One of the advantages — or perhaps disadvantages — of retirement is that you have more time to think. When I am not distracted by the baseball playoffs, I often think about statistical analysis, Boolean Logic and algorithms.

In October 1962, my sociology professor began the course by announcing that we needed to be literate in statistics before diving into sociology or most things in your life.

Now, my television tells me that both crime and firearm sales are up. If this is true, is it somehow related to the COVID-19 pandemic? According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) website, crimes involving firearms in Highlands County and statewide have remained about the same for the past three years. However, public perception suggests otherwise. This may relate to the fact that news from far away can now reach us in nanoseconds. In addition, if it involves an attractive young white woman, coverage can continue for weeks.

If people perceive a threat and rush out to buy firearms to protect themselves after hearing the NRA say that “the only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” there may be unintended consequences. If these good guys buy guns and leave them in unlocked cars, for instance, they could arm the bad guys. Highlands County had reports of 20 guns taken from cars in the first six months of 2021. Then, there is the recent case of the woman killed while on a Zoom call in Altamonte Springs. Others on the call observed her being shot in the head. However, the killer was not a typical bad guy; he was her 2-year-old toddler, who found an unsecured gun in their home. The NRA had no comment.

In my college math class, I learned about Boolean logic. Using only three words, “or,” “and,” and “not,” the heart of Boolean logic is the idea that all values are either true or false.

It seems simple. If A = 2 and B = 2, then A + B = 4 is a true statement. However, humans are often irrational. For some, 2 + 2 = 5 because they believe it to be true or because a cult leader said so on the Internet. This might explain why some people attempted to take over Congress using violence despite the lack of evidence for their claims of a “stolen” election. When I listen to the January 6 insurrectionists explain their actions in court hearings, it is clear to me that some Americans are not prepared to cope with misinformation on the Internet and a former president who wanted to be president for life.

Algorithms have been around for centuries. Their use today has taken on a new meaning, however, because huge amounts of data can be stored very cheaply and accessed nearly instantaneously. As a result, if you look at a video or read a post, applications like Facebook can suggest similar content. Facebook may recommend extremist material because they know that will keep you on line longer resulting in higher profits.

Facebook suggestions can be helpful if you are trying to do something harmless like fix your plumbing, but it you are a naïve person who does not know about algorithms, you can be at risk of exposure to extremist content, as in the case of Edgar Maddison Welch. He fired a military-style assault rifle inside a pizzeria, believing he was saving children in the basement from child abuse perpetrated by Hillary Clinton. The business had no basement. His defense was that he read it on the Internet. He got four years.

Our democratic republic has never been at greater risk. Perhaps these criminals should be sentenced to training in critical thinking.

James Upchurch is a resident of Sebring. Viewpoints are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.

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