Stigma and mental health: a one-sided conversation

L0026693 A man diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with strong su

A man diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with strong suicidal tendencies. This is what people thought people with mental illness looked like before they all started looking out of windows with their heads in their hands. 

What is stigma?

Stigma is basically a word for discrimination. Slightly more technically, stigma has been described as a sign of disgrace that is perceived to set a person or group of people apart from others. It’s also a Greek letter, although everyone that uses it in that way is rubbish. Stigma can affect many groups, including people with mental health problems, the elderly, and a third less serious group that I was going to include as a joke, but didn’t because it would increase stigma too much.

The casual use of language stigmatising mental illness is exceedingly common. If you’re a bit angry you might be described as mental or psycho. If you put a book away you might be called obsessive compulsive. Media portrayals reinforce stigma by constantly associating images of violent and homicidal individuals with mental ill health. The Eurovision song contest recently got in on the stigmatising act by parading a person in a Eurovision-themed straitjacket for so called crazy fans and having one of the hosts proclaim “You know what they say – crazy is the new black.” Which is definitely saying like, “Half a cup of thunder makes the bears look at the handbag” and “You don’t have to be crazy to use stigmatising language, but it…oh…I see…I’m sorry.”

Even children’s television seems to have gotten in on the act. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that during just one week’s worth of children’s television, 59 out of 128 programmes contained one or more references to mental illness. Terms like “crazy”, “mad” and “losing your mind” were commonly used to portray that a character was losing control. Six characters were identified as consistently shown to have a mental illness. These characters were almost totally devoid of positive characteristics. Luckily, children aren’t impressionable and don’t learn or pick up attitudes easily.

Does it really matter if people are offended?

In the great scheme of things, not really. Overall, it’s probably not good to upset people, although that largely depends on context. If you’re using abusive language and someone says your awful because of you’re abusive language and this upsets you, then you’re upset doesn’t matter a Katie Hopkin’s opinions worth. If someone with severe anxiety is offended because you’ve told them to “stop worrying”, then that does matter. You’re belittling a potential illness, and ignoring and heightening their distress. We’ll deal with these cases of offence on a case by case basis until we’ve Gervaised the lot of them.

Stigma

I really wouldn’t recommend searching for “prejudice” in order to find images for your blog post.

However, this isn’t really about people being offended. It’s about the harm that can be caused by language and attitudes. Stigmatising attitudes towards people experiencing mental illness are responsible for substantial additional distress, as well as reduced employment and social opportunities. In addition, stigma can lead to hate crimes, a decreased ability to access appropriate healthcare and reluctance to seek appropriate help (if that help is even available). In fact, the stigma surrounding mental illness has been identified as the primary barrier to providing mental health care and the delivery of treatment. It turns out that if large portions of society hold negative beliefs about a group that aren’t necessarily true, then that group suffers.

So I’m banned from using certain words?

Not at all, but it would be nice if you thought about what you were saying and the impact it might have. Unsurprisingly in a matter involving language and society, there’s a lot of nuance involved. If I privately say “my cat is going bananas” while my cat does something adorable like climbing up the curtains or becoming non-fictional, then I’m probably not doing any harm. If I loudly proclaim to a crowd that another person who is shouting “has gone schizo” then that’s another matter. I don’t know who’s listening, who might be upset and who might avoid social situations or potentially getting help to avoid similar judgement. If you don’t believe in the potential impact of your words in this setting, perhaps you should look at the research, or at least have more confidence in yourself. You can make a difference!

Well, what other words can I use?

I’m pretty sure there are quite a few words that aren’t stigmatising towards people with mental health problems. There’s probably a word for that situation. I’ll check the dictionary. Anyway, a bit of variety in your insults will make you look more intelligent, which is always nice.

Sanakniigu

A good source of awful words.

Why are people so thin skinned?

It’s not really about being offended (as discussed previously), but if we’re talking about people with certain diagnoses then there is evidence that negative terms can have greater impact than in people without those diagnoses. For example, much research has shown that people with clinical depression have what’s called a negative cognitive style. That is to say they’re much more likely to focus on or attend to the negative aspects of any personal experience and to an extent may be unable to focus on positive or neutral aspects. Conversely, other studies claim that this tendency differs across individuals with the depression with some people focusing on negative information, while others pay equal attention to negative and positive information but remember negative information more efficiently than those without depression. Either way, telling someone with this problem to just ignore the bad stuff isn’t helpful. Like telling someone with their foot caught in a bear trap to just walk it off.

I have a mental illness and it doesn’t affect me like that!

That’s good. However, there are other people who it does affect.

Isn’t this just being pedantic about language?

“Just”?!

But you got several phrases regarding mental health wrong!

Probably, and I apologise for that. I daresay I’ll do it again, but I’ll try and do better. Which is hopefully what we’re all trying to do. Not you though. You’re perfect. You’re hair is particularly good.

In fact, a bigger problem is that throughout this post I’ve essentially referred to people with mental illness as a homogenous group. This obviously isn’t true, just as it wouldn’t be for any large group of people. It also potentially marks a large proportion of the population (1 in 4 is often bandied about, although I can’t find a good reference for that figure) as an outgroup. I certainly don’t want to do that, and a large part of reducing stigma should probably be in getting people to consider that the group they’re stigmatising contains as much variety in personality as any group they consider themselves a member of, that that group contains people just as capable of experiencing harm as they are (more so in some cases) and that their words have the power to impact real-world events. Easy done.

Are you finished yet?

Yes.

 

Image credits: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A man diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with strong suicidal tendency. Lithograph, 1892, after a drawing by Alexander Johnston, 1837, for Sir Alexander Morison. 1837-1892 By: Alexander Johnstonafter: Alexander Morison and Byrom BramwellPublished: [1892]

By Ilja.mos – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46665757

 

How much wood WOULD a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Groundhog,_eating

Wooducks are sometimes known as , “whistle pigs”. Why are they even occasionally known as woodchucks? WHISTLE PIGS! Picture by D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

She sells seashells by the seashore? Does she? You wouldn’t think there would be demand for that in a place which is essentially a continuous supply of abandoned bivalve property. Or is that the warning? I suppose you never hear, “She sold shed-loads so she scandalously stowed some offshore, scheming sneakily and salvaging a steady supply of surreptitious savings. The sod.” Although, you do hear about how she (Mary Anning) was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London despite her several important paleontological finds and expertise on account of being a woman. The sods. Seventy seven benevolent elephants. Sounds like quite a specific zoo. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Sounds like a question that can actually be answered. And as sure as someone who knows that the sign language equivalent of a tongue twister is called a finger-fumbler will try to shoehorn that fact into a barely-related conversation, a question that can actually be answered will eventually get answered.

A quick search finds that three potential answers to the woodchuck conundrum are already in existence. One traditional reply holds that, “A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood”. While clever, tjis doesn’t really answer the question that is being asked. It’s specific in what it’s saying, but vague in how it’s of any use in the real world; like a George Osborne budget. The second potential answer is that a woodchuck can’t chuck wood. This too is not good enough in that it essentially denies the existence of a problem that it should be trying to solve. Like a George Osborne budget. The third potential answer is much better. In 1988, Richard Thomas (a wildlife technician, which is probably a thing) calculated that if a typical woodchuck burrow is 7.6 to 9.1 metres long, and the volume of dirt the woodchuck had to move to dig that burrow was translated into an equivalent volume of wood, then the woodchuck could move approximately 323 kg of wood. Much better; or at least it would be if we were asking, how much wood could a woodchuck move if the ground was made of wood? As it is, we’re left with some unsubstantiated numbers which nobody can really explain the relevance of. Which reminds me of something.

So let’s start by defining our terms. To “chuck” can mean several things, although we can safely discount most of them. It’s unlikely that the rhyme is about a woodchuck ending a relationship with some wood. Even if it were, I couldn’t find anything about paraphilia in rodents or if they could choose to abandon the object of their paraphilia, so it’s unlikely I could get an answer to that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to have my computer destroyed. Similarly, we can assume that we’re not trying to work out how much tree a woodchuck can vomit, as like rats and indeed most rodents, woodchucks can’t vomit (although there is one report of them vomiting due to red squill poisoning). Top tip: sit behind the woodchuck if you go on a rollercoaster. Overall, it’s likely that we want to know how much wood a woodchuck could throw if it was able to.

Toss_of_caber_by_CH

Some tosser. Photo by Cory Hughes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was unable to find any reports of woodchucks throwing anything, never mind wood, so decided take the data from human wood chuckers and extrapolate. Arguably, the best example of humans throwing large amounts of wood in an environment where this bark flinging is measured can be seen with the Scottish athletic feat of tossing the caber. Here the tosser (the definite proper technical term, so shut up) attempts to throw a large wooden pole (typically made from larch wood) so that it turns end over end in a straight line. The straightest end over end toss scores the most points. It’s essentially extreme timber filing. A typical caber is 5.94 metres tall and weighs 79 kg. According to the Guinness Book of World records, the largest caber ever tossed was 7.62 metres long and weighed 127 kg. This is pretty impressive, but I would argue that for “how much wood” we need a large amount of wood to be chucked several times in a set period.

The most caber tosses in three minutes is 14 and was achieved by Kevin Fast (a strong reverend) in Canada in 2013. Kevin used two 5.02 metre long cabers, each weighing 41.73 kg. Unsurprisingly, Kevin is famous as a multiple Guinness World Records title holder. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are famous for other things. Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, are famous for other things.

Using a fairly basic equation for Power (Work/Time, where Work = Force x Distance), we can work out that in completing his one caber’s worth of his magnificent feat of tossing, Kevin transferred 55.29 Watts.

Height lifted (Kevin’s height) = 1.75 metres
Force (Mass [41.73 kg] x Gravity [9.80665 metres per second2) = 409.23 Newtons
Time (180 seconds/14 tosses) = 12.86 seconds

Power = (409.23 x 1.75)/12.86
Power = 55.69 Watts.

In woodchucks, the forelimb (their woodchuck arms for woodchucking) contain 44 muscles, with two groups, the lattissimus dorsi and pectoralis superficialis being the largest. Apparently, woodchucks have great pecs. In being specialised for digging, the highest individual power available from woodchuck forelimb muscles is 4.0 Watts. The height of a woodchuck is 0.8 metres and we’ll give our marmot friend the same amount of time to chuck his wood as we gave Kevin.

So, if Power = (Force x Distance)/Time

Then, 4.0 = (Force x 0.8)/12.86

And Force = (4.0 x 12.86)/0.8 = 64.3 Newtons = 6.56 kg.

Adjusting for scale, this means the best woodchuck woodchucker can throw a 6.56 kg of 1.99 metres length 14 times in three minutes. This is both an answer and an adorable image.

To check our calculations, we can work out maximum woodchuckage in another way. We know that Kevin Fast weighs 136.078 kg and can therefore estimate his lean body mass to be 74.57 kg. I used the Hume Formula for this. Other formulae are available, although all are just estimates and in fact, none of them are probably suitable for a man such as Kevin who is likely more muscular than the average pastor. Since skeletal muscle is, on average, 54% of lean body mass, we can estimate that Kevin has 40.72kg of muscle.

For woodchucks, their body mass is typically about 3.13 kg in the Spring and 4.20 kg in the Summer. a woodchuck definitely wouldn’t stand for a ludicrous “beach body” advertising campaign. Given that in Spring, adipose tissue is 40.31% of a woodchuck’s body mass (56.10% in Summer) and skeletal muscle is 52.41% of lean body mass (56.10% in Summer), then a woodchuck will typically have 0.98 kg of muscle (1.00 kg in Summer).

Woodchuck_up_a_tree

Trying to chuck a whole tree might be a bit hopeful. By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

So in the Spring, Kevin has 41.09 times the muscle mass of a woodchuck, and 40.27 times the muscle mass of a woodchuck in the Summer. This is assuming that as non-hibernating mammal, Kevin’s weight and adipose proportions don’t fluctuate as wildly as woodchuck’s do. Muscle strength is proportional to cross sectional area, so it is perhaps more relevant to state that woodchucks have 6.41 times and 6.35 times smaller cross sectional area of muscle than Kevin in Spring and Summer, respectively. Correspondingly, this means that a muscular woodchuck vicar could toss a 6.51 kg caber of 1.98 metres in length in the Spring and a 6.57kg caber of 1.99 metres length in the Summer. In the Winter, it would probably be asleep. You’ll note that this is satisfyingly similar to our original estimate.

So in conclusion, depending on the season, a very strong woodchuck member of the clergy could chuck a 6.6 kg stick of wood that was nearly 2 metres long 14 times in three minutes. In addition, if on that occasion it saw its shadow, it would mean six more weeks of maths.

How tall was Princess Jasmine’s mother?

Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom, Princess Garden Unit

For who could ever learn to love… metrology. Photo by Jennifer Lynn (www.flickr.com/people/129451096@No8)

 

We can learn a lot of important lessons about genetics from Disney. For example, from The Muppet Christmas Carol (released in 1992 by Walt Disney Pictures) we learn that the being a frog genes are on Kermit’s Y chromosome. Thus when Kermit and Piggy have children, the boys are all frogs and the girls are all pigs. We also learn that Muppet frogs and pigs are close enough as species to interbreed, although we can’t comment how close without observing the fertility of their offspring. These are slightly more confusing lessons. I also assume that the reason that Muppet Tiny Tim couldn’t walk well, was that he was actually still a tadpole and just had pushy parents. After all there’s only one more sleep until metamorphosis.

The biological processes behind Beauty and the Beast are slightly more difficult to work out. Mrs Potts is a teapot and her son, Chip, is a cup. We know that the curse that transformed the servants of the castle into theatrical IKEA stock had been in place for 10 years. Chip seems younger than this. It should be hoped that from the moment they were transformed, the staff didn’t age and that young Chip was one of those who the witch literally made a mug of when she cast her spell. Otherwise we have to consider the idea that a teapot got pregnant and gave birth to a cup. A tale as old as time.

The biological variation within that happy crockery family is far from unique within the world of Beauty and the Beast. A person conducting a preliminary comparison of Belle and her father, Maurice, would be hard-pressed to find much of a family resemblance. Belle is tall and slim, while Maurice more closely resembles an owl that rolled itself in pastry and finished the disguise with a moustache it fashioned from leftover rodent hair. I’m not judging. I have a similar body type. The same could be said of Aladdin’s the Sultan and his daughter, Princess Jasmine. Again Jasmine is tall, with barely enough abdomen to contain her colourful Disney internal organs, while the Sultan is practically spherical and would struggle to see over a crouching slug while he was wearing platform shoes. For this to work, Jasmine and Belle’s mothers must have been 10 feet tall and essentially boneless. Either that, or Disney fathers are constructed entirely from recessive genes.

We don’t have to guess at the heights of Jasmine and Belle’s mothers. These can be calculated from the heights of the princesses and their fathers. Within medicine, a person’s adult height can be estimated from their parents’ heights, using an estimation called the mid-parental height. The calculation is as follows:

Mid-parental height = Mother’s height plus Father’s height (plus 13 for boys, -13 for girls) and divide by two.

NB: Heights are in centimetres (cm).

Tea_set,_bone

Filth!

This method isn’t perfect. For example, it doesn’t allow for extremes of parental height. Very short or very tall parents tend to have offspring of a less extreme height through simple regression to the mean. This wouldn’t be predicted by the mid-parental height estimation. However, it is a useful tool to help assess an individual child’s growth and to calculate the height of fictional princesses’ mothers. By rearranging the equation, we find that

Disney Mother Height = (Disney Daughter Height x2) plus 13, minus Disney Father Height

This idea can be tested in cases where we see both of the parents and the daughter e.g. Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel in Tangled.

Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t provide us with the vital statistics of the characters. Which is pretty thoughtless of them. As a result, we’re going to have to make some crude estimates. In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora’s father can be seen holding a wine bottle. Given that he ended up sleeping for 100 years, it must have been some pretty strong stuff. Or a witch did it. A standard wine bottle is approximately 30.5 cm and from a couple of stills from the film, Aurora’s father looks to be about 5.8 wine bottles tall. As a side note, if you start to measure you’re height in wine bottles, it might be time to take out the recycling. This may not be the least of your problems. We can therefore estimate Aurora’s father to be 176.9 cm (5 ft 10 inches) tall. From more stills, Aurora’s mother looks to be the equivalent of Aurora’s father’s head shorter than Aurora’s father. A human is roughly 7.5 heads tall so Aurora’s father’s head must be 23.6 cm, which makes Aurora’s Mum 153.3 cm (5 ft 1 inches) tall.

From the film, Aurora comes up to her father’s shoulders and so appears to be about 153 cm (5ft) tall; similar to her mother. Using the mid-parental height equation, Aurora’s height is estimated at 158.6 cm (5ft 2 inches). So we’re about 5 cm off. However, in Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is 16 years old. A woman’s final adult height can be reached at around 18 years of age, so perhaps it’s not impossible for her to grow those last 5 cm, especially if she manages to eat well and get plenty of sleep. This probably isn’t a problem.

We can test our height prediction in a similar fashion with Rapunzel from the film Tangled. In one scene, Rapunzel’s mother is observed holding a book. If we assume the book to be one octavo (a unit of measurement which should be familiar to Terry Pratchett fans, and is approximately 15.3 cm) and we can see that Rapunzel’s mother is about 10.5 books tall. We can guess Rapunzel’s mother is 160.7 cm (5ft 3 inches) tall and that her librarian is messy. Rapunzel’s father is roughly another book taller than Rapunzel’s mother, making his height 176.0 cm (5ft 10 inches).

From pictures, Rapunzel is about one third of her mother’s head shorter than her mother. If we estimate her mother’s head to be 21.4 cm long, this gives Rapunzel’s height as 153.6 cm (5ft). The mid-parental height calculation predicts Rapunzel’s height as 161.9 cm, so we’re about 7 cm off. As with Aurora, Rapunzel may still grow a bit more (although she’s 18 years old in the film) and we might argue that she is shorter due to being mistreated and held captive in a tower. Perhaps the weight of all that hair is compressing her spinal column and making her shorter. Overall, our height estimates using mid-parental height are within 10% of what we see on screen, so should be adequate for estimating the heights of Jasmine and Belle’s mothers.

Sumatran_Tiger_2_(6964693266)

Quite a bitey tape measure. Photo by Tony Hisgett (www.commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27317596)

In Aladdin, at some stage, both Jasmine and the Sultan are shown next to their pet tiger. A male tiger can be 110 cm from the ground to the shoulder. Judging by where the tiger comes up to on Jasmine, we can estimate her to be 170 cm (5 ft 7 inches) tall. Similarly, we can estimate the Sultan to be 130 cm (4 ft 3 inches) tall. The tiger method for measuring height is an exciting one, but probably won’t catch on with parents. It’s difficult to see the pen where you’ve marked-off your child’s height on the side of a tiger. Also, it’s a tiger. Using the Disney Mother Height Calculator, Princess Jasmine’s Mum’s height is estimated to be 223 cm (7ft 4 inches).

 

To put this height into context, the World’s tallest living woman, Siddiqa Parveen is estimated to be 7ft 8 inches tall (2.1 tigers, 15.3 books or 7.7 bottles of wine). Although of course she isn’t animated. Or fictional. And we cannot work out Siddiqa Parveen’s mother’s height using the Disney Mother Height calculator. That would be a ridiculous waste of time. There are other reasons.

Now it’s Belle’s turn. Luckily, in Beauty and the Beast, both Belle and her father get attacked by wolves. Luckily for us anyway. Like most wolf attacks, it’s shown as a bad thing in the story. An adult wolf is approximately 83 cm from ground to shoulder. In terms of height, Belle looks to be a double wolfer, coming in at 166 cm (5 ft 5 inches) tall. Belle’s father, Maurice, is approximately 1.67 wolves tall and therefore has a height of about 138.6 cm (4 ft 7 inches). Using the Disney Mother Height Calculator, Belle’s Mum’s height is estimated to be 206.4 cm (6ft 9 inches).

Of course, all of this assumes that Maurice was Belle’s biological father and that the Sultan was Jasmine’s. It’s likely that they were. Belle had a whole library at her disposal, so you’d think she’d have the necessary information to hand to work out if her father wasn’t related to her. Although she may have been to busy buying new furniture. All of hers recently turned into people after all.

 

How bad is Stormtrooper aim exactly?

Stormtrooper_Gun

A Stormtrooper gun. It’s possible they don’t know what these are for. Photo by Roy Kabanlit.

For some unknown reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Wars recently. Going forward, I’ll assume you’ll be familiar with the events and characters of at least the first six films. If not, what have you been doing? Living in a recent, recent time in a galaxy that’s very close to here? Broadly speaking, this post inevitably contains minor spoilers for Episodes II−VI of the Star Wars films. If you haven’t seen them, inexplicably want to find out about Stormtrooper aim and don’t mind knowing some plot details, then feel free to read on.

There are some characteristics of characters or groups of characters within the Star Wars register that are widely held to be fact. This may be despite them not being explicitly stated within the films. Red lightsabers are for the evil, Jar Jar Binks is rubbish and Stormtroopers have worse aim than a urinating drunk man in a vibrating chair trying to hit a toilet located on The A-Team van.

Can Stormtroopers really be that bad at shooting? There is an assumption that the Empire want effective troops to maintain their evil hold of the galaxy. Surely they get some training in marksmanship rather than signing up, being given armour that doesn’t even protect against Ewoks (weirdly, the autocorrect on my phone turns ‘Ewoks’ to ‘useless’) and told to, “go forth and do bad stuff.” In fact, Obi Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope comments, “only Imperial Stormtroopers are this precise” when examining some blast marks on a massive used droid dealership tank. So Stormtroopers have a reputation in the Star Wars galaxy for good aim. There are a number of explanations for this:

  • Stormtroopers have good aim compared to everyone else, who is really awful (maybe the Star Wars galaxy is windy, wobbly or makes everyone slightly drunk for reasons)
  • Stormtroopers do have rubbish aim, but are good at marketing (history may contain examples where propaganda has been used by states with less than altruistic intentions)
  • Stormtroopers do have rubbish aim, but everyone is concerned about their self-esteem and tells them otherwise
  • Stormtroopers normally have good aim, but during the events of the Star Wars films develop bad aim; almost as if the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy has informed its troops that they should imagine themselves as antagonists in a series of films that won’t progress very far if the protagonists keep getting shot
Long_Beach_Comic_Expo_2012_-_Stormtrooper_takes_some_hits_(7186645662)

Seems about right. Photo by The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA.

Why would Stormtroopers’ aim be so bad? Is it their tools? This seems unlikely given that non-Stormtroopers steal Stormtrooper weapons and seem to have no issue with shot accuracy or a gaining a reputation for terrible aim. Perhaps their helmets obscure their vision and make aiming difficult. Possibly, but the Stormtrooper helmet eye holes don’t appear to be any smaller than human spectacles, which can’t be said to obscure vision. Not if they’re doing their job. They are tinted though, which may make aiming difficult when in badly lit conditions and make Stormtroopers look like posers when wearing their helmets indoors.

Perhaps Stormtroopers are just human. In spite of the impression given to us by world events, it is actually quite difficult to get one person to actively shoot to kill another person. During World War I, British Lieutenant George Roupell reported that the only way he could get his soldiers to stop firing above their enemies’ heads was to beat them with his sword while ordering them to aim lower. Later reports of Lieutenant Roupell winning a medal for being a slightly charming human being may have been an exaggeration. Similarly in World War II, US Brigadier and army analyst S.L.A. Marshall reported that during battle, only 15−20% of soldiers would actually fire their weapons. This should perhaps be considered sceptically, as later analysis hints that Marshall may have fabricated at least some of his results. A 1986 study by the British Defense Operational Analysis Establishment’s field studies division found that in over 100 19th- and 20th-century battles, the rate of killing was actually much lower than potentially should have been the case given the weapons involved. Some reports from the Vietnam War state that the average US solder fired approximately 50,000 rounds before they hit their target.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman claims that psychologically this is a result of soldiers choosing to posture (falsely display active combat to attempt to intimidate or deter the enemy) rather than fight, flee or submit to the enemy. In this regard, posturing is chosen as the least costly (psychologically, socially and physically) of the four possible options available to a soldier in combat. In terms of Star Wars, we know that the Empire is not adverse to a bit of posturing with their giant shooty snow dinosaurs, Nazi-chic uniforms and ‘tis no moon space stations. Perhaps the legendary terrible aim of the Stormtroopers is simply due to a human tendency to try and look scary rather than murder another individual. Should they be renamed as ScaryLookingHugtroopers?

To even start to get an answer to this we need to at least get some idea of the accuracy of Stormtrooper aim. Luckily, counting exists and can be used get numbers for percentage purposes. In order to calculate the Stormtrooper hit rate, the number of shots fired by Stormtroopers in Star Wars Episodes II-VI (the ones with Stormtroopers and that aren’t currently in cinemas) was counted. The number of times that the Stormtroopers hit what they were aiming at was also counted.

SWCA_-_A_Stormtrooper_and_Chewie_(17201213072)

Let the Wookie in. Photo by William Tung from USA (SWCA – A Stormtrooper and Chewie) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Stormtroopers were identified as such by their armour. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were not counted as Stormtroopers when they were wearing said armour as a disguise. The Stormtroopers wearing the special armour in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (the ones dress as Arctic pepper pots) and in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (the ones with helmets like sad bulldogs) were counted as Stormtroopers. A hit was counted as such when a Stormtrooper launched or fired a projectile that hit what the Stormtrooper was judged to be aiming at. A miss was defined as when that stuff happened but the projectile didn’t hit the target. When the final resting place of a projectile was not seen on screen, it was presumed to be a miss, unless there was some kind of sound effect that hinted otherwise (like a character saying, “Ouch, this laser wound is relatively painful”). Only shots fired from hand weapons were counted. Shots fired from vehicles were not counted as some sort of computer-aided guidance may have been used. We know they have that and that’s it’s not as good as trusting your feelings when you’re a bit forcey.

It should be noted that the resulting Stormtrooper accuracy ratings will be rough estimates only. It’s quite difficult to count shots fired in the reasonably frenetic action scenes of these films and it is likely that the number of shots fired here is an underestimate. Also it’s not real and this may be a waste of time.

Table 1 illustrates the accuracy of Stormtrooper aim for each of the films and the overall Stormtrooper shot accuracy rate across all of the films. Stormtrooper aim appears to be most accurate (37.4%) in Episode III and least accurate in Episode IV. Otherwise Stormtrooper accuracy is reasonably consistent at around 7% across the other episodes with an overall accuracy of 9.8% calculated across all of the films. Of note is that Episode III is the only film where Stormtroopers can feasibly be argued to be on the side of good. It would seem that it’s being evil that’s bad for your shooting accuracy.

Table 1: Stormtrooper shot accuracy in the Star Wars films.

Table 1

However, many have noted that during the events on the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the plan was to let Princess Leia and company escape so that the Empire could locate the Rebels’ headquarters and blow it up along with the planet they were on. The Empire is apparently not that concerned about conservation. Or about killing lots of people. As such, it is likely that the Stormtroopers firing on the protagonists had been ordered not to kill their escaping prisoners. This may change the accuracy rate for this film as we suddenly have to count every miss in these sequences as a hit. So the space abacus (calculator) was broken out again and the Stormtrooper shot accuracy rate for Episode IV and the overall Stormtrooper shot accuracy was recalculated. Table 2 shows these new figures.

Table 2: Stormtrooper shot accuracy in the Star Wars films (assuming they were aiming to miss during those bits on the Death Star in Episode IV).

Table 2

Suddenly, the accuracy of Stormtroopers doesn’t look so bad. In order to determine if this is the case, it is necessary to compare these rates with others. Ideally, this would be with other accuracy rates from the Star Wars films (probably not Greedo’s) in order to remove any confounding windy, wobbly drunken influences that the Star Wars galaxy might have. I didn’t do this for reasons of time, illness, difficulty and laziness. However, we do have some shot accuracy rates from our galaxy. These are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Comparison of Stormtrooper shot accuracy with real-world examples.

We can see here that Stormtroopers don’t fair too terribly, with greater shot accuracy than archerfish and the average US soldier (aiming at a human-sized target) at 300 metres, but lower shot accuracy than a US sniper at 600 metres. So Stormtrooper aim suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. In terms of accuracy. Their aim is obviously “bad”. They tried to shoot Chewbacca!

If we discount the US sniper (unfair to compare to a trained specialist with more time and calibrated equipment) and the archerfish (a fish which spits water at land-insects in order to eat them and which is rarely found in conditions of modern warfare) the Stormtrooper is four-times more accurate than our only remaining comparator, the average US soldier aiming at a human-sized target from 300 metres. If we accept that reduced soldier accuracy is due to posturing in favour of other combat choices, it suddenly seems that Stormtroopers are choosing to fight rather than flee, posture or submit. This makes Stormtroopers seem less human and more terrifying. Fitting soldiers for the Dark Side indeed and certainly not deserving of their reputation for inaccuracy! Unless they didn’t read the Death Star memo. Then, they’re just average.