back to article Scientists: Tasers work, but we don't know how

Despite the Taser being one of the most heavily researched less-lethal weapons in the world, its operational mechanism remains a mystery, a conference on non-lethal weapons was told. Explanations for the electro stun weapon's apparent ability to stiffen the whole of the human body without (usually) causing any physiological …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge


    "......conducted on swine, which are anatomically very different to humans."

    All we need now is a massive PR campaign to "get the message across" to the flu virus and we're all safe!

    I think that "anatomically somewhat different", "anatomically slightly different" or just "anatomically different" would have been better here. There's a reason why pigs are seen as a handy source of transgenic transplants and that piggy heart valves are already in common use you know........

  2. Grant

    Water boarding kits, 10% off, order 5 now and get free neck belt.

    "He said that if we were to focus on the repressive capabilities of technology, then recent revelations about Guantanamo interrogations would require a prohibition on water exports. Alexander's view is that people, not technology, are to blame when things go wrong."

    Self serving BS. if you want a more accurate comparision between waterboarding and tasers it would be. --require a prohibition on exporting waterboarding kits, waterboarding training seminars and marketing of related waterboarding materials to police and detention forces. Which is thankfully the current economic status of waterboarding.

    I don't know if Tasers should be more heavly controlled or not but the quote shows Alexander is a self serving twit out to promote a new weapon so he make big consultant fees getting laws changed to make his clients a few more million bucks.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Water export ban

    Guantanamo Bay sounds like the sort of place that would have plentiful supplies of Water. Being a "Bay" and all.

    So no, it wouldn't requrie a restriction on exports.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're missing one of the more dangerous aspects on non-lethal weapons

    It's interesting that nobody talks about non-lethals lowering the barrier to USE of any weapon.

    Where a weapon is lethal, there exists a certain hesitation to use them because it may upset the voters and it leaves both a visible and publicity mess to clean up (even if it's a Brazilian electrician).

    The focus is thus on resolving any situation without immediately resolving to weapons, especially if the other party is unarmed.

    That hesitation appears removed the moment a weapon is designated "non lethal", although in those cases we can often talk about unreasonable use of force (I'm thinking of the examples where people were tasered just for arguing, which could be considered torture).

    The use of excessive force, lethal or unlethal, should remain a last resort. So far, I have seen little effort to keep it that way. Somehow, an inability to debate (even at grunt level) should not be resolved with giving people a stick that does not leave visible marks.

    Because the invisible ones may not heal.

  5. Bunglebear
    Thumb Up

    Tase me bro'!

    At last some statistical sense on tasers. I would prefer to get zapped than take a kicking from a set of size 9s or shot in the head several times. Injury and damage from tasers is very rare but tend to get picked on.

  6. Paul


    To the best of my knowledge, tasers have killed people... So how come they are being discussed at a non-lethal weapons conference?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How can you tell?

    > "could not find any interference with the cardiac activity of those exposed."

    So, you're trying to read a small (mV) electrical signal, whilst applying 50kV to the subject being tested? That sounds like a recipe for success if ever I heard one ;)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @How can you tell?

    I think it means they took a group of physically very healthy people, took their heart rate, shocked them once, gave it a few hours and took their heart rate again.

    Scientific method, we've heard of it.

  9. dodge

    Water has other uses, stupid

    That must rank up their with some of the stupidest, most self-serving bits of nonsense in the world -- that you shouldn't blame technology for the uses it's put to, and that this line of thinking would mean water should be banned because of Gitmo.

    You may find, Rocket Scientist, that water has uses other than waterboarding. Tasers, on the other hand, have one use... disabling people through violent electric shocks.

    Technology that exists almost exclusively for security/military use can and should be regulated.

  10. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down


    I think they mean "less lethal"...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Less-Lethal Surely

    I thought that Tasers were now classed as less-lethal and not non-lethal, putting them in the same category as rubber bullets et al......

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    >"I would prefer to get zapped than take a kicking from a set of size 9s or shot in the head several times."

    I don't believe the police have the right to do ANY of those things to me when I'm not doing anything illegal, but they can, do, and will again. Police are not some kind of saints who are so automatically above suspicion that they should be trusted with a free hand to use weapons against citizens whenever they want just because those weapons are less likely to kill them then some other kinds of weapons would be if they had them instead. And I fancy my chances of being able to defend myself against wrongful arrest with fists or feet more than I do against someone armed with a taser.

  13. Charles


    Electricity has other uses, too. After all, there's the power grid and batteries. As for electroshocks being of benefit, low-current electric shocks (say, under 5mA) aren't that dangerous and can even be used in muscle therapy. It's sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture therapy for pain relief.

    As for its classification, it's considered "less-lethal" because under normal use it is highly likely to not result in death (now exceptions can occur, such as those with unique sensitivities or those who thrash themselves into lethal injuries, but such should be exceedingly rare). The intention for less-lethal weapons is to have a middle ground of coercion between words and lethal force, particularly if a subject is too agitated or aggressive to approach in person (think a big drunken bloke at 3AM). If they don't respond to words and it's unsafe to approach (say, you risk getting a haymaker for your troubles), then you'd appreciate something that just subdues the bloke temporarily so you can get the cuffs on him. Now, like anything, it can be abused and overdone, but I for one would prefer police trend towards less-lethal sidearms. I look at it from the receiving end--which would you rather have, a bullet in your gut or a pepper spray in your face?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Depends on your location

    In countries where the police commonly use firearms then the taser is probably a good thing. I know which I'd choose if given the option between a bullet and a taser. If, however, you live in a country where armed police are the exception rather than the rule then the taser is a bad thing.

    So it makes sense to object to the use of the taser in the UK. However if you're in a country where the police have a rep for being trigger happy then perhaps you should be welcoming the taser with open arms. The trouble is that neither side of the debate seem to be considering this important distinction.

  15. Eero af Heurlin

    Ways to use force...

    Ignoring the issue of not leaving much physical marks of the use of force which may lead to issues with less-than-moral people: AFAIUnderstand tasers(tm) (and also others in the same class) are actually remarkably safe: the baton OTOH is dangerous and requires training and consideration (in the situation, no less) to avoid permanent and quite possibly fatal injuries.

    Of course since they're so "safe" they probably get used even when there is no proper justification, it's a catch-22 situation: If it's "safe" to use then it will be used even when not actually justified, if it's not safe then when it's used there will be more and worse injuries.

    Kicking, especially someone who's down (but not subdued) is dangerous, you might hit the head/neck which almost certain to cause major damage, ribs break easily too and with bad luck puncture the lung for extra bonus (and now we have internal bleeding and collapsed lung, better get to the hospital in a hurry).

    If someone has a heat condition just punching their chest could cause an attack (not to mention kicking the bastard in the ground).

    At least the current tasers(tm) have audit logs and spray the ID confetti around when they're used.

  16. Dave P

    Taser's safe?

    Take one Polish traveller, without sleep for more than 24 hours, lost in a supposedly secure area of an airport for more than 10 hours, confronted by 3 police officers who cannot communicate with him and you have a recipe for disaster. Tasered 5 times for a total of over 2 minutes; is it a surprise he died? The cops big fault? Getting caught on video for the world to see.

    Suggested test method for Taser testing:

    Take one very senior police officer, face down on concrete

    Stand one sumo wrestler on officers back

    Taser officer for two minutes, wait five minutes and repeat two more times

    This test should also be applied to the manufacturers CEO, and to any politician voting in favour of the device. It is perfectly safe after all, the manufacturer guarantees it.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Haven't people died?

    Tasers are far from non lethal, lots of people have been killed by them.

    If you are prepared to take a shock, had a physical check up, then yes you might be able to take one, but on the street who knows they could end up killing quite a lot.

    It use to be pretty safe in the UK, until the Police started carrying guns, and then it went crazy, guns used everywhere. Taers won't make the clocks go backward, they look like a gun, can kill like a gun.

  18. Columbus
    Black Helicopters

    Use of force

    Any use of force is fraught with danger, it is the number of times it is used that leads to fatalities, just think of Tomlinson. Authorities should be concentrating on reducing conflict & confrontation between the public and the official. There are officers who are 'up for it' and enjoy using force, which is very sad & alarming.

    It would be nice if we used intelligence rather than brute force & techno toys to maintain 'law'* & order.

    * I use 'law' in an ironic sense as it is becoming a joke.

  19. Maty

    tasers are not guns

    There are frequent reports of tasers used as coercive instruments in situations where a gun would stay in the holster.

    You're a cop with a taser. Is a member of the public arguing with you? Taser him. Refusing to do what you say? Taser. Not doing what you said fast enough for you? Taser. Don't like the look of the guy? (Too big/aggressive) Taser, taser, taser.

    I have no problem with a taser being used as a substitute for a gun. But sometimes it 's used as a whip. And that seems an increasingly common use - which may tell us a lot about the changing relationship between police and public.

  20. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton


    "Despite the Taser being one of the most heavily researched less-lethal weapons in the world, its operational mechanism remains a mystery"

    If you work for police of a certain US rail transport authority, you can have utter confidence in the mystery becoming even more mysterious when your victim, face down on the station concrete and not capable of resistance, suddenly shows everyone what his insides look like and you notice your supernanocomicelectro gun has reverted to one that uses lead and magic smoke.

    Not that all rail cops are stupid. Just unaware of the photographers occasionally.

  21. Pat

    Integrity, logic and all that stuff

    Re: AC "Depends on your location" - yep, a sensible and valid point which I hope to see in any report or enquiry into the use of tasers in the UK.

    [Integrity, logic and all that stuff]

    The 'volunteer' part of "experiments on human volunteers" indicates to me that members of this self-selecting group probably felt pretty confident of their health and fitness. One has to wonder about the scientific integrity of an experiment that takes data about such a select group and, with no apparent caveats, extrapolates it to the whole population.

    And I think we can guess that the pigs who were tested were not volunteers so, barring they were rejects as heart donors, could have been more representative of a general population.

    Let's face it the general media reporting of science leaves it wide open for 'scientists' to conduct 'experiments' to produce the results they want.

    Far better, I think, is the testing schedule put forward by Dave P, which makes the taser supporters the guinea pigs rather than the general public. I would add that mandatory retesting should be performed after every 10 times tasers have been used against members of the public.

    Finally, as this article started the warped logic, this phrase - "marked decrease in the number of injuries inflicted on police officers by civilians since its introduction" - simply sounds like a good reason for ME and the rest of the non-criminal population to have a taser as we're not partial to being injured either, and most victims of violent crime are civilians not police.

    [/Integrity, logic and all that stuff]

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably safe but no open dialog

    @ Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 25th May 2009 10:02 GMT and @Maty,

    Spot on. That's a deep concern to me too. They are much safer than guns, but some policeman who would probably be charged with assault if they kicked, punched, or bitchslapped someone will get away with tasering them no problem, the tasering is apparently pretty painful.


    As for the lethality -- it's an open question. I think they're pretty safe, probably safer than pinning someone down to put on handcuffs. Actual numbers? Impossible to say.. Taser Corp. is so concerned about maintaining the illusion of 100% safety that:

    1) They've threatened researchers into not publishing research that is less than positive towards Taser safety (even if it's not negative towards Tasers, but merely neutral..) They'll sic the lawyers on them, claiming lawsuits if they publish (with the flimsiest pretexts EVER, but enough to scare researchers I guess), and imply they can make future funding mysteriously dry up. I wouldn't be surprised if the "Oh, well, pigs are so different" was added on at Taser's insistence.

    2) They've produced guides for coroners here in the states, so when someone *is* Tasered to death.... oh no the Taser wasn't a factor, they were just so hysterical from the tense police confrontation they spontaneously died, or they OD'ed on drugs, or they were going to have heart failure anyway, there's NO WAY the Taser was possibly involved. Again, coroners who have implicated Tasers as a factor (even when it's one of several factors, like Taser *and* drug overdose..) Taser Corp. will legally threaten them into removing Taser as a cause of death.

    Why? I don't know if Taser is trying to avoid liability lawsuits, or if they are really that concerned about some x% drop in Taser usage (and so cartridge sales), from police only firing them when necessary instead of on a whim (thinking they are 100% safe instead of almost 100% safe.) It's a damn shame, really, I think if the truth came out they'd prove safer than even a billy club, but there's no way to know since the data is suppressed.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    "less lethal"? --- Nonsense

    Something is either lethal or it is not.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    2000+ years of research into weed and Tasers have been tested for how long, lets see them you the same level of research they use for weed for all the "Non lethal" weapons

    autonomous : well wacky got in in for us all.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cops use taser on guy in diabetic coma - Terror police 'shot' man in coma - A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat.

  27. John F. Eldredge
    Dead Vulture

    the current path is important

    The path that the current takes to flow from one electrode to the other is probably a major factor. If the current passes through the heart, it is easy to trip the heart into fibrillation.

  28. Charles Manning

    re: Taser's safe?

    Here in New Zealand....

    Many of the senior cops have been tasered.

    There are some tasers in use, but every cop that carries them has to go through very rigorous training and during the training sessions at least one volunteer gets tasered during the class.

    Tasers are not lethal if used according to instructions unless there are other factors: person prone to heart attacks etc.

    re:"They're missing one of the more dangerous aspects on non-lethal weapons "

    Quite right. The trick is very careful training and guidelines on taser use. Unfortunately too many police departments just hand tasers out like candy and you end up with a bunch of untrained idiots just using a taser because they don't want to get their hands dirty. With effective regulations and training you can ensure that police don't just use the taser for fun.

    As with all force, officers should apply the minimum force principle: the least amount of pain/damage to get the job done.

  29. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    I think ACs...

    I think ACs continuing this 2000 years of research right now heh

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Zap - bzzt - pft.

    Hmmmm, wonder what a chain mail shirt might do in a case like this? Wouldn't even have to be very strong, just conductive. I have it! Tinfoil underwear!!!!!

    Taze away, plod, much good it may do you!

  31. Joe K

    Taser deaths:

    There are hundreds of them, and many more hundreds of serious injuries, usually involving falls. The proponents of TASERS are less than honest. They said, at first, Taser strikes are 'non-lethal', until someone died. Then they became, 'Less Lethal'.

    Less lethal than what?

    Guns and knives are always considered instruments of lethal force. Just because someone does not die every time they are shot or stabbed doesn't make those weapons any less deadly.

    Applying the same standard to TASERS, then, they are in fact LETHAL WEAPONS, even though not everyone dies every time they are hit.


    The law enforcement industry has worked feverishly to separate the lethality of guns and knives from TASERS. I believe that is an immoral and unethical approach.

    TASERS KILL PEOPLE. That's the truth and they should be considered the same as a gun or knife.

    The current state of affairs allows politics and lies to prevail over ethics and common sense. In many countries TASERS are considered instruments of TORTURE because of the INTENSE PAIN they cause. Some police departments have abandoned TASERS after serious mishaps have occurred.

    Another issue: The abuse and over use of TASERS is rampant. They are commonly used on children, senior citizens and mentally ill people. Many police officers fire multiple shots, in violation of their own training, but escape accountability. There are virtually no restrictions on Taser attacks. Shoot first, explain later is the prevailing policy.

    Last, for some reason in this country the death or injury of a police officer is ALWAYS considered more important than the death of a "civilian". Why is that? Why is a cop's life more important than mine, or yours or your son's?

    Clearly, TASERS have a place in police armament, as a weapon of LETHAL FORCE. Every shot should be reviewed in that context. Instead, Tasers are used like some toy and thus many unjust deaths and injuries result. Police continue to escape accountability on this issue.

    Their abuse of life makes all of us less civilized. Taking the life of anyone should be of the most extreme importance. Instead, in the case of TASERS, deaths come under the heading of 'STUFF HAPPENS'.

    In my view, a responsible police agency would re-classify TASERS as lethal weapons for use in special purpose situations only. Then police would need lawful, just cause to show the situation was a matter of life or death for the officers or others. Why wouldn't they do that, considering the evidence against TASERS?

    As it stands now, the deaths, injuries and abuse resulting from use of TASERS gives the police community a well deserved image as thugs.

    Personally, I think it is better to place the highest value on human life rather than trivialize it by allowing police to, at will, unjustly kill any citizen.

    Will your child be the next to die?

  32. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    @"less lethal"? --- Nonsense

    Not nonsense, but, if you want to be pedantic, the full version is "less likely to be lethal than other options such as firearms".

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Origin of TASER ...

    ... .named after a comic strip character, Thomas A Swift and his Electric Rifle.

    I wonder do the "victims" see the irony as they're lying on the ground uncontrollably convulsing?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re :

    Re : Columbus

    You used the word "intelligence" in a discussion about police officers. Silly boy, consider yourself slapped.

    Re : "Less Lethal" AC @ 25th May 2009 18:59

    I think that there are various levels of lethality (is that a word?)

    An asteroid the size of Wales (the country, not the aquatic life form) crashing into the Earth as high speed is probably going to be a bit more lethal than as Taser. As is sitting at ground zero on "drop the nuclear bomb" day. An over abundance of water will also be more lethal to gill-less creatures, especially if it displaces the air. As will sticking your head in a Helium balloon. You talk like Micky until you die.

    Overall I think that there are a lot of varying degrees of lethality. The major problem with Tasers is that the main factors that make it lethal, i.e. Heart disease, are not readily observable.

  35. Brian Farbrother

    non/less lethal

    The semantic debate over lethality is pointless. Night sticks and size 12 boots have also caused death.

    The non-lethal label is used to describe the intended use of the weapon.

  36. RichardB

    @John F. Eldredge

    Perhaps that is why they have been rolling out defibrillators all over the place?

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Why tasers kill

    Tasers do kill when used continuously on someone.

    The idea behind the taser was to knock down and incapacitate the opponent which it does well. The electric shock induces neuromotor disruption and down you go.

    The danger comes when the tasering is continuous as the neuromotor disruption leads to the inability to inhale or exhale leading to respiratory arrest and then usually cardiac arrest.

    Tasers work because they stop you controlling your own body, but being tasered for a couple of minutes without respite is akin to suffocating someone.

    If I recall, every death reported that I have read about involved continuous or repeated shocks. The aetiology of death isnt difficult to work out from that simple fact.

    Everyone focuses on the electrical effects knowing they cant be tested easily and avoids the real issue which is bully boy plod giving the electronic equivalent of a heavy kicking.

    The taser is only as dangerous as the organic twunt its attached to. And remember folks you only need 5 GCSE's at grade C to apply for the opportunity to fry some perps!

    Black helicopters as they dont want you to know the truth

  38. Greg

    Reduction in injuries inflicted?

    I guess the police don't count "getting shot with an electric stun gun" as an injury...

  39. McFlurry

    I don't get this...

    Tasers are lower on the scale than CS Gas or a baton, both of which UK police forces carry and use on a daily basis. People who are very well built or are high on adrenalin or drugs often don't feel the baton strike so you're forced to go for riskier areas, people often take a CS/Pava hit and still go for you and with CS there is always the chance that it'll effect you and all your collegues. Tazer's just seem like a sensible option.

    But because the taser fires projectiles it's seen as the scariest thing since a 9mm, it's less likely to give you broken bones than a baton, it's less likely to make you go blind/have a reaction than gas, it's less likely to break your cheek bone than a well placed punch and when you're dealing with firearms officers it's less likely to give you broken ribs (they don't use hands just kick, they can't let go of their weapons) or even less likely to get you shot.

    It is just another tool and it works. Tazer drawn, red dot on... "look at your chest, if you don't get down now I will shock you there with 50000volts" ... subject hits deck quickly. That's generally how it works, without even having to pull the trigger because people know what it does.

    The only downside I've seen so far is the likelyhood to set people on fire. The propelants for the CS and Pava used by law enforcement is alcohol based, combined with taser can give a nice toasted subject. Pava2 soon to be taken up by some forces uses a non-combustable material.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    Col. Alexander?

    Not quite on topic here and not meaning to dismiss any ideas about tasers, but the name just jumped out.

    Any idea, if this was the same Colonel Alexander U.S Army [ret.], who formed the First Earth Battalion of US Army and initiated the goat staring as a weapons research program? Because if he is the very same, he is a bit... eccentric. FBi had Mulder, US Army had Colonel Alexander.

  41. Ihre Papiere Bitte!!

    @ AC 25/05 2335, Tasered Diabetic

    "Cops use taser on guy in diabetic coma - Terror police 'shot' man in coma - A man who had gone into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds was shot twice with a Taser gun by police who feared he may have been a security threat."

    As a diabetic living in Yorkshire, this scares the shit outta me. It doesn't help that the IPCC decided that the plod (PC Gumby or Mumby, Irwin Mitchell's statement* uses both) who had tasered him, twice, whilst he was unconscious and had a firearm pointed at his head, had done nothing wrong and wouldn't face any sort of sanction. Their justification? He "didn't respond to their challenge" and "looked Egyptian". WTF??? This plod was a specially-trained firearms unit officer as well, not just a local bobby who had been handed a taser & manual and told to get on with it.

    Tasers are less lethal than bullets, no question. That doesn't mean that if someone doesn't answer you - especially if they're clearly not responding to any kind of stimulus whatsoever - it's ok to start pumping volts into them. They should only be used when the alternative is to use force that has increased lethality levels. There was no call for them to start kicking him in the head, but they thought it was ok to taser him?

    Side note; this gent was suffering a hypoglycaemic episode which meant that his blood sugar level was incredibly low, sufficient for him to lose consciousness. Introducing electricity would further reduce his sugar level, leading to an increased probability of death or serious injury. Even a slendertone belt thing, which uses far less electricity than a taser, causes a blood sugar reduction, which isn't something you want to happen if they're already low enough to induce a coma.

    * Irwin Mitchell's latest (as far as I can tell, December 08) statement about this is here:

  42. PatAdam

    Piezo zapping

    As a kid I remember chasing flies with a piezo electric gas lighter and zapping them with the spark. From memory, they remained paralysed a good few moments, but I don't remember it killing any of them.

    Never tried it with humans though...

  43. Steve Mann


    Time to market my cotton/wire-mesh/cotton sandwich tee-shirt methinks. I'll license the image of Frank Zappa to put on it.

    Dry clean only, or risk rust.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Less leathal, eh?

    Is that like saying "I'm going to kill you, but only until you're half dead"? In my first semester electronics workshops class they told us that the not let go current was 10mA. 10mA is enough for some people to lose complete motor control and become "frozen". Not sure what the spec on a taser is but I am reasonably certain it is more than 10mA. If you put 100+mA through someone, it won't take long to kill them due to previously mentioned factors, paralyzed diaphram, etc.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Charles Manning

    "Tasers are not lethal if used according to instructions unless there are other factors: person prone to heart attacks etc."

    Oh, so it's ok to use against a person when you *know* it could kill a person if they are "prone to heart attacks" but decide to use it anyway without bothering to check first?

    And before anyone says anything - Obviously I know you can't check first, it is a philosophical question.

    Paris - because she knows a thing or two

  46. peter tomlinson
    Thumb Down


    It was murder by plod, plain and simple

  47. Mithvetr

    Onoz! Moar orwelldoublethinkbigbrotherthoughtpoliceomgwtflol!

    The trouble is that, in their haste to slag off the police for being the brutal thugs of a totalitarian regime, people don't seem to take any time to actually think about things. I mean, look at that last comment from peter tomlinson:

    "It was murder by plod, plain and simple"

    Plain and simple, was it? Like every declamation in the Daily Mail's letters pages: who cares whether we have all the relevant information and have examined it in full? Just see which way your knee jerks, and that's all the "plain and simple" truth you need.


    'End of.'

    And so on. Pub wisdom: nothing quite like it for running a country.

    Then there are those complaining about the term 'less lethal'. Yes, it's a silly expression: 'lethal' is an incomparable: as mentioned above, something is either lethal or it's not. And in fact, the expression was originally 'less-than-lethal'; but for some reason the 'than' seems to have been dropped, and we're left with an awkward and apparently contradictory phrase.

    But then, you'd have to be pretty pedantic to ignore the obvious: in context, it's still pretty clear what 'less-lethal' means. It's a little like Americans saying "I could care less", when what they mean is "I couldn't care less" ("I don't care at all, so it's not possible for me to care any less"): it's ungrammatical, it's illogical, and it sounds strange to British ears - but we know what they're getting at. Sure, we can nitpick if we have time, but the job gets done anyway.

    Whether the weapons could ever really be called 'non-lethal' or 'less-than-lethal' given that people have died as a result of their use is another question. But still, if we're talking about overall lethality within a population, then 'less lethal' becomes perfectly acceptable grammatically anyway. Statistically, this weapon is less lethal (i.e. carries a lower probability of inflicting fatal injury) than, say, a gun.

    @ AC 09:01:

    "And remember folks you only need 5 GCSE's at grade C to apply for the opportunity to fry some perps!"

    Hmmm. While more lofty qualifications are an effective and reliable indicator of competence and integrity, aren't they? Step forward the House of Commons...

    "Black helicopters as they dont want you to know the truth"

    You know, for all the things 'They' don't want us to know the truth about, it's remarkable how many people on the Internet seem to have special access to the truth 'They' don't want us to know. So how come you're privileged in this case, AC?

    @ AC 18:04:

    "And before anyone says anything - Obviously I know you can't check first, it is a philosophical question."

    I believe it's actually a *rhetorical* question: one asked to make a point but without expecting, or really wanting, an actual answer.

  48. Anonymous Coward


    Mithver wrote:

    >"And before anyone says anything - Obviously I know you can't check first, it is a philosophical question."

    >I believe it's actually a *rhetorical* question: one asked to make a point but without expecting, or really wanting, an actual answer.

    I wrote philosophical and I meant philosophical.

    "the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct."

    You would be better off reading what people write in their comments rather than putting words in their mouths and then arguing against yourself.

    If I had meant rhetorical I would have said so.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let Try Some Facts

    Arguing about semantics aside, did you know...

    1) That Taser does NOT deliver 50,000 volts to the subject. That is the "open circuit" voltage and the instant that the circuit is closed across the subject, the "closed circuit" voltage is only about 1,300 volts (exaggerated by a factor of 4, but fifty-thousand.certainly sound more scary. In fact, the high "open circuit" voltage is used only to insure that the current jumps any gap between the dart-tips and the conductive subject but, again, the voltage "across the subject" is only about 1,300 V.

    2) In any case, voltage has nothing to do with the "effect". It is the current delivered that is effective. It is delivered in small amounts and in extremely short pulses many times per second. You frequently experience 10s of thousands of volts in static shocks in a dry room that carry very low current. Conversely, household-outlet shock of only 100 or 200 volts, but gobs of current will, given good enough grounding, do you in. Get it?

    3) The U.S. Government Accounting Office (now Accountability) recorded over 85,000 uses of Tasers during arrests up to 2005 and, since then, many more have been deployed and used with the number of such uses being over 600,000 in arrests to date. No one disputes this number but, have you ever seen it reported in the media? Further, there have been about the same number of "training" or "demonstration" shocks on relatively healthy people with some injuries from falls, but no cases of heart fibrillation, much less deaths. Have you ever seen that reported in the media?

    4) On the other hand, the count of "Taser-related-deaths" during arrests since 2001 (8 years) is claimed to be about 400, but that number includes every case that can be found in which a Taser was used and a death occurred - even days later. The media almost always reports that number. What the media stories don't report are the number of those cases that are eventually determined, clearly, to have been caused by drugs, seriously compromised health by drugs, or other causes etc. Like an odometer, the number only increments and is never corrected when other obvious causes are found on autopsy. The claims that the Taser company has a world-wide conspiracy to hoodwink the entire scientific and legal establishments are, simply, bizarre. As important, the media never reports the number of deaths that occur during arrests where Tasers are not involved - critical for any realistic perspective on the lethality or non-lethality of the device as well as the integrity of the reporter and news source.

    Reflect on 3 and 4. You don't need to be a statistician to tell that something is rotten in medialand - just writing out the numbers and doing some elementary math should give anyone pause. You don't need to be a media analyst to see that there is a huge gap between what is really happening and what is being reported. While, occasionally, a story appears in which a Taser has been successfully used to diffuse an otherwise deadly situation, these rarely go beyond local media, whereas every so-called "Taser-related-death" - declared, regardless of circumstances - echos hundreds of times around the world and thousands of times as an increment to the oft quoted death count. With Tasers being used hundreds of times every day, the question is whether the media is serving the public or promoting a dangerous preconception, with sensational anecdotes, that misinforms, confuses the debate, and harms the public.

    While there is no excuse for poorly trained or poorly supervised police, Tasers are not the lethal or semi-lethal devices (or whatever) that they are being made out to be in the media - by any reasonable standard. Once that is understood and the self-defeating hysteria subsides, people can turn their efforts to what real problems may exist between police and public and solve them.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Tasers are lower on the scale than CS Gas or a baton, both of which UK police forces carry and use on a daily basis.".

    I was in the police, in UK. This is arrant nonsense, even today. CS smoke (and rubber bullets and water cannon and chemical mace) certainly are not used frequently and by most forces not at all. A truncheon, in whatever form, is treated as a serious instrument and, at least in my time, required a written report to explain its use. I am sure that the vast majority of you have never seen or experienced such things (I have).

    I have got serious reservations about how the British police have developed, from the apparent siege mentatlity of many constables of all ranks to the downright thuggish appearance of some, with the apparent loss of the ability to talk to people as a first resort. But this kind of scaremongering and application of American television standards to UK police forces is ignorant and self-fulfilling.

    I am against Tasers, generally armed police and groups described as "anti-terrorist" police: these lead to a them-and-us attitude and a reluctance to police society as part of society rather than as some controlling force. But, police constables (all police are "constables") are drawn from the general population, without even an officer-entry option. All parties should remember that. A society, they say, gets the police it deserves.

    I also believe that the safety of the general public (including the awkward, ill etc.) is paramount and that, for that reason, the police must accept and expect that their job involves risk, perhaps sacrifice and certainly a risk of injury, in dealing with all sections of the public.

    Minimising this risk must rely on good training, social skills and organisation; not on using oppressive laws or technology to control, isolate or incapacitate. .

    In this respect, the IT angle is clear: misused IT is a terrible means of control and furthers extreme methods. As IT workers, we are all responsible for its development, spread and use, whether to run a DB or programme a chip in a taser.

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