasively than normal, I'd be the first one to pull my tax money out of the state board of education, as well as the first one to replace my children into either a private school or a homeschooling situation. No WAY are my kids going to be unnecessarily mistreated/abused in their school experience.
  • My last point is that most murders are second degree murders. The typical scenario is the person loses it due to a tramatic event (ie: finding your wife sleeping with another guy) and goes on a shooting spree. Sooo, maybe we should prevent people from having sex so that doesn't happen?

    Granted, lot's of murders are 'written off' as second degree murders, or "Crimes of Passion", but closer scrutiny shows this is rarely the case.

    Most, if not all, 'shooting sprees' are preceded by a trail of detectable events that start LONG before the final 'showdown' that we all read about in the papers.

    I highly reccommend Gavin De Becker's book "The Gift of Fear" for some insights as to the nature of these events. It's fascinating stuff, dealing with stalking, disgruntled employees and spousal abuse. The amazing thing is how these things DON'T happen spontaneously, but only appear that way.
  • My last point is that most murders are second degree murders. The typical scenario is the person loses it due to a tramatic event (ie: finding your wife sleeping with another guy) and goes on a shooting spree. Sooo, maybe we should prevent people from having sex so that doesn't happen?

    Granted, lot's of murders are 'written off' as second degree murders, or "Crimes of Passion", but closer scrutiny shows this is rarely the case.

    Most, if not all, 'shooting sprees' are preceded by a trail of detectable events that start LONG before the final 'showdown' that we all read about in the papers.

    I highly reccommend Gavin De Becker's book "The Gift of Fear" for some insights as to the nature of these events. It's fascinating stuff, dealing with stalking, disgruntled employees and spousal abuse. The amazing thing is how these things DON'T happen spontaneously, but only appear that way.
  • If there's any association which is willing to believe that software can actually predict the behavior of a human being, the school system would be it.

    Schools are horrendously giddy these days, worried about who the next problem might stem from. This is understandable, but the problem is that they will pursue any means necessary to stop what they see as a forthcoming problem, without any restraint whatsoever.

    I know someone from IRC who was accused by the school of cracking passwords from the network, and consequently had his server removed from the network (and hence, he had no access to it) without any forewarning whatsoever. This year, he was accused of installing a virus onto a computer, even though he wasn't on it at the time. Luckily, no real permanent consequences have come about, but he's had a lot of hell to pay, and he's had his rights stepped all over in the process.

    Personally, I have no problems if someone wants to be silly and try to use software to predict what I will do on any given day. However, I worry what the schools will do with this information -- it wouldn't surprise me at all of they punished students for being considered "high-risk" by the program. How would you react if you were forced to go through counseling and were suspiciously watched by teachers all the time, because a computer program had deemed you as anti-social, and likely to strike out against the rest of humanity?

    That's what makes this particularly relevant to slashdot -- young geeks (myself included) generally don't have a great social life, and would likely go under some reprimanding label under this system. We ought to fight against this system, because it's likely to stem into a complete disregard for the rights of those who are misjudged by some piece of software. Kids have rights too.

    • -- Stargazer

  • Yeah, plus our government is nice and mellow.
    eg: "I'm Adrienne Clarkson and you're not."
    Chris Dunham
  • yes it is... but who's really the cause of *most* discrimination?
  • I can see several positives in this new program. 1) I get out of class to take it 2) I can get out of more class if I completely bomb it (which I would do on purpose) 3) I can make an ass out of every single person working in the district when I announce it was a hoax 4) I can make some nice cash when I sue the district Also, would someone please tell me why someone who goes out every week to match heads with another guy in a desperate attempt to move a ball forward is deemed normal (aka non-violent), but someone who sits on his ass the entire time furthering his interests in a non-violent activity is deemed a potential mass-murder? I've said it once, and I'll say it again, "Supreme followings of Christianity just DON'T work!" And someone also tell me how this is supposed to help the "problem" of school shootings. We are dealing with the effect of discrimination, not the cause. When you want to get rid of a weed do you cut it off in the middle or do you pull it all out including the root? Also, anyone with an IQ of 80 could pass this test if they felt like it. "Duh, I'm gonna kill everyone so I think I'll pretend to be 'NORMAL' for the test and kill 'em all next week."
  • Check out my source posting earlier in this article. :^)

  • Once again, everyone thinks they can generalize people using a test. Analyzing Q&A sessions to determine if someone is going to bring an Uzi to school and spray bullets everywhere is, for lack of a better word, stupid.

    17.) John comes up behind you while you are eating lunch, and throws your tray to the floor. Do you:

    A. Politely ask John to not destroy your Lunch, and allow you to obtain your nourishment.

    B. Inform a supervisor that John is causing a disruption, and should be punished.

    C. Pull out a Glock and plant a bullet in John's Head.

    Now me, I would choose C, because the test is a nonviolent medium that I can enjoy wrecking the curve. Why would I do this? Because that proves shit like this is inaccurate, and pointless. I get the impression this is being done to pacify idiotic parents who are bitching "How do I know my son is safe going to your school?" "Well you see, we have this test....."

    Then what happens? The person who gets a "Great Job!" on the test ends up knifing a janitor. "Hmm, guess we need new questions....."

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • apart from that, people must realize there is violence in WORDS, too.

    Sure there is. But there's very little you can do about that. You have all the right in the world to be offended by it, but that's where it stops. You can't make it illegal, because then you'd have to make everything illegal. Everything you or I say is sure to offend someone, somewhere.

    it is your good right to tell [those jokes] - along with the jew/racist/whatever jokes you might also enjoy.

    I think everything has the potential to be funny. Yes, even totally racist jokes. That does not mean I am a racist. It all depends on the circumstances.

    I would not stop you. as long as i have the right to say loud and clear that i find them both disgusting and unfunny.


    if i were to stand next to you telling such jokes, i would like to lose my lunch all over you.

    Lunch! Could that be labeled Assault By Projectile Vomit?

  • Yeah, computers are great at recognising patterns. That's why we all have face recognition and voice control.

    No, do you know what computers are REALLY great at? Recognising stuff the wrong way, because they weren't programmed to recognise some itty bitty detail that makes all the difference in the world.

    Computers are stupid things. They run down a checklist you give them, and if there's a totally obvious pattern that you haven't programmed it to recognise, there's a good chance the computer is not going to pick up on it. Or if it does, that it has no idea what to do with it.

    Most people break down into neat little categories, most of the time. Say 99% of the time you're completely predictable. But then what about the 1%? 1% false data can skew your results nicely...

  • Try the old "it's just a joke" or "I didn't mean it" explanation the next time you go through airport security and talk about bombs aboard airplanes. :-)

    Oh sure, but would you want that tense paranoia that's always hanging around those airport security gates to spread to Life At Large? If my day to day life would look like the security folks at the airport I'd go mad.

  • Omigod, dude, you just totally made my day...anyone who is interested in understanding why schools fail their students must check out two books (both out of print, dammit) by Richard Mitchell (a.k.a. the Underground Grammarian).

    Run, don't walk, to your local library and check out "The Graves of Academe" and "The Leaning Tower of Babel" by Mitchell. Go. Now. Hurry.

    Good call on the quote, my man...
  • They already have intelligence tests in case you haven't noticed. And no, they're not used to "profile" kids.

    Even if you are even moderately intelligent, it would not be that difficult to figure out how to lie in order to past the test.

    I don't believe this. The "lies" would be fairly predictable.

  • I'll assume for the purpoises of this post that this program actually does what it says and that it works most of the time. (I think that's extremely unlikely)

    Quite simply, we don't understand how the brain works, and we don't understand how/why it acts/reacts the way it does. Even those most advanced in psycology have very little clue.

    So, this tests puts difficult-to-interprate results in the hands of those who can't really understand them. Can this do anything *but* harm the people being tested?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    1) My heros:
    a) carry guns.
    b) wear white hoods.
    c) wear black leather.
    d) are congressmen and senators.

    2) How do you feel about the police?
    a) I want to become one.
    b) Cops suck.
    c) What does that have to do
    with anything?

    3) Football is:
    a) a sport all the *cool* boys play.
    b) a metaphor of our agressive
    and combative society.
    c) my life.

    4) Computers are:
    a) cool. I play video games on them.
    b) a strategic resource in my quest
    for total world domination.
    c) the source of our federal debt.
    I'll post the right answers when I find them.
  • A philosopical investigation [amazon.com] by Philip Kerr is somehow about this stuff.

    Book Description

    When the English government mandates genetic testing for predisposition to violence in the early 21st century, it also creates an elaborate computer network to store the results. But when a computer expert with just such a violent predisposition breaks into the carefully-guarded data, he decides to protect the rest of society by killing off others on the list.

    Enter Inspector "Jake" Jakowicz, a tough, smart cop who must use all her powers of intuition to track the sociopath who wants to draw her into a chilling dialogue about the nature of life itself. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


    London 2013: a world in which serial murder has reached epidemic proportions. Tested positively by
    the government as one disposed to criminal violence, a computer expert breaks into the computer to erase his name, where he discovers a list of others so accused and hits on a horrifying idea: what if he were to become a killer of potential serial killers?

  • Not really. The oppresion in 1984 was based on a mixture of fear and surveilance. This program will brand people for things they haven't done. It is much more scary.
  • First of all, who would call a program Mosaic? These developers must be living with their heads in the sand to not know about the Mosaic web browser.

    I think that this is just a scam to get some government $$$. The formula for this business is easy: identify a bogey man, write some software and use fear to sell it.

    I think that the only reasonably certain predictor of violent behavior is, well, previous violent behavior.

    How do you predict the behavior of the ``all round nice guy'' who is upright, successful, active within the community---in other words, one who fits the ``fits the mold''---yet who one day snaps and climbs the tower with a rifle to shoot at random victims?

    Get real. People can always learn to evade the strategies of naive software anyway; just bullshit on the questions.

    I just wonder how much this is going to end up costing U.S. taxpayers.

  • Gee, when the police does it to Black people because "they are more likely to have drugs in their car" everyone screams Racism! And that it's wrong and that it steps on peoples rights. But when they do it to children and especially a certain group of those children.. well that's ok!

    I wonder when people will realize that giving up Liberty for the sake of personal Security will destroy the whole idea behind democracy and freedom. Can you imagine having your high-school "profile" get into the hands of the company you're trying to get a job at 10 years later?

    "Hmm, his profile say he has a 10% inclanation for violent behavior.. we don't need someone like that working here!" And that being in your "profile" simply because someone that didn't like you thought it be funny to anonymously lie and turn you in for planning to blow up the school.

  • Never have I been gladder to be out of the public school system. Columbine was a tragedy, but if people actually think that a computer can predict violence, then Columbine will pale in comparison to what will follow.

    Such rash inductivism is intolerable when applied to anything more chaotic than raw numbers, and that includes people. I'll use a famous example to illustrate my point. Let's say you see a flock of swans. You notice that all of the swans in the flock are white. Does this mean that all swans are white? Certainly not. Likewise, this Mosaic 2000 (Anyone know if NCSA trademarked Mosaic, by the way? If so I hope they sue) takes what an infintesimal minority of kids have done, found traits, and decided that all kids with these characteristics are evil creatures which must undergo psychatric treatment.

    Of course, the real solution to these problems is harder, and no government or school official can actually implement it. It takes parents who realize the full importance of their role as such, who teach their kids right from wrong, fantasy from reality, and above all else to respect all people. Many parents don't seem willing to do that anymore (note that I don't say unable; it's not always easy to do this, and it may involve making sacrifices, but it is always possible and always necessary). Many don't even seem willing to spend enough time with their kids to notice any potential trouble; such was the case with Columbine.

    I'm backing the ACLU all the way on this one. Computer programs to analyze people based on what an administrator hears (which is often little more than hearsay and rumor)? The word "abomination" comes to mind.

    In any case, this finalizes my decision. If I ever have kids, they'll never set foot in a public school (not as a student, at any rate). The system has simply gone to hell, with so many kludges and quick-fixes tacked onto it that I wonder if anything short of scrapping the current system and completely rebuilding it from scratch is going to fix things.
  • The one I've always seen/heard is (spoken):

    "Six. Six. Six. Six. Six. Now name a vegetable."

    Most people apparently say carrot (subconscious thing from the assonance between 'six' and 'sex'). I tried it on my aunt and she said 'asparagus' (which is a bit more appropriate than a carrot, IMO). When this was tried on me, I said 'onion.' I don't know what my subconscious was doing, but I consciously recognized the assonance and decided not to fall into it. ;)
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.

  • This is really sick. I recognize that it's a difficult task to draw a line between irony and just plain garbage (classics like "A Modest Proposal" come to mind), but this ... rape and murder aren't that funny.

    I especially find disturbing the casual idea of raping someone's family because you object to their ideas. Yes, let's commit one of the most violent acts known to man to people innocent of the crime!

    Ian Peters
  • First of all, it's not a test. It's a database of information that the school can enter about a student; the more information you have, the more accurate the program supposes to be.

    Secondly, it's not a judge of how violent you are at any particular moment, rather, of your tendency to violence. So if you have two different people, odds are one is more likely to become violent over a breakup than the other. This is not a fundamental change in personality.

    Ian Peters
  • It is by actions and actions alone that we must be judged.

    It's my impression that that is what this program does. This isn't like a test given to students. This is a compilation of the students actions and influences over time. So if the student has been observered (like one psycho who lived near me) setting up birdfeeders to attract wildlife, so that he could shoot them with a blowgun, well, he's being judged by his actions, isn't he?

    Ian Peters
  • I'm obviously not advocating violating people's civil rights on the basis of this program! If it's being used in that way, then it is an abuse.

    At the same time, I don't believe the information out of programs like this is useless. It should be weighed against other available evidence and used carefully.

    Ian Peters
  • I thought this might be something worth mentioning as it relates directly to many people's perceptions of computer geeks, and by extension, anything or anyone they don't understand...

    It has long been an article of our folklore that too much knowledge or skill, or especially consummate expertise, is a bad thing. It dehumanizes those who achieve it, and makes difficult their commerce with just plain folks, in whom good old common sense has not been obliterated by mere book learning or fancy notions. This popular delusion flourishes now more than ever, for we are all infected with it in the schools, where educationists have elevated it from folklore to Article of Belief. It enhances their self-esteem and lightens their labors by providing theoretical justification for deciding that appreciation, or even simple awareness, is more to be prized than knowledge, and relating (to self and others), more than skill, in which minimum competence will be quite enough.
    -- The Underground Grammarian


  • I disagree. You're comparing two totally seperate methodologies - sociology and psychology.

    Sociology teaches us that if you take a large group, you can predict with a fair amount of accuracy what that group will do. For example, if I take 100 black people and 100 Klu Klux Clansmen, the result will be mass chaos and insurrection. HOWEVER, and this is the key point - if I single out one of those black people and a KKK member and put them in the same room... I can't say what will happen.

    This is where a system like the one mentioned in the article can do incredible harm - and why we must draw the line there. My thoughts are my own business, and nobody else's. It is by actions and actions alone that we must be judged. To do otherwise invites disaster.


  • 3 things. 2 offtopic...
    1) You can't get a 1600 on the math, just on the combined
    2) Yes, it's really easy to get a combined 1600, and lots of people do ( at least I know several who did )... I'm shocked that getting a 1600 is still landing people on TV...
    3) It's easy to bluff anything like this... IQ tests are a great example. Due to a minor physical handicap (I was able to demonstrate that I couldn't help my bad handwriting, and therefore couldn't be penalized for it :-)) in high school, I was required to take IQ tests on multiple occations. Giving honest answers I usually would get 145-155, but when I was having some fun my range was 95-185. Moral of the story... it's usually dumb to evaluate someone and represent it as a number.
  • My beef with this whole deal is primarily logistical. The odds of a kid getting killed at school at the hands of a pyschotic student is extremely slim. Like 1 in 10 million, or something to that effect. There are far greater dangers that can be averted with less spending.

    Not to mention, I'm distrustful of pscyhologists. And particularly teachers who take up the crusade based on a faulty understanding of shrink's faulty evaluations. Just look at all the kids who're now diagnosed with ADD (I believe its a legit condition, but far overprescribed), or otherwise cast aside in the name of whatever disorder. If a kid has problems, he's all too often assumed to be ADD or what have you. Rather than helping the kid out, but keeping the bar at the same height. They simultaneously lower the standard (very hurtful), and prescribe drugs.

    I have little doubt that teachers (particularly grade school teachers) will start casting kids aside with this new witch hunt. Little Joey gets into a fight or two. Little Joey gets sent to shrink. Little Joey gets put into "special" program where they don't expect him to behave, and they might even request the kid be medicated... They're going to aggrivate the situation.

    ...anyways, I'm too tired to bother going on and write half decently, I've been at it all week. Hasta

  • I mostly agree with your impression of /. as of late. However, not having all the facts, I do have some real concerns about this.

    I've seen first hand how many teachers (particularly grade school teachers) "sort" kids out. Those who can fill in all the neat little boxes and do exactly as she (yes, stereotype) says, get a gold star. Those who don't are told they're stupid, or their parents are told not to expect much of them, etc etc etc. One of my sisters, for example, was told by her teacher in Kintergarden that she thought that my sister was not capable of succeeding in school because she couldn't (or wouldn't) draw a straight line or fill in the boxes with crayon. Yet many years later, she graduates from the top of her class, gets 15XX on her SATs, and is about graduate from Princeton. I've known of MANY cases like this. God forbid if the parents had listened to the teacher... I, for one, am convinced that this world has lost some of its best minds to such ignorant teaching habits.

    Your computer is only as accurate as your data. The data being supplied by teachers and such is bound to highly skewed. Not to mention that I don't think shrinks have the best grip on this world.

    Consider ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) for example. I have little doubt the disorder exists. It is scientifically diagnosed. Teachers normally direct students to the doctors. Yet we have thousands, if not millions, of kids being prescribed ritalin en masse. I don't believe most of these kids are truely ADD, or even have problems which require medication. My main objection is less the drugs than it is the sudden drop in expectations. As a result the levels of performance are dropping through the floor universally. I don't believe it is that kids are getting dumber (not genetically atleast). I see real harm here.

    Now maybe this system is pretty well thought out. Then again, maybe it isn't. In either case, its a fine line to walk, particularly given the history of shrinks and teachers. Especially when you consider the actual risks of getting killed at the hands of a pyschotic school mate (its about the same as getting struck by lightning). They could save far many more lives by spending that money on Hepatitis testing, or what have you.

    anyways..I'm tired. My apologies for my somewhat incoherant writing....Zzzzzzzzzzzz
  • I am so glad computers will do everything for me in the future. I won't have to pay any attention to my little Suzy or little Jonny, the police can handle them when the computer says so. What is so wrong with people that they would even think of using a computer program to predict troubled teenagers? I've never in my life heard of a teenager that wasn't troubled in some way. Now an administrator can have little Jonny take a standardized psych test to determine if he is proned to violence. What does that mean? If little Jonny is found to be prone to violence what does the school do, call the police? Wow I seem to remember studying about this document we called the Constitution of the United States. Somewhere in that piece of paper was some crap about due process, admonishments about invasions of privacy, and some other useless crap about personal freedoms. I wonder what ever happened to it. I guess when we became facists a while back we got rid of it. A country that believed that there is was a due process of law would never punish someone for a crime that wasn't commited. Maybe some day we can test fetuses in the womb to see if they are prone to violence and abort them. Wow I had an idea, we could test for proneness to alcoholism, adultry, criminal behaviour, immoral thought, and many other problems. Then we can ship those people off somewhere or kill them. Wouldn't the world be so much better. Better living through facism. *smile*
  • Of course you can't predict everything. Nobody's talking about a setup where a computer reads a list of variables about a person and spits out an order to have that person sent to an asylum. It's just a tool to help humans identify potential problems.


  • I realize that it isn't wholly logical, but for some reason I expect programmers not to contribute to projects such as this one.

    I have `ln -s hackers programmers` somewhere in my brain, and I just don't expect programmers->hackers to do things that promote concepts of normalcy. It's just a further beef with Windows - it makes application development so rapid and simple that Any Idiot(TM) is able to build a pretty simple app.

    I'm seeing another argument in the works here for a professional guild for software developers, a la doctors, lawayers, architects, etc. Members of such orgranizations that act against its best interests are brought to account. It's kind of medieval, but has some interesting/useful side-effects.

    Professions that have an internal accountability structure are classically viewed as trust-worthy. In the programming industry, there is increasingly frequently a mistrust on the part of employers for programmers. It's not hard to understand why: certification programs and technical schools are pumping out people whose only interest in computing is because it's HOT.

    And they suck. Companies then get cynical - these people who have been certified as professionals don't know their `head` from a hole in the ground. I hear it over and over - people in companies are realizing that there are programmers, then there are programmers. They understand that a good programmer is worth many times more to them than even a halfway decent one. Their gripe is that they have no real way of telling the difference until it's too late.

    I think I digress somewhat though - ultimately, I just wish people wouldn't buld kack like this. It might be wishful (or worse yet, vain or even naive) thinking, but I'd like to think that a programmers' guild could preclude Mosaic's development.

    Or maybe we could just abolish psychology - I suspect that would cure a lot of society's neuroses ;>

  • See, here's the thing.

    If the test indeed included that question,

    17.) John comes up behind you while you are eating lunch, and throws your tray to the floor. Do you:
    A. Politely ask John to not destroy your Lunch, and allow you to obtain your nourishment.
    B. Inform a supervisor that John is causing a disruption, and should be punished.
    C. Pull out a Glock and plant a bullet in John's Head.

    Answering C would signal that you were trying to throw the test. Do you think the people putting this test together are total idiots? B might signal a normal reaction. A might signal a violent person trying to hide the tendancies and cover them up.

    Or it might not. This is not the kind of question that would show up anyhow, but if it did, what the answers meant would be determined experimentally, and not by a psychologist sitting and thinking about them. They know better then that.

    An example of a real question might be,

    "On a scale of one to five, where one is totally disagree and five is total agreement, how much do you agree with the following statements:

    1. People like me.
    2. I like people.
    3. I feel safe when I am at my primary residence.
    4. My school is a safe environment.
    5. When people pick on me, I can just shrug it off.
    6. If my an aquaitence of mine betrayed me, I would bring a gun to school and shoot them."

    If you answered "strongly agree" with 6, then you are probably trying to skew the curve, but it depends on the profile of the other questions.

    These tests do work; they wouldn't be dangerous if they were always wrong, because nobody would trust them!
  • Nobody (at least I) would say this programs output is useless.
    It should be weighed against other available evidence and used carefully.
    NO, the use of this program should be weighted against possible backdraws for people.
    Not anything which is useful is justifiable.
    Creating the mere possibility of violating individual rights is something which
    should be handled very careful

  • While I agree with you critical view on some typical slashdot
    reactions, I would really like you to explain how this
    software could be better than teachers being informed
    and having some common sense.
    This silly invention is just there to save some teachers the
    torture of thinking on their own and acting responsible.
    If they really wanted to do a test, I propose do a test for
    teachers, where they are given some cases and have to
    decide how to act.
    For instance I learned to know many teachers who gave
    a shit when they clearly could see some kid in emotional
    trouble, being always alone on the school yard and/or
    showing real sights of panic after getting bad rates.
    These ignorant beings are the last ones which I would
    describe as - as you say - "capable hands".

    And about "statistical analysis". I read about a guy who
    always was taken aside and examined very closely at
    the airport when he wanted to fly somewhere.
    He sued the airline, and they had to confess they had
    used "statistical analysis" (i.e. data mining) to develop
    a model of the typical hijacker, and this poor guy
    fitted in.
    Statistical analysis which can have real (and bad)
    consequences for innocent individuals should be
    illegal IMO.
  • by drox ( 18559 )
    This program came about because politicians are looking for a "cheap fix" to the educational system.


    Well..there is none.

    Right again! There's no cheap fix. Only an expensive one. It starts with smaller class sizes. But that's expensive, and raising taxes to pay for it (you know another way?) is the kiss of death on election day. It's a lot easier to play on the parents' fears of school shootings (horrible, to be sure, but very unlikely) than to deal with the problem of schools that don't teach students what they need to know (also horrible, and almost inevitable, but no one seems to care).
  • Better point: The most disturbed are the ones that hide it best. 'He always seemed the quiet type..'

    So how hard could it be for someone to circumvent the system? If it was a test, lie. If it's a system you database behavior in, just watch what you do in public. There's always the dark corners of the persons mind where the violent bits hide..
  • Here's a nice quote:

    Dr. Hannibal Lecter: A census taker once tried to test me... I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
  • Whoa, the last 13 paragraphs of that article are repeated twice. Whats scary is it still reads ok. Obviously someone had a loss for words.. But on another note, I wonder how this program was made.
    cout > PE
    if (PE = 10)
    cout "Please shoot on sight.";
    cout "A loving caring citizen of the community.";

  • Whoa geez.. thats completely not what I wrote :( how embarrasing I meant cout "Please enter # of PE credits taken per year"; cin PE if (PE = 10) cout "Please shoot on sight."; else cout "A loving caring citizen of the community.";
  • HHE much better source code. I'm just embarrased that I didn't notice how previewing strips your code.. :(
  • Sort of hard to see how you would test this program's usefulness. If your school doesn't have any mass slayings over the trial period, does that constitute a success? The incidence of violoence in school is alreay pretty damn low; fluctuations are going to be hard to tell from noise.

    If the program BSOD's, does that mean the student has to be executed instantly?
  • The article is available without registration here [tribune.com].

  • This isn't about conformance, it isn't about violating rights.

    This is about broad and typically incorrect assumptions based on profiling and other frequently debatable psychological "learnings."

    To put it bluntly, I wouldn't have tolerated that kind of crap when I was in school. How *dare* some unnamed person not only decieve me, but attempt to label me and place me in a group based on a standardized test that's results are based on broad assumption? How dare they?!

    To put it into perspective; I'd be labeled as a violent person. Immediately. Red flags everywhere. But that's because of my personal beliefs, principles, and concepts. Truthfully, I'm a rather peacable person. I think I've actually hit someone once or maybe twice.

    Yeah, my thoughts are violent. Comes from a society that not only glorifies, but exemplifies violence as a way to solve problems, to insure peace. While they condemn it. Can we say 'double-standard' boys and girls? I wasn't shocked about Columbine, really. I'd wanted to do something similar many times. Difference is, I didn't act on it.

    I have something called self control. Yeah, I'm a violent person if you look at some bullshit psychological profile, I suppose. Doesn't mean I act on my thoughts. I think the most violent thing I've ever done has been to tear up my bedroom. Didn't break anything - just made it into a huge mess.

    What bothers me even more is how they will implement this crap. It'll be mandatory. Parents won't be given the option to not do it. Nor will the children. You do it or you get the boot. And if you're labeled as 'violent' you'll be labeled for life. You'll have a police record before you even commit a crime.

    Prevention through extremest and intrusive vigilence is just wrong. Just like fighting a war to end a war is wrong. Just because you win a war doesn't mean you can force people to stop hating eachother. What gives anyone the right to force someone to answer a bunch of idiotic questions that could quite possibly ruin the rest of their life?

    Somebody point me to a campaign to stop this shit. I'm sick of this 'protect the children' excuse crap. What happened to 'securing life, liberty, and justice for all'? Oh, that's right, the DOJ burned the last copy of that filtered document years ago. My bad. We now return you to your normal police state. (Gee, I wonder how long before somebody comes knocking on my door looking to arrest me for speaking my mind..)

    -RISCy Business | Rabid unix guy, networking guru
  • by leereyno ( 32197 )
    Being young is a crime in this country. When I was in high school a group of convicts were brought in to give us a lecture every year. They would sit up on the stage and talk about how hard their lives have been because they chose to commit the crimes they did. Why were they at my high school? Because of the unconscious belief that most of us were up to no good and needed to be "scared straight." I would expect this at places like juvenile hall, but at a normal high school in medium sized town in a affluent part of the state? This new software business is even more sad. The very idea that a piece of software would be able to look into a person's soul and see what lies there is absurd. Even a highly trained and experienced psychologist or psychiatrist cannot always do that. Sounds to me like snake oil. Parent's and teachers are hysterical about what happened in Colorado and some con artist has now taken advantage of that. Sad, sad, sad, all around.
  • You're exactly right, and I wish people wouldn't knee-jerk like this. But, I also feel even more strongly than you that this is a Bad Thing(tm).

    Why? Because it will occasionally be correct, and when it is, it will mess some kid up good. I have a friend who is fairly unstable. He knows this, and has known it for many years. Still, he does what he needs to to keep himself under control and never takes out his agressive tendancies on others. Would he show up as violent on this test? Probably yes. Would it have pushed him over the edge if people started tagging him as a potential threat in High School? You betcha! Instead, he is now a respected individual who I am happy to be able to say I know. Go figure.

    What we need to do, here, is not try to pick out the trouble-makers and "protect ourselves" from them. We need to a) figure out if there really is a problem (someone goes nuts in a school several times a year, most times it doesn't even make the news) b) assuming that there is a problem, we need to find and adress it. Not the kids. They're no more the source of the problem than the USPS was back in the early 90's. Nor are the schools the problem. We, as a society are encouraging people to behave in the ways that they do. If we don't like the way that people are behaving, we need to change the incentives.

    I don't know if there is a wide-spread problem, or just a few good excuses for news ratings. But, if there is, we will not solve it by spending more money on police, beauracracy, personality tests and other controls. We will only solve for it if we pull together and decide what we want to do with ourselves.
  • Agreed. Remember, the only kids being entered into the database are the ones that the school officials already think are "troubled". Talk about self-fullfilling prophecies.

  • by m3000 ( 46427 )
    Ms. Montgomery, the attorney general, described it as "very affordable" at less than $10,000 for the high school.

    Hmm, if that is "very affordable", how come my teachers say there is no money to buy any new computer hardware or software for the students? It's funny that the school board can always find stuff to waste money on instead of actually doing something to actually help the students.
  • Timothy Leary, when he was convicted of possesion
    of marijuana. His first cell was right next to
    Charles Manson, and to determine what type of
    prison he would go to, He had to take a 'Personality
    Profile' test. Tim wrote the test, while at Havard!
    As you can imagine he was sent to a minimum security prison.

    He also escaped from it. :)
  • If that test says I'm violent I'm gonna shoot someone.
  • Problem is, the only people you want to catch with this software - i.e. psychopaths - are by clinical definition, people who have no compunctions about lying on the test to begin with.

    "We're trying to screen out potentially violent whackjobs for re-education camps. Are you, or have you ever, having or had fantasies about burning down your school and raping and murdering everyone within a 500 foot radius of the building?"

    Since only the dumbest potentially-violent whackjob (even by whackjob-level standards) would ever answer "yes" to that question, all we're doing is screening out the 'tardly ones who couldn't put a pipe bomb together to save their lives, and ensuring that the ones who really wanna go through with it will be undetected.

    It's great lawsuit-protection though. Just think - now there'll be a real test, scored by a computer (Ooooh! it came from a Com-pew-ter! It must be true!), that can protect the school boards from lawsuits. There's a big difference, legally-speaking, between "We had no idea he'd go postal, he was a nice quiet kid", and "His psych profile said he was a nice quiet kid, so you can't claim we even thought he had the potential to go postal."

    Lawyers. Feh. (My answer: "No, but I do think that a hundred lawyers being blown to giblets en masse with rocket launchers, and then left to rot at the bottom of the Columbine High swimming pool, would be a real good start. Especially with a pile of BBQ sauce and a big tank of propane.")

  • Washington, DC - Goiters - Three weeks after a foul tempered, bullying high school athletic star went on a rampage at a pep rally and slew the entire school band with a homemade potato gun, officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms have issued Service Pack 3 For Mosaic2000.

    After numerous administrators reported difficulty installing the service pack, ATF officials advised that the SexOffender PlugIn must be uninstalled prior to applying the service pack, followed by a full OS reinstall.

    ATF has been criticized for its perceived failure to respond to the oversight immediately.
    "This kid was normal in every way." said J. Mimpton Cleeb III, school board President. "Foul-tempered, bullying, egostistical, four-letters in sports - who'da thunk it? Thats what we bought the software for. They need to fix this immediately"

    ATF officials, meanwhile continue to downplay the furor, blaming the oversight on 'malicious hackers'.

    "Cyberspace scared me so bad I downloaded in my pants." --- Buddy Jellison

  • Perhaps it might be used in an attempt to deflect liability once another such event happens -- the reasoning being that so-and-so should have noticed behavior, and therefore should have stopped it...

    Hell, I could see a [school] admin discreetly pushing this product on *parents*, or at least trying to ask:

    "Do you know what your kid is up to? [And if not, how can you call yourself a parent?]"
  • You'd probably want to factor in not only answers, but reaction times -- to decide whether somebody's just randomly hitting keys and being a Dorkus maximus, or whether they're pondering a bit too long...

    Figure that questions may intersect somewhat to detect inconsistencies that'd also possibly flag a BSer. Figure also on questions with particularly blatant answers, with the same purpose. Figure on seemingly tangential questions.
  • Get a grip. This is not a new concept in psychology. These tests have a specific purpose and are *never* supposed to stand on their own, with no other evidence. It is simply a tool used to figure out what the problem with someone msy be.

    For example, there is a test used widely today with hundreds of yes-no questions. Its purpose is to determine if a person is psychotic. I took it for a friend of mine who needed to administer it as part of a pychology PhD curriculum. The result for me was "within normal limits" or something like that-quite anticlimatic. It cannot tell if I am smart, creative, violent, or prefer gel to paste Colgate. It certainly cannot replace a complete psychological profile including examination by a live person.

    Letting people other than trained psychologists administer and evaluate the results of the test is like letting your brother-in-law, who "knows all about computers" administer your network. It's foolish and irresponsible.

    The response by Slashdot readers to this is analogous to people who pass along hoax virus warnings. They don't know that much about the subject, but they panic when certain triggers are pulled.

    Another thing is that these tests are not used to screen the population, and "pull out" potential offenders. They are used after there is a identified problem. These tests probably would not have done any good at Littleton, because no one suspected the two students of anything, and they did not show enough signs warrant testing.

    Even Homer Simpson didn't get Dr. Marvin Monroe' psych test given to him until after he wore a pink shirt to work.
  • boy, this program would've flagged me down in a second. i must have fit the profile of a killer to a T when i was in school.. let's see.... i came from a less than stable home.. i stared at the floor when people talked to me. i had a 2.1 GPA. i hung out with the 'less-desirable' people in school and didn't talk, only smiled.
    yup, i would've been red-flagged the second i left the guidance counselors office...

    of course, i didn't kill anybody, plant any bombs, deface any property. and never even went to detention. so now, low and behold, i go to college, for computer engineering. i even work at Travelers. and haven't gone besurk yet... but i forgot, that's a completely different profiling program.
    just because i never liked any of those very very rich people i went to school with, and showed it, doesn't mean i was going to kill anyone.
    for god sakes!, a computer program isn't going to help. and if little jonny appears to be polishing his machine gun a little too much at recess, then talk to his parents!

  • From the article: The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the pilot program as a "technological Band-Aid" driven by profiteering in parental fears. "We are understandably hesitant about any program designed to classify students or anyone else in society as potentially dangerous based on supposedly credible data fed into a black box," said Raymond Vasvari, legislative director of the Ohio ACLU.

    It just goes to show you that oportunists will stop at nothing to crawl out from under there rock and make a profit off of fear.

    Details about the software to be used can be found here:

    here is the link to the homepage Gavin de Becker Inc. [gdbinc.com] and here is a not-so-detailed paper on the product: Mocaic 2000

  • In my opinion programs like that don't work. Of cource you can test people to see if they are violent. But what about when those people change? A nasty brakeup with their girl/boyfriend and they behave quite diffrent than normal. Or some other crisis.. And what if you get the wrong results. The results say that you're violent when you aren't.
  • Can a test really show whether a child or teen will become the next Jeffery Dalhmer? That is essentially the question these people who wrote this software are asking.

    Putting the software and what its intended purpose in that light is quite frightening since we know that no one could have seen Dalhmer and people like him coming. I suggest a different result than the utopian solution that this software professes to provide: typecasting.

    As is pointed out by many Slashdot users, this software will lead to possible abuse by school officals to target so-called deviants. In trying to find the next Colombine shooters, the school administration will target countless innocent students who are not 'normal' but who would never contemplate murder. Adolecents go through a lot of changes which are both physical and mental. Some of these changes might result in behaviour that doesn't comply with this software but is no way harmful to the school population.

    These people, who are not 'normal' will now be labelled 'troublemakers'. If they didn't suffer from being social outcasts, they will be now. And how do you think a school would eventually deal with this problem child? I suspect that suspension or expulsion would be inevitable. All over a test which deams them not normal. If you don't believe me, then why do many schools in the US have security guards when most students are not violent?

    Since most of my comments have scored a one, I don't expect anyone to remember what I have said in the past but I would like to mention one of my previous comments in the following section.


    Most of these tests stem from the fact the psycology, sociology and psychiatry are NOT sciences. This causes problems. These so-called mental and society professionals are given licence to analyze and predict peoples behaviour when they clearly can not.

    We don't know exactly how the brain operates. Until that day comes, we can't say who will be or commit what. Actually, we may not even be able to conclude that in the future since science has found that the brain is quite dynamic in nature.

    If you don't believe me and my anti-psych comments, then study Freud. He spent his whole life studying sex and didn't explain or show a whole lot. I guess we have the ediface complex to thank from him. And he was one of the most influential people of the 20th century according to CNN. I still don't think anything useful came of out his works.


    Finally, I would like to thank the ACLU for taking a stand on this retarded software. While I don't agree with them on everything, they have kept society free and prevented idiots from doing all sorts of things in society. Hopefully, they will prevent these idiots who wrote this software from pigeonholing, stereotyping and labelling these unfortunate teenagers who might become victims of this software.
  • It seems Mosaic is another device/system/whatever intended to provide a shortcut solution to a very complex situation, such as home drug test kits or overprescribed antidepressants or ADHD drugs. Since most parents don't want to devote the time to actually trying to understand their children, opportunists invent ways to provide quick fix solutions. The real solution is communication, but it's complicated and takes time.
  • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @10:33AM (#1591068) Homepage
    > The software is meant to be used as a tool, not
    > a decision maker

    True. However, imagine having to defend yourself in court if you went against the "tools" advice.
    ``So you were noticed that he was a potential risk, but did nothing?'' Ordinary CYA procedure -- which is part of any administration -- will mean you have to take action when the tool claims there is a risk.
  • by itp ( 6424 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:33AM (#1591069)
    Typical slashdot fare of late, it seems. Take a tool with the potential to be abused, shout about your rights, claim we're being pigeonholed, point out that we're all individuals, and watch the masses rant and rave.

    I'm tired of it. Yes, this is a tool that has the potential to cause great harm. But really, all it does is make observations based on trends. This is not inherently a bad thing!

    Come on, people, get a grip. Yes, we are all individuals. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule. But statistical analysis is a valuable tool. In capable hands, a tool like this can be of immense help in dealing with a problematic child. It all depends on how it is used.

    I don't think anyone is suggesting we just turn all decision making responsibility over to the program, and sit back and let it raise our children. Yes, there is cause for concern over abuse. But don't fly to the other extreme and jump up and cry foul at every corner!

    Ian Peters
  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @10:24AM (#1591070)
    This was actually reported in the local news a couple days ago and then on the Drudge Report yesterday.

    Apparently, it is being developed with the help and encouragement of the Beaurau of Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms as well as the LA DA Gil Garcetti. It is being tested in a couple dozen schools.

    Mosaic-2000 [gdbinc.com] is documented here, by it's creator and developer, 'parenting expert', Gavin De Becker.

    According to Mosaic-2000's website:

    MOSAIC-2000 cannot label anyone as anything. People unfamiliar with the method may jump to the worry that principals will use it to unfairly label kids, but the objective process resists bias. MOSAIC-2000 is vastly more likely give a low rating in a situation to which people are over-reacting - than to give a high rating in a situation people are not concerned about.

    School administrators already label kids. This will simply provide a tool with which they can harass them and bring them to the attention of the district and other professionals. Are they going to use this 'tool' on the beer-drinking all-star quarterback who date-raped his last girlfriend and enjoys slamming the heads of freshmen into the wall? Will they use this on the home-coming-queen who is hiding bullemia and drinking to avoid her abusive parents and contemplating slitting her wrists? Probably not. But they may jump at the chance to use it on the kids who keep to themselves and spend most of their time reading and expressing themselves through their abrasive or depressing writing and 'odd' attire.

    MOSAIC-2000 seeks to identify those students most in need of the interventions and resources that are available, and in the school setting, all appropriate intervention is good. In other words, if you happen to fit their specific profile of what a 'troubled student' is and this hunk of code shows that you meet the outline of a possible psycho-killer, you will probably be forced to undergo counseling, therapy, possibly even be weeded out to attend a 'special' school.

    How many of us have been the victims of busy-body teachers? I certainly have. When I was in grade-school, I constantly had bruises on me because I also happened to be very active in wrestling and Judo. And because I spent most of my after-school time in sports, I had to bury myself in reading and writing at school -- just to keep up. This appeared to a certain teacher as a loner-child who keeps to himself and is abused at home. This teacher asked me about this and although I gave her my honest explanation, I was speaking with the school counselor by the end of the day, and by evening, there were case-workers from Child Protective Services checking on my parents.

    Needless to say, my parents were shocked. So was I. It didn't matter that I was a completely normal child who's bruises were from sports and who was deeply involved in his school-work. What mattered was the self-asserted perception of a busy-body who should have spent more time teaching than trying to play a fairy-god-mother. Is it really much of a stretch to say that a computer would look at the same situation and make the same possibly conclusion?

    We must also remember that regardless of what the computer says, the input is from humans and is interpreted and acted upon by humans. Is a teacher going to suddenly change their opinion of a student because a computer did not believe the evidence provided warrented a truly 'potentially violent child'?

    A range of answers is far more likely to stimulate accuracy fairness, and completeness. For example, if asking about firearms, a Yes/No question could not stimulate as fair or complete an exploration as a range:

    __No known possession of a firearm
    __Friends known to have ready access to a firearm
    __There are firearms in the home
    __There are firearms in a home frequented by the student
    __The student owns his own firearm
    __The student recently acquired a firearm

    First of all, how in the hell are they going to know these things? I don't even know if my friends or neighbors have firearms. And if I have recently acquired a firearm, am I going to be walking up to any authority and tell them about it?

    It seems that any questions that could possibly render any (even incorrect) answer as to whether a subject is a risk or not would require a certain amount of investigation to aptly answer. How will these answers be obtained? Will it require students to fill out a long questionaire? If so, how can anyone be sure the student was truthful? If not, then will schools begin employing detectives to start checking-up on children by interviewing their friends, family, teachers, co-workers, fellow-students, churchr-members or neighbors? By what right would the school be investigating anyone for anything? Even the police must prove a necessary need to do these things. A policeman can not simply go around interrogating everyone who "looks like a troublemaker" and "may, someday, in the next ten or twelve years, become violent".

    For the first time, schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels will have access to technology and methods that have long been used for many of our nation's highest stakes assessments.

    The same technology used to weed-out international terrorists at airports based on one's ethnicity and accent will now help weed-out seven-year-old little Johnny so that he won't blow everyone's head off by the time he is in highschool.

    Please note: hazing, intimidating, harassing, kicking, punching, spitting-on, humiliating, torturing and otherwise generally abusing and making other weaker students lives hell is acceptable.

    How many times do you hear a killer's neighbors, friends, co-workers and even family say "I never knew..."? This is precisely because only certain types of violent people have certain traits and histories. In fact, more people who have those same traits and histories are not violent than those who are. You can not look at a person and claim that they will destroy an entire city block by the way they dress, music they listen to, and their proximity to places and people with guns.

    If this thing is widely accepted, I'll be surprised if it isn't soon used in the workplace. Of course, we know it already is to a degree, but soon we may be able to officially harass that really quiet guy who reads all those high-tech magazines down in accounting!

    School administrators would use MOSAIC-2000 only in situations that reach a certain threshold (e.g., a student makes a threat, brings a weapon to school, teachers or students are concerned a student might act out violently).

    Better teach little Jilly to watch her mouth. Next time she says stamps her feet on the ground in a fit and says "I hope you die!" because little Timmy took her favorite Pokeman card, she may be filed away in the school computer and considered a potential threat.

    Does MOSAIC-2000 invade the privacy of students?: The information gathered for each evaluation is held at the school only, and is never communicated over the Internet. MOSAIC is a stand-alone system, secure at each school, with no central combining of cases. The system isn't a "Big Brother" approach. MOSAIC-2000 merely brings organization and expert opinion to a process every principal already has. So if something is not distributed over the Internet, it is not invading your privacy? Is this why we walk around giving our social security numbers, home phone number and bank account number to every person who asks?

    I find it extremely offensive that someone would want to tag myself or my child as a risk because of computer profiling -- and build a database with their information, telling me it's for the better. What gaurantee is there that this information will never be incorporated into a database or ever released to anyone outside of the school district? Further, what right does my child's teacher or principal have to know anything about the child that isn't directly involved in the child's education?

    I understand that safety is involved, but this is a wreckless answer to a problem that has been grossly exaggerated. Profiling, at best, will give a false sense of security and at worst, rob us of any dignity, privacy and freedom while we're still reading Curious George and learning addition.

    MOSAIC systems have been in daily use for a decade. Society faces many types of high-stakes evaluations (threats to public officials, hazards to domestic violence victims, workplace violence cases, etc). MOSAIC systems are used by the United States Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve Board, the Central Intelligence Agency, Governors of eleven states, and many others.

    Is there really anything that needs to be said right here? Supreme Court, Federal reserve Board, Governors, Central Intelligence Agency, K-12 . . .

    In cases where students have been expelled as a result of safety concerns, when they are considered for re-enrollment, some schools may use MOSAIC-2000 to help evaluate if the risk has lessened.

    Oh, can't you just smell the lawsuits the next time some kid mows-down his entire graduating class after being reinstated by his school administrators because of Mosaic-2000?

    The cost for the final version of MOSAIC-2000 (due in February, 2000) will be determined by the M-2000 Advisory Board. It is likely to be a small monthly fee for each school.

    Oh, great. Now the little rats will be coming to my door more often, trying to peddle candy and magazines.

    The system operates on entirely standard and traditional hardware, including an IBM-PC compatible 486 computer. It uses very little disk space.

    They're apparently not running it on Windows.

    Concern that a student might act out violently can be triggered in any of several ways:

    a student makes a threat;
    alarming writings are observed;
    a student brings a firearm to school;
    a student gets into trouble with police; teacher, counselor, psychologist, parent, or fellow student becomes concerned and makes a report

    I'm not sure about the school you went to, but students made idle threats all the time at mine. It's a part of being an immature kid. As for bringing a firearm to school -- what moron requires a computer to tell them that the child is a risk? First, it is illegal to bring a firearm to school. If you need to rely on the computer program to tell you that posession of a firearm is a danger-sign, you need your face bashed in with a brick.

    Alarming writing? What does one consider alarming? The greatest and most lauded writing in the world tends to be alarming, shocking and disturbing! Writing should be a method of release and creativity. And a lot of the most truly disturbing and brilliant pieces I have ever read were written by rather youthful authors.

    Mosaic-2000 is not an all-seeing oracle. It is a peice of crap that should be left out of the school system. The answer to the problems of children is not to throw more technology at them and invade their inner-most thoughts and secrets.

    The answer is to afford them a little more time, attention and considertion. If it requires mass-murder for us to come to their aid and hear them, we are a ruined society. When the only attention we provide kids with is the scrutinizing eye of accusation, we can only expect jaded, disinterested, paranoid children.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @11:23AM (#1591071)
    I take issue with the idea that this program will "only" be used to determine who's going to be violent. This tool will be misused and abused.. and "false positives" will get alot of people into trouble. Everybody at some point or another gets *very* pissed about something. Does this mean we should lock them up because they can't have 100% self control?

    This program came about because politicians are looking for a "cheap fix" to the educational system. Well.. there is none. Even in maximum security prisons people get killed. There is an equilibrium we must strike between personal freedoms and security - they are mutually exclusive.

    I have taken 13 psychological evaluations. I've talked with a half-dozen psychologists. I can talk the talk and walk the walk. Every single test, and I mean every test was different - by reading those 13 reports you would never know it was the same person if you didn't look at the title and see my name.

    Psychology is a soft-science. It is not presently capable of making precision diagnoses. It can give you a basic understanding of how people think. It even has a very limited ability to predict what people will do in a NORMAL situation. But when you start throwing people into high-pressure and high-stress situations you don't need to be a psychologist to say they are unstable. Nobody can guess what they're going to do. In this respect, people are just like machines - they have operational limits. Exceed those, and something is likely to break. And since even the best psychologist can't say where that point is, I'll be damned if a computer program can!

    In short - this tool will not meet it's goal of determining who is violent and who is not because human nature is such that normally non-violent people can become violent if put under pressure.


  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:33AM (#1591072)
    I hope you found my source-code leak humorous, but now for the more serious commentary. First off this is NOT being done because it is effective at predicting who's going to suddenly snap and go on a murderous rampage. There are several reasons for this. Let's look at the #1 reason why this software is being implimented - the columbine massacre. The kids parents honestly didn't know what was going on - and what parent really believes their kid is a psycho-crazed killer? Not many. Even if they do, they try to ignore it. Did you see last night's south park episode? That illustrates my point nicely. Second reason - the FBI has been using profiles to catch suspected "drug carriers" in airports. The result? Alot of people's civil rights are violated, alot of innocent people are hurt, and very little drugs are actually found (try to find a newspaper that had any articles on drugs being found on an airplane in the last year). Infact on atleast one occasion a pregnant woman was detained by authorities for suspected drug-smuggling. She was given multiple enemas and over the course of three days not treated very well. As a result she had a miscarriage. The law holds that this is perfectly OK. It is also morally reprehensible.

    My last point is that most murders are second degree murders. The typical scenario is the person loses it due to a tramatic event (ie: finding your wife sleeping with another guy) and goes on a shooting spree. Sooo, maybe we should prevent people from having sex so that doesn't happen?

    This is another example of mainstream prejudices being wrapped around some politically-correct methodology and being re-presented for acceptance. And the prejudice, my good readers - is that mainstream society doesn't like people who are different. Racism, sexism, white supremacy, the haves and the have nots - what's in common with all of them? One group is different from another. Welcome to the tyranny of the majority.


  • by Michel ( 8815 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @10:14AM (#1591073)
    And this is an excellent example of where such a program can go completely wrong.

    That guy just has a sick sense of humour, and makes a way over the top joke. You don't have that sense of humour, and you react like you did. (Sick! Disturbed! Garbage!) What if you were someone at some school, and you had to look out for worrying signs among the kids. What if you overheard him telling that joke. How big is the chance that you would dive into your little program and label him a dangerous nutcase?

    Sure, there will be some people who have a sick sense of humour because they're really dangerous, but there's also plenty of people who have the most crazy and tasteless sense of humour, but in real life wouldn't hurt a fly.

  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @04:24PM (#1591074) Journal
    The tests (from actually READING the article) will work on the well-established psychological principle of analysing known violent people's answers to a series of questions, discovering where they differ most from normal people's answers, and using those to distinguish between violent and non-violent people. You can use this technique for nearly any trait, and it works reasonably well.

    This unsupported proposition is preposterous on its face. First of all, there is a long line of substantial evidence that psychiatry is incapable of effectively predicting dangerousness. See American Psychiatric Asssociation, Clinical Assesments of Violent IndividualsTask Force Report 8, 24 (1974).

    Secondly, exactly how would you prove the aformentioned proposition doesn't trigger false positives? Diagnose a sample size, let them lose and count the carnage? There is no credible and ethical methodology that can measure the proposition whether a person adjudged for mass murder was properly diagnosed.

    Accordingly, the assumption that the test works is bad enough, but the unsupported assumption that the test has been shown to work is, well, incredible.

    It is certainly true that one can provide a test that will capture all dangerous humans. (Count the chromosomes, for example). The problem is that a test that minimizes false negatives will pick up way to many false positives, resulting in substantial loss of civil liberty and social standing. This is unjust and, IMHO, evil.

    It's also naive. Computer dating doesn't work so well. Are we truly to believe we can match students with traits of dangerousness?
  • by kaphka ( 50736 ) <1nv7b001@sneakemail.com> on Sunday October 24, 1999 @11:55AM (#1591075)
    This test is not dangerous because it will somehow enforce "conformance". The danger is that the test is reliable, but not reliable enough. There are four permutations of "person is violent" (assume for a moment that this is a simple boolean, for the sake of argument), and "test says person is violent." The true danger here is that a large number of people will become "diagnosed" as violent who are not, known as a "false positive". The society will then act on this false information, possibly in drastic and damaging ways. (false negatives aren't half as disturbing; few violent people shoot up schools)
    Just to amplify this point:

    Back at the height of the AIDS scare, clinics that did a lot of AIDS testing often had one or more full-time counselors whose primary job was to convince patients that they do not have AIDS. Many of these patients had gotten positive test results in the past, but later came up negative on more reliable tests.* What these people had trouble understanding is that when you test for something that is very rare in the general population, such as AIDS, there will be far more false positives than true positives.

    So let's say that this test is supposed to flag the 1% of students with the greatest potential for violence, and let's say (very generously) that it's 90% accurate. On this test, 0.9% of those tested will be correctly marked violent. 0.1% will be marked "safe", even though they have the potential to be violent. 89.1% will be correctly marked "safe". And 9.9% will be incorrectly flagged as violent.

    In other words, given this exmple, for every violent student that the test catches, more than ten "safe" students will be incorrectly "caught".

    They may widen their criteria for violent students, which would make the test slightly more valid. However, it is likely that the test will be far less that 90% accurate, increasing the ratio of false positives/true positives even further.

    *I'm not sure if I can back up this AIDS story, so feel free to consider it a fictional example if you wish.
  • by Myself ( 57572 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:29AM (#1591076) Journal
    This is truly frightening!

    It's always been said that your scores on standardizes tests have a little bit to do with your knowledge of the subject and a lot to do with your test-taking skills. I know a guy who scored 1600 on the Math section of the SAT. He was good but nowhere near perfect, a few lucky guesses (by his own admission) landed him on a talkshow with some drooling chess masters.

    Any human shrink has some judgement that they can temper their results with. This software has no such judgement, and I'm sure its results will be misused.

    What if you have some kid with a less-than-complete grasp of the language, who misunderstands the word "anxiety" or something and accidentally gets him/herself into the Manson category?

    The only solution is to protest this thing like hell, and attempt to defeat it wherever it appears. I'm waiting for the 2600 [2600.com] article on how to bluff your way through the shooting-spree-test.
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @11:10AM (#1591077)
    Thru fear, our society is reacting against violence. Violence in itself is not evil, it is a required part of hunting or war. Is a war in self-defense evil? Blowing up buildings is acceptable when demolishing them for renewal, right? Because we depended on hunting for food for so long, and have practiced war forever, it's unreasonable to think that most of us don't have significant tendencies to violence, just different thresholds and ways for expressing it.

    Many people with violent tendencies can be quite useful as cops, firemen, emergency medical technicians, rocket scientists, demolition experts, military personnel, spies, surgeons, butchers, football players, and other professions where violence and/or gore are facts of life. Sane people find acceptable and sometimes productive outlets for violence. We don't have to ensure all our kids are non-violent gore-hating pacifists.

    Violent tendencies are better accepted and properly directed than suppressed thru a misguided notion that violence isn't a useful tool, or the ability to employ it a disease. If civilization *does* go down the tubes, violence will be a survival trait again.

    The data from the Mosaic test could be useful, it also is only a tool. It's the way the information will be used I fear. If the results of the test were viewed as simple information, and not prejudicial, I would not object. Rather too much to hope from the people who suspended students for wearing black trenchcoats, I think. They are the problem, not the test.

    I hear too much "Stamp Out Violence!" rhetoric, like it was possible or desirable. If you're familiar with Well's "The Time Machine", you know that neither Eloi nor Morlock is a good way to evolve, real humans have components of both. Violence in society has been decreasing steadily and significantly over the last 30 years. Why are we not congratulating ourselves instead of reacting in fear to tragic, but overplayed, media events?
  • by dark&stormynight ( 69479 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @11:00AM (#1591078)
    I see some lawsuits coming out of this. What if a student refused to take the test because he felt it violated his civil rights and the school expelled him for it? That might be an opening for the parents to sue the school. Possible? Probable?
    Another thing I see is if a student is determined to have a violent potential, the school might insist on "re-education" to eliminate those tendancies. Visions of re-education camps to "normalize" your behavior spring to mind. "We will help you, comrade citizen, since you cannot help yourself. We know what is best for you."
  • by jgault ( 87043 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @10:03AM (#1591079)
    Exactly! The other problem is that there are varying levels of violence. I worry more about the reaction of the humans than the answer of the computer. Ok, lets say the computer decides that child A taking the test is violent. Does that mean he likes to hit his brothers and sisters, and occasionally kick the dog? Or does it mean that we need to get him some serious immediate counseling because said child is about to go on a three day killing spree at the local high school?

    We don't really know, and to be honest at this point the computer is being asked to differentiate on a smaller segment of data (most people are not killers, and thus there is less data to find deviances from). So, what do the humans do? They over react and lock the poor sister hitting kid up. Or on the other side the parents down play the situation and the kid goes on a killing spree at the next pep rally. Neither situation is the fault of the computer, but instead the error prone humans.

    I worry that the school administrators and teachers will not know what kind of tool they have here. They will misunderstand it and make wild assumptions about its abilities. Then the minute there is an error they will blame it on the computer when in reality it was the reactions by the humans. If you want to see evidence of this simple read the /. responses and see how few really read and understood the article and took the time to understand the premise of the program.
    Instead most made knee-jerk reactions- and then denounced others for doing just that!
  • by SWroclawski ( 95770 ) <serge@wr o c l a w ski.org> on Sunday October 24, 1999 @11:26AM (#1591080) Homepage
    This reminds me of what happened to Tim Leary. As most of you probably know, Mr. Leary was a professor of psychology in Harvard and was eventually arrested for his controversial message telling the youth to drop out of school, doubt the messages of the elders and to do drugs.

    Oh, and I believe he had possession of LSD...

    The important part comes when they had him take a psycholoical profile for his sentancing.

    He came out of the profiling as "Meek" and "Easily Lead". So they put him in minimim security prision, where in few weeks, he climbed a tree, jumped over a fence and left.

    The profile he'd taken was the standard at the time, the "Leary Personality Profile".

    Any psychological test can be worked around with by someone who is clever. And even if the test is built to try to reduce false negatives, you can still overcome it by making the results unusable.

    Just thought I'd post this cute story as it seemed relevant.

    - Serge Wroclawski
  • by clearcache ( 103054 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @01:59PM (#1591081)
    This question goes out to those of you who take issue with the implementation of the Mosaic profiling system: What would _you_ do to make our schools safer instead? I've read a lot of "No no no this is just big brother trying to group us into herds so that we are more easily manageable...", but I haven't read any real answers to the problem. At least these school systems are proactively doing something to try to better guarantee the safety of their students.

    Posting armed guards and putting metal detectors up may deter some people from a violent crime spree, but if someone _REALLY_ wants to get in and blast away, they're going to find a way - schools are not fortresses, no matter how much security is added as an afterthough to the original design.

    Instead, the armed guards and metal detectors create an unstable educational environment for our students that's rooted in fear and not based upon the educators' care for the students' well-being. It creates a _perceived_ adversarial relationship in which (from the students' point of view) the administration doesn't trust any of them. While they are there to protect both the administration and the student, this is not what is in the forefront of the student's mind. This environment alone will most likely serve as a detriment to most students who are in school to learn (there still are a couple...in Montana, I think...).

    Yes, "false positives" are to be expected, and any good surveying/analysis firm will expect that. "Nerds" don't have anything to fear from this system...unless they (we? ;) ) truly have violent tendencies. Nothing in the article indicates that the students surveyed will be hand-picked based upon any "differentness-criteria". In fact, any good surveying/analysis firm would not allow that. Their name would be attached to the results of their software's analysis, and it's not in their best interest to skew the sample with the possibility that some jock will go off the deep end and blow away his math teacher because she failed him. In the same breath, it's not in the school system's best interest to invest taxpayers' money in a system and have that happen, either.

    I think this is a step in the right direction. It beats sitting on your ass and doing nothing.

  • by ringworm ( 103298 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:34AM (#1591082)

    The software really serves no purpose other than for the administrators to cover their own ass and create more anger at the system the stundents are in.

    Dackin, the principal here, said Mosaic's immediate virtue would be in producing detailed documentation of its evaluation of a troubled student so that doubting parents could no longer challenge an administrator's judgment as too subjective.

    This software serves two purposes in my opinion.

    1) to label students

    2) to save the administrators from being embarrassed.

    Labeling a person is the worst thing you could do to someone. It just creates more anger at the system the person is in, so now we have an endless loop. To install this program so that the administrators can say "It's not my fault, this kid was labeled." is just plain wrong. It goes back to making the student(s) even more angrier and more tension is built up. So any way this program is implemented it just plain sucks.

    Anyone who goes to one of these schools with this program i say demand not to take it. Fight this thing and maybe one day the pendulum will swing back to the middle from all this knee jerk reaction.

  • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @10:26AM (#1591083) Homepage
    Expectations means _a lot_ to most people, especially kids. If they are branded "the violent type" by a computer (and we all know computers don't lie) the teachers will expect them to be violent and look for signs of violent behaviour. At some point they will find those signs (everybody gets angry), and confirm their suspicions. And at some point the kids will stop trying to act contrary to everybodys expectations, and use violence.

    It doesn't really matter if the program is any good or not, by using it the schools will _create_ violent kids.
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:22AM (#1591084)
    Psst! I managed to get the source out of the company and I'm now posting it to slashdot... the police are after me, and I don't have much time.. here goes!

    #include "manic_depressive.h"
    #include "psycho_killer_chicken.h"
    #include "geek.h"
    #ifndef _POLITICS_
    #include "conservative.h"


    killer += 50;

    if(killer > 150){
    /* psych eval results don't
    matter, expel anyway. */
    do_politically_correct_dance(& parents);

    /* skip the psych eval, they're always
    nuts */
    if(wierd > 50){

    printf("He's normal.. nothing to worry about!\n");
    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
    /* program notes:
    this program should be compiled with -DPARANOID for maximum effect.

    Also, profiling support is currently broken -
    contact the FBI if you have a suspicion, or
    even if you don't - they need the money you


  • by Zico ( 14255 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:44AM (#1591085)

    Everybody likes to think that they're so complicated that profiling wouldn't work on them. It's always a little ego jolt to think that one isn't the free-thinker he thought he was. "Who, me? Predictable? Bah!" Well, I hate to break it to you, but people generally do break down into nice, neat little categories. That's why FBI profiling is so successful.

    Secondly, it's not about trying to understand all the intracacies of the brain -- it's about recognizing common patterns of behavior in people, something computers are great at. Real profilers know what they're doing -- don't confuse them with your high school principal making a list of kids wearing "Ozzy Rules" shirts.


  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @01:37PM (#1591086) Journal
    Monty Python had it right: A far sounder methodology for determining if a student is a witch is to use scales to see if she weighs as much as a duck.

    An admittedly old study demonstrated that psychiatrists have not reasonably demonstrated an ability to predict future violence, even when focusing on populations of those who have exhibited prior violent tendencies. American Psychiatric Association, Clinical Aspects of Violent Individual, Task Force Report 8, 28 (1974).

    In short, the risk of false positives from such profiling programs seems large compared to the enormous social and civil liberties consequences for those students falsely targeted. The vast overreactions to routine adolescent experimentation with minor "antisocial" activity is an abomination for a free society, particularly when it is implemented as a de-facto social casting system.

    The methodology of any such system appears highly suspect, absent enormous research and study, and modifications to short-term dangerousness models based on extraordinarily rare incidents such as the Colombine disaster makes a mockery of modern statistical methods.

    In short, this is evil -- and it has consequences that are far-reaching: Imagine that a principal ignores the unreasonable results of such a program (or refuses to use it), and the rare explosion occurs. Is the principal or school system individually liable for negligence resulting from a failure to expel the child, or at least a failure to warn the entire student body? Think of the tradeoffs that must face a lawyer representing the school system -- how could she help but advise the system to "play it safe," by socially destroying the "marked" students?

    No, unless and until this "program" is proved by serious, high-quality, methodologically sound studies showing an ability to predict dangerousness without substantial false positives (which to this day i have understood to be beyond the reach of modern Psychiatry), use of this sort of thing is simply a modern equivalent of divining witchhood with a duck.
  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:47AM (#1591087) Journal
    I simply cannot believe most of the posts that have been posted up to this point. As dangerous as this is, you almost all have the wrong reason.

    These tests are not targetting "geeks", they are targeting "violent people". Obviously, they know there's a difference, because most violent people are not geeks.

    The tests (from actually READING the article) will work on the well-established psychological principle of analysing known violent people's answers to a series of questions, discovering where they differ most from normal people's answers, and using those to distinguish between violent and non-violent people. You can use this technique for nearly any trait, and it works reasonably well. (It's a blind shooting technique; you don't necessarily understand why some questions are answered differently, but they are and it works.) Many tests use this in psychology, and you can even more-or-less detect people trying to answer the way they "know" they should answer to pass the test.

    The results of this test will, honestly, correlate to those who have violent tendencies. It does appear not do it on the basis of who is wearing trenchcoats, who is "different", or who is left out. It is not about geeks, nerds, or social rejects at all.

    This test is not dangerous because it will somehow enforce "conformance". The danger is that the test is reliable, but not reliable enough. There are four permutations of "person is violent" (assume for a moment that this is a simple boolean, for the sake of argument), and "test says person is violent." The true danger here is that a large number of people will become "diagnosed" as violent who are not, known as a "false positive". The society will then act on this false information, possibly in drastic and damaging ways. (false negatives aren't half as disturbing; few violent people shoot up schools)

    The truly dangerous thing is that, contrary to most people's uninformed opinions here, this will work to some extent. (It is certainly not impossible.) That actually makes it worse; if it never worked correctly, then nobody will worry about the results, positive or negative. But because it will work, those who get false positives will seriously be treated as being violent people. This is horrible (and could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy).

    This actually isn't much different then what can already occur (as the article says, it is only meant to be used on kids that are suspected to have problems). But as many people in schools worship both psychologists and computers (as the understand neither), having a computer program diagnose a kid as "violent", after the kid has somehow attracted attention to himself in some other fashion, could well become a Kiss of Death from which the kid will not recover until out of the school system.

    THAT is the problem; geekness and enforced conformance have little to do with it. Read the article before posting. (And a lessening in the geek paranoia level would be nice; society is not out to get you, they barely know you exist.)

    It is particularly disturbing that the Times did not point this out in the article. Must journalists swallow everything uncritically like this?

    PS: If you ever have to take a test like this, answer honestly. They can tell if you are fudging the answers, unless you know what you're doing, which you don't if you're still in high school (unless you've taken several college-level psych courses, and, even then, probably had to help write the test to know the "answers").
  • by benzol ( 46240 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @09:30AM (#1591088)

    MOSAIC-2000 is being developed for a national field test in 25 schools. Though
    the field test is not complete, here's an informal summary of where we are:

    What is MOSAIC-2000?

    MOSAIC is a computer-assisted method for conducting high-stakes evaluations of
    persons who might act violently (such as when students make threats to harm
    others). MOSAIC systems have been in use for a decade by many federal and
    state law enforcement agencies and major universities. The same assessment
    strategies are now being made available to schools through MOSAIC-2000,
    co-developed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the Bureau of
    Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and
    Gavin de Becker, Incorporated.

    Gavin de Becker Incorporated designed the MOSAIC-2 system used for screening
    threats to Justices of the US Supreme Court (and also used by eleven states as part
    of protecting governors). Another system, MOSAIC-20, is used by police
    departments all over the country for identifying which domestic violence
    perpetrators are most likely to escalate their violence. It has been credited with
    major improvements in the safety of domestic violence victims. (See Los Angeles
    Times article, October 21st, 1996.)

    Two other MOSAIC systems were co-developed with the U.S. Marshals Service,
    including MOSAIC-3, used for screening threats to Federal judges and

    The MOSAIC method has been widely applied for a decade, already having
    screened tens of thousands of cases. The method is now being made available for
    the first time to help schools evaluate situations that might escalate to violence.


    Every principal in America already has a method for evaluating students who make
    threats - it's just that most of those methods are unorganized, idiosyncratic, and
    cannot be expressed or documented. MOSAIC-2000 is intended to bring
    uniformity, structure, expert opinion, and validity to high stakes evaluations.

    Public pressure on schools has led many communities to respond to the fear of
    Columbine-style incidents by improving real estate instead of improving children
    and education. The buildings have been enhanced, to be sure (new locks, security
    alarms, cameras, etc), and because of that, some parents may chose to conclude
    that school-safety is no longer a problem. But Columbine had cameras - cameras
    that recorded the tragedy, but contributed nothing to preventing it.

    Gavin de Becker's book, Protecting the Gift is currently the best selling parenting
    book in America. In both this and his previous bestseller (The Gift of Fear), he
    notes that many parents are inadequately involved with their children's schools.
    Parents are fast to blame schools for anything wrong, but slow to participate in
    making things right - fast to develop outlandish expectations about what principals
    can do, but slow to invest schools with the resources needed to do their jobs well.

    As a society, we don't pay school professionals enough, we don't praise them
    enough, we don't prepare them enough - and then we expect magical abilities in all
    fields. Today, principals are expected to be threat-assessment experts able to
    instantly make fair and accurate predictions -able to identify which students might
    act out violently- yet we haven't given them the tools to help them do it.

    MOSAIC-2000 is one of those tools.

    How Does it Work?

    MOSAIC is not a computer program, but rather an evaluation method that is
    computer-assisted. It is a way of breaking down a case to its elements, then
    organizing and identifying the most important factors. MOSAIC suggests to the
    user which questions are most likely to produce a quality evaluation. Once a case
    is broken down to its elements, it can be instantly compared to others where the
    outcome is known. The case can also be weighed against the opinions of experts in
    many relevant fields.

    Imagine a student has made a threat which alarms others, and it falls to you to
    evaluate the situation and the student. In a perfect world, you'd be able to instantly
    confer with all the leading experts in threat-assessment, law enforcement,
    psychology, and behavioral science, and ask:

    What is most important for me to learn about this situation?
    What information will most inform my evaluation?
    How can I organize the information I gather to weigh it all most effectively?
    What factors and warning signs are most relevant to future behavior?
    How can I express and document my conclusions?

    MOSAIC-2000 provides the guidance of leading experts, presented in a step by
    step form that lets the evaluation process begin immediately.

    Specifically, MOSAIC-2000 presents a series of questions, along with a range of
    possible answers. Users are offered extensive, in depth explanations of what
    factors must be present in order to stimulate selection of a given answer. Different
    answers have different weights, so they can be weighed against each other, against
    past cases where the outcome is known, and against expert opinion. Each
    evaluation is rated on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing cases most similar
    to those that have escalated, and thus, most in need of intervention

    The system produces an automatic report that documents and presents exactly
    what questions were asked, how they were answered, and what comments the
    user chose to add along the way. Both the rating and the process help inform the
    school administrator's evaluation of the situation.

    Each evaluator brings his or her own intuition and experience, and MOSAIC
    assures that different evaluators approach their cases from a shared foundation.

    Can MOSAIC Label Kids?
    MOSAIC-2000 cannot label anyone as anything. People unfamiliar with the
    method may jump to the worry that principals will use it to unfairly label kids, but
    the objective process resists bias. MOSAIC-2000 is vastly more likely give a low
    rating in a situation to which people are over-reacting - than to give a high rating in
    a situation people are not concerned about.

    MOSAIC-2000 seeks to identify those students most in need of the interventions
    and resources that are available, and in the school setting, all appropriate
    intervention is good.

    Is MOSAIC-2000 A Computerized Checklist Of Warning Signs?

    The use of checklists in high-stakes evaluations is the antithesis of the MOSAIC
    method. Checklists reduce to Yes/No answers elements of behavior and
    circumstance that do not lend themselves to being limited to just two answers.
    With Yes/No limitations, evaluators check off answers to global questions and
    decide which answer they'll give - consciously or unconsciously influenced by
    what they feel is the "right" overall result for the evaluation. Yes/No checklists do
    not work for assessments of human behavior.

    Imagine being asked to describe a movie you saw last night, but being required to
    answer by saying either:


    Those answers wouldn't produce a very fair appraisal of your opinion about the
    movie - and situations involving human beings are far more complex than movies.

    A range of answers is far more likely to stimulate accuracy fairness, and
    completeness. For example, if asking about firearms, a Yes/No question could not
    stimulate as fair or complete an exploration as a range:

    __No known possession of a firearm
    __Friends known to have ready access to a firearm
    __There are firearms in the home
    __There are firearms in a home frequented by the student
    __The student owns his own firearm
    __The student recently acquired a firearm

    A range not only encourages accurate and complete evaluations; it also recognizes
    that different answers have different value. To use a checklist that gives the same
    weight to all answers would be like evaluating a passenger jet and giving the same
    weight to the in-flight magazine as to the landing gear.

    Here are some fast answers to frequently asked questions:

    What is new about MOSAIC-2000?

    For the first time, schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels will
    have access to technology and methods that have long been used for many of our
    nation's highest stakes assessments.

    Is MOSAIC-2000 for use on all students?

    School administrators would use MOSAIC-2000 only in situations that reach a
    certain threshold (e.g., a student makes a threat, brings a weapon to school,
    teachers or students are concerned a student might act out violently).

    Does MOSAIC-2000 invade the privacy of students?

    The information gathered for each evaluation is held at the school only, and is
    never communicated over the Internet. MOSAIC is a stand-alone system, secure
    at each school, with no central combining of cases. The system isn't a "Big
    Brother" approach. MOSAIC-2000 merely brings organization and expert opinion
    to a process every principal already has.

    Has the MOSAIC method been tested?

    MOSAIC systems have been in daily use for a decade. Society faces many types
    of high-stakes evaluations (threats to public officials, hazards to domestic violence
    victims, workplace violence cases, etc). MOSAIC systems are used by the United
    States Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve Board, the Central Intelligence
    Agency, Governors of eleven states, and many others.

    Has MOSAIC been used in the school setting?

    MOSAIC systems have been in use by schools for many years, including Yale
    University, Boston University, Penn State, and throughout the University of
    California system.

    What will MOSAIC do for school administrators?

    MOSAIC-2000 will help schools identify students most in need of intervention,
    and in the school setting, all appropriate interventions are favorable (i.e., no
    adverse results come to a student when a principal concludes that there may be a
    risk of violence). A student in need of intervention benefits, and of course the
    student population benefits in terms of enhanced safety.

    How does it work?

    MOSAIC-2000 guides school administrators through the questions that most
    inform an evaluation, then provides a range of possible answers. Answers that
    have been developed and weighted by experts are then calculated by the system to
    produce an overall rating, expressed on a scale of one to ten.

    Does the computer make decisions?

    MOSAIC-2000 does not make decisions; it is a tool that helps school
    administrators by identifying the areas of inquiry that experts feel will produce the
    best evaluation of the situation.

    Does the computer tell schools what to do?

    MOSAIC-2000 does not suggest any specific case-management actions. It offers
    diagnosis of a situation, more triage than treatment plan.

    Can schools use MOSAIC-2000 in cases where a student is already
    considered dangerous?

    In cases where students have been expelled as a result of safety concerns, when
    they are considered for re-enrollment, some schools may use MOSAIC-2000 to
    help evaluate if the risk has lessened.

    Can the system brand a student as dangerous?

    Most often, MOSAIC-2000 will help establish that a student does not pose an
    elevated risk of violence.

    Is the system biased?

    MOSAIC-2000 brings a shared language to assessments, so that all users
    objectively apply similar methods when exploring these situations. This ensures
    that critical situations are evaluated in a fair, objective, consistent, and
    well-documented way.

    What will MOSAIC-2000 cost?

    The 25 schools participating in the field test will pay nothing for the system. The
    cost for the final version of MOSAIC-2000 (due in February, 2000) will be
    determined by the M-2000 Advisory Board. It is likely to be a small monthly fee
    for each school.

    How does MOSAIC express evaluation results?

    At a keystroke, the system automatically produces reports in regular English. They
    include the questions that were asked, the answers that were selected, what
    comments were added by the evaluator, the value of the information that was
    evaluated, and the overall rating.

    What are the technical requirements?

    The system operates on entirely standard and traditional hardware, including an
    IBM-PC compatible 486 computer. It uses very little disk space.

    How was the expert opinion within MOSAIC-2000 identified and captured?

    In order to identify what questions experts feel are most important to ask in one of
    these situations, three groups were established:

    1.A pool of experts and practitioners - 125 experts;
    2.The M-2000 Advisory Board - 57 experts;
    3.The M-2000 Development Team - 17 experts;

    Concern that a student might act out violently can be triggered in any of several

    a student makes a threat;
    alarming writings are observed;
    a student brings a firearm to school;
    a student gets into trouble with police;
    a teacher, counselor, psychologist, parent, or fellow student becomes
    concerned and makes a report

    Each of these categories was represented at the Expert and Practitioner Pool
    (EPP) meeting at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The 125 members of
    the EPP included experts in threat-assessment, law enforcement, education,
    psychology, behavioral science, the judiciary, and even some high school students.

    The EPP heard presentations by Gavin de Becker and other experts:

    Dr. James McGee, an advisor to the Baltimore State Police who recently headed
    up a comprehensive study of 16 students who have committed multiple shootings
    at school;

    Paul Mones, author of When A Child Kills, a seminal work in the field of violence
    by children;

    Gregory Gibson, author of GONE BOY, whose son was killed during a mass
    shooting by another student at his school;

    Barbara Nelson, Dean of UCLA's School of Public Policy and Social Research;

    Deputy District Attorney Scott Gordon, a founding member of the Stalking and
    Threat Assessment Team of the Los Angeles. County District Attorney's Office;

    Robert Martin, former Commanding Officer of LAPD's Detective Headquarters
    Division, and founder of the Department's Threat Management Unit;

    Gil Garcetti, District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles;

    After these presentations, the 125 participants broke into groups of twenty, tasked
    to identify the questions they'd ask if faced with a threat-assessment challenge in a
    school setting. Following extensive discussions, each group was asked to rank
    proposed questions in order of importance.

    The entire EPP then reconvened for a case-management workshop, where the
    very questions they'd just identified were applied.

    Months later, after the questions of all groups were combined, analyzed, and
    ranked, they were presented to the MOSAIC-2000 Advisory Board (57 experts
    representing the fields of threat-assessment, education, law enforcement, the
    judiciary, school administration, and behavioral sciences). The Advisory Board
    analyzed the questions for clarity, applicability, relevance-to-outcome,
    answerability, and fairness. They then refined the list and developed a range of
    possible answers for each question.

    The Advisory Board's results were combined and further analyzed against what is
    known about past cases that escalated to violence. The questions and answers
    were converted into Artificial Intuition format and entered into a MOSAIC

    Next, the MOSAIC-2000 Development Team (16 people) gathered at the UCLA
    Conference Center for an intensive two-day session. The group included senior
    representatives from the Los Angeles County Office of Education (coordinating
    programs for 1700 schools), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, the Los
    Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the Cook County District Attorney's
    Office, as well as Dr. James McGee, Gavin de Becker, Robert Martin, Jennifer
    Mitchell, (co-developer of the Child Lures safety programs currently used in more
    than 1000 schools), and several threat-assessment experts.

    During two long days and nights, the Development Team worked with the
    preliminary MOSAIC program, drafting language and further refining questions
    and answers. In a daylong round-table session, Development Team members
    reviewed all questions, omitted those that did not meet the group's criteria, and
    added some that emerged during the discussions.

    The draft version of MOSAIC-2000 is being tested against known cases that
    escalated to violence, as well as being used in the field by schools around the
    nation. The Advisory Board and Development Team will take the results from
    these tests, as well as comments from schools using the system, and implement

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.