This Week in Research: How Guns Kill Cops; The Philosophy of Breaking Bad

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More than 1,500 police officers have been killed while on duty over the past decade — that’s an average of one death every 57 hours. Johns Hopkins public health doctoral student David Swedler wanted to know why — and if anything could be done to make being on duty safer for cops. He found one clear answer: guns.

An overwhelming number of officers who were killed died because of gunshots — 93 percent, in fact. And 10 percent of the time, the officer was shot by his or her own gun. A little less than half the time, the officers were working alone when they were killed.

Swedler’s findings lead him to a few conclusions about ways to improve safety for police officers. Officers may need backup, even when replying to seemingly-routine domestic disturbance calls, Swedler notes. Another suggestion is the use of personalized firearms, which are designed so that they can be fired only by the officer (or a partner). Swedler also found that most fatal wounds were to the head and neck, suggesting that Kevlar helmets might prevent future killings.

“We came to this as a pure occupational health and safety issue,” he notes. “By better understanding what scenarios these officers are dying in, we could help in the discussion about future injury prevention.”

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Breaking Bad may seem like it’s about meth, cancer, and New Mexico, but that’s just because you’re not actually paying close enough attention. It’s actually a study in the radical reconceptualization of the education process that mirrors French philosopher Jacques Ranciere’s ideas about pedagogy. Or so says Johns Hopkins political theorist Samuel Chambers.

See, according to Ranciere, traditional teach relies on an expert (the teacher) assigning reading to students, then explaining it. But this kind of power dynamic not only is insulting to students (by presuming that they can’t learn on their own), it actually impedes their own educational process. Just like Walter White and Jesse! But Ranciere also identifies another, better kind of teaching, one in which the teacher emancipates the student to use his or her own intelligence. According to Chambers, this relies on a presumption of “equality of intelligence” between the student and teacher. Just like Jesse and Fring!

Okay, so that last paragraph probably doesn’t make sense to you unless you’ve been watching the show (and maybe not even then). But Chambers’ larger point is an interesting one:  “The main claim in my article can in some ways be boiled down to this: We see the stakes of the cultural politics of Breaking Bad much more starkly when we interpret Season 4 as a contest between Walt[er White] and Gus [Fring] waged not just in terms of power and force, but in terms of a competition over Jesse as student,” Chambers told the Hopkins Hub. “I think that most traditional pedagogies would be unable to see Gus as a teacher, since he doesn’t really do any traditional teaching. But Rancière’s pedagogy, in which the teacher can ‘teach what he does not know,’ makes possible an entirely different way of viewing Gus. And more to the point, reading Season 4 as a pair of competing pedagogical relationships (Gus/Jesse vs. Walt/Jesse) gives us a whole new view of Walt.”



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