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You can have all sorts of irresponsible fun with statistics, but James Bond video games may be more educational, as I learned over the holidays.

USA Today had some fun with statistics in a December 23 story that said a new study shows that a significant portion of kids in halfway houses for juvenile criminal offenses have been put there incorrectly, since many exhibit psychological problems and should therefore have been placed in psychiatric care. Psychological problems are so broadly defined in the study, though to include things like drug use and anger that it is unclear why any prisoner population would belong in jail, by the article's standards. Who doesn't exhibit psychological problems, defined broadly enough? Perhaps we should all get a doctor's note granting us immunity from prosecution.

Similarly, as I'll note in an article in the April issue of Reason, the environmental scientist/activist Devra Davis has turned statistics to political ends (in When Smoke Ran Like Water, a book nominated for a 2002 National Book Award), arguing that exposure to chemicals in the environment accounts for thousands, perhaps millions, of deaths around the world each year. The problem is that while she praises the use of statistics in identifying killer chemicals, again and again she admits that the data necessary to implicate chemicals don't exist but calls for aggressive regulatory action anyway. It's a game of bait-and-switch in which the promise of statistical objectivity lures us into her political trap (for more details, read the Reason article).

Faced with the complexity of statistical arguments, is it any wonder that the public turns to entertainment that celebrates simpler methods of conflict resolution? For instance, environmentalists should cheer even louder than the rest of the audience at the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which depicts an army of walking trees destroying an evil factory. To some minds, understandably, that's a much more satisfying way of settling the green-vs.-industry dispute than compiling charts and graphs and making long speeches about public health.

The mass media don't always depict greens as the good guys, though.

My friend Paul Taylor like a growing number of adults, a video game aficionado was kind enough to show me a new James Bond video game for PCs, NightFire, which has the amusingly un-p.c. premise that a radical environmentalist, pretending to help dispose of nuclear waste, has actually been stockpiling the material and plans to use it to destroy civilization. The villainous Rafael Drake poses as a "green industrialist" but is merely a misanthrope using his weapons and army of radical cosmonauts to purge the Earth unless Agent 007 can stop him. It all rings true somehow. As capitalist philosopher Ayn Rand once put it, all but the most corrupt individuals can say, "I want to be like James Bond" and now you can actually be Bond and strike a symbolic blow against environmental extremism while you're at it.

If the next Bond game features hordes of Greenpeace zombies trying to destroy biotech crops or fiendish statisticians plotting to outlaw the chemical industry, perhaps I should stop reading science articles and spend more time playing games.

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Responses:

January 23, 2003

In your understandable desire to praise what sounds like an awesome video game, your own description of NightFire doesn't back up your argument. It's not greens who are being depicted as the bad guys; it's hypocritical, greenwashing industrialists. So the game is pro-green.

Or rather, it too is hypocritically greenwashing, as the computer industry is one of the top polluters in the world.

Daniel Radosh


Seavey replies:

Well, Drake (who, it is worth noting, grew up in the Soviet Union) is a complex and duplicitous guy, obviously but which aspect of his public persona is more akin to his secret villainy, I ask you: his purported desire to produce useful goods and services or his purported allegiance to a green movement bent on regulating and controlling humanity for the sake of its own political vision of how the world should be, demanding adherence to that vision under threat of force (which is, after all, what every regulation is)?

In movies and games, it's true, the villains are often corporate titans. Apparently, filmmakers and game designers can't think of too many examples of governments hurting people. In the real world, capitalists produce while the regulators and the activists who egg them on control people through force. Whether the makers of NightFire intended to side with the capitalists or not is perhaps ambiguous, but fortunately Bond's general outlook on political matters can be summed up by a comment he made in the novel Casino Royale: "this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date...If I'd been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that."