Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Flawed Article: "Experts Debunk Notion of Copycats"

An Open Letter to the Rocky Mountain News Editors:

Unfortunately, concerning the phenomenon of school shootings, the Rocky Mountain News' "Experts Debunk Notion of Copycats" is a dangerous treatment of a serious subject and hardly a comprehensive survey of "experts." I count two Colorado individuals, one a lecturer in sociology and the other an assistant director at a research center as attempting to overturn over forty years of well-documented rigorous studies of behavior contagion and the copycat effect. In my book, The Copycat Effect, I use over 300 pages and 400 references to show the extent of this research and the findings.

Copycat suicide waves after the suicides of famous people are known as the “Werther Effect,” from a 17th century suicide fad among young Europeans who had read Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” whose protagonist shoots himself with a pistol. Historically, "experts" such as Karl Menninger, Sigmund Freud, and Emile Durkheim wrote about the copycat behavior being a factor with suicides. Today, the copycat effect is well-documented, despite your two "expert" debunkers.

This effect has been proven to have a factual basis in reality over and over again, and it is harmful articles such as this one that tends to continue the ignoring of the problem. For over twenty years, the federal government and various suicide prevention organizations have published "media guidelines" for reporting on suicides because the copycat effect is a fact.

The copycat effect is so predictive that after the wave of rampage shootings that began this year, I wrote this prediction in my Copycat Effect blog last Friday, March 18th, that we should expect a "series of school shootings from March 20th through April 20th...I hope not, but every indication is that the media is entering its first post-9/11 'shooting rampage' feeding frenzy, and as March nears its end, and into April, 'school shootings' could be next."

In my book, in my long chapter on school shootings, I also predicted the underlying factors that are at work - males, neo-Nazis, all
are suicidal youth, use of guns, the twilight use of dates such as April 19 (Oklahoma City bombing, Waco), April 20 (Hilter's birthday, Columbine), and April 26 (Hess's birthday, Erfurt school shooting). The media factor is at play here too, with the spillover any time you have a great deal of attention to workplace violence, such as experienced in Tyler, Texas-Chicago-Atlanta judge-courthouse shootings.

I hope someone at the Rocky Mountain News, someday, reads The Copycat Effect, and looks at what the real "experts" who have actually conducted studies of the issue say.

Keep the kids safe through awareness,
Loren Coleman, M.S.W.
Suicidologist, Consultant, Author

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