The Epistemology of Tasers, Revisited

Parts one and two.

The update:

“Elliott later said that while there’s no evidence that Tasers kill, the fact that deaths have occurred soon after a Taser was used on individuals suggests there is a distinct possibility it may have contributed to death in some circumstances.”
RCMP tightens the rules on Tasers, Toronto Star

We’re making progress here. Very meticulous philosopher scientists, these RCMP. I wonder, just what kind of evidence would it take for them to believe that a thing had caused another thing? Like say, a taser causing the death of someone who had just been shot with a taser? From a more utilitarian perspective, at least they’re going to start acting as though tasers kill people. I suppose that’s what counts.

This snippet is interesting:

“The Mounties have also dropped the term “excited delirium” – a phrase that had no medical foundation, and was criticized earlier by the Commons committee, the RCMP’s public complaints commissioner, independent consultants and civil liberty groups.”

So why, until yesterday, were they using such an odd term to frame their operating protocol? Oh look, it’s a construction that TASER International have long been repeating in their press releases and court cases, despite years of head-scratching perplexity from anyone who has ever tried to figure out just what it might actually mean in a biological context. How does corporate unspeak from Scottsdale, Arizona get embedded in the procedural manuals of the Mounted Police? How does it get embedded in their mouths? I’m glad we’re making progress on getting it out.


There are so many fascinating epistemological issues surrounding RCMP’s use of Tasers and the subsequent deaths of individuals. One issue that you raise that is of interest to me is how we assess and trust our sources of information. There is confusion, for example, about the number of taser discharges at incidents. This should be straightforward. The RCMP are on record as being, hopefully, mistaken about the number of taser discharges prior to the death of Robert Dzieka?ski. I think the police said that the number of discharges was two. This number is also reported in your blog. However, I believe that an investigation later revealed that there were five discharges. So while we pursue the philosophical question about who or what killed Dzieka?ski, as good epistemologists, we need to get clear about what sources of information we can trust. There is plenty of evidence that we should be concerned about, and skeptical of, the way the RCMP frame and report on these issues. Tough stuff. Great blog.

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