• 16 Miles of String
  • New York Times columnist David Brooks

Should a journalist who cites scientific research to make a point check the validity of the research?

“When somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we’re rendered mute or confused,” David Brooks wrote in the New York Times last month. “But of course it happens all the time. That’s because even people who contain reservoirs of compassion and neighborliness also possess a latent potential to commit murder. . . . We’re natural-born killers.”

Brooks was ruminating on the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in March, allegedly committed by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. As evidence of our latent murderous potential, the op-ed columnist pointed to the research of evolutionary psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas. Buss “asked his students if they had ever thought seriously about killing someone, and if so, to write out their homicidal fantasies in an essay,” Brooks said. “He was astonished to find that 91 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women had detailed, vivid homicidal fantasies.”