My recent question was received with mixed feelings:

Why do children commit mass murder in their schools?

It has a +3/-3 score, and it was even closed, reopened, and now has three new close votes.

Before I spend effort to make it more acceptable to the community's palate, I want to narrow down the exact issues downvoters and close voters have.

My thinking: The claim is from an opinion piece published on a big news outlet tangentially about the most recent school shooting (disgusting that's a common phrase now, but I digress). The author hints at some expert status in criminology, and leans on that to assert that all crimes, the schools shootings included, are ultimately motivated by at least one of only three things. This is what I was skeptical of. Namely, that his assertion would be widely adopted by criminology experts, especially regarding motives in school shootings. So this is what I'm trying to ask. Is his assertion a common understanding among criminology experts? If yes, then I think it's fair to say he's correctly characterized school shooter motives. If no, then it's fair to say he's mischaracterized school shooter motives.

Feedback: First, there's the downvotes and close votes. The close votes have been "primarily opinion based", "unclear", "not notable" and "unresolved current events".

  1. For notability, it seems clear to me:

    1) The notable claim is that every misdeed is motivated by at least one of only three things. His context is school shootings. 2) He claims some kind of expert status "Many years ago, as I began investigating high-profile murders in Los Angeles County, I carefully chronicled the motives for every homicide that occurred in our region." 3) This article was published by a major outlet, probably read by tens of millions by now. Notability is so incredibly obvious. – fredsbend

    And, at least to me, the claim sounds believable on the face of it. I can envision a chapter on this in a criminology or even psychology textbook, assuming it's not dubious in the first place.

  2. Odd's comment seems to have confused "motivation" with the criminology term "motive". Motive is a major facet in criminology study. Ultimately, motive answers the question "why do people commit crime", whereas motivation is a personal term. The question isn't about any person. It's about criminology, so I don't feel like there's anything I can take away from the comment to make the question better.

  3. Odd's other comment I think continues on the same path as the first. Yes, life is complicated and why people commit crimes is equally complicated. However, in criminology, the science of crime and crime prevention, "why" is intently studied and quantified, and it is called "motive", but it is not necessarily comprehensive of life's complexities.

  4. Mark's comment is good feedback. I can see that being answerable and probably better received, but I have to be honest, I'm really much more interested in the "mass murder" subset of crimes, since the article's context was a school shooting. Should I just capitulate and rework the question to as as Mark suggests?

    Maybe the question should specifically ask “Do criminologists believe that all crimes are motivated by one of these three motives?”

  5. user568458 gave good feedback:

    I feel like there is an on-topic, factual question about the science of human psychology in here somewhere, but once you unpick it (something like "Is one of greed, relational or sexual lust, or desire for power required for a human to perform a forbidden act?"), it's absurdly easy to disprove. Fear, hatred, aggression, spite, unthinking obedience, habit, shame, thrillseeking... and many more can be proved to be sufficient for acts of misbehavior that couldn't be expected to win money, approval, sex or power.

    This leads to Odd's comment on his answer:

    There can be no single model [of criminal motive] that is comprehensive. To start with, we can always go more reductionist: Why is there anger? Why is there criminal motivation? ...

    That makes good sense, but I don't know if that's how criminologists do their work. I'd assume the average reader of the suspect claim wouldn't know either. So is this a case of a question's answer being "absurdly" clear to everyone but me? In which case, the question is technically correct (the best kind of correct), but "duh" questions always get downvoted.

  6. matt_black's comment may illustrate a different issue. His comment is off-topic, and I've flagged it, but it also has an upvote, so there's some agreement with the sentiment. If this spirals into another gun control post, it becomes another political post. Political posts tend to have dubious voting. Again, like point five, that has little to do with the quality of the question asked, leaving me with little I can do to improve it.

A final thought: Is it the title? I did kind of make it a bit on the click-bait side of things.

  • 1
    Some prelim ideas: 1. yeah, just almost like you thought, the Q has a title that diverts from the most common "is X true?" format and suggests a more open ended answer thread. 2. "the claim" is a complex one, as presented by the claimant. Maybe you could condense it? 3. I think if you rephrase it/find a similar claimfrom 'opinion about motives', true or not, to attempt of psychology/sociology theory of explanation it might be viewwed as more robust (despite remaining on the same base) Commented May 28, 2018 at 23:39
  • @Lang 1 and 2 sound easy and I'll probably do that. 3 sounds like research, blegh. ;)
    – user11643
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 16:10
  • 1
    Well, the comments under your Q indicate that a certain bias might exist against so called/perceived "weak" sciences. I think that is a pity. Psychology is not all Freud and Maslow, or armchair theory. Empiricism is alive and well in psychology and criminology, quite some steps evolved away from mere opinion, albeit with models of sometime uncertain validity. And I think that's the angle. Rephrase it towards: is that educated expert opinion's claim congruent with (other) existing empirical data and conclusions from that? IMO even now your Q is about a notable claim, answerable and on-topic. Commented May 29, 2018 at 22:36

2 Answers 2


There are no motive atoms in the universe. Motives don't exist in physical reality but in our mental models of the behavior of other people.

If you believe Nietzsche then everything that humans do is done because of the will to power. Other philosophers came up with other systems of motives that drive all of human behavior.

Our about page says:

Skeptics is about applying skepticism — it is for researching the evidence behind claims you encounter. It is not for speculation, philosophical discussions or investigating original claims.

Asking whether authority X believes Y is not about "researching the evidence behind claims you encounter" in the sense of our mission.

Discussions about motives generally are philosophic in nature and thus don't make good questions on this website.

  • I don't think this answer can be called anything but obtuse.
    – user11643
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 23:14
  • Good answer , the rules and guidelines can be helpful in keeping this place from becoming an Oddtatorship.
    – daniel
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 23:02

It's the title and the pseudoscience that made me vote to close.

Do children commit mass murders at schools? Not many, maybe not enough to find any pattern. Most at school mass murderers (which are already rare) are by people over 18 which is outside of the stretchiest definitions of children.

These two kids down at number 48 are the first real child school mass murderers, which quickly gets into the other point, motive. Motive is not needed to prove guilt, motive may not be understood, motive may not even exist. For a case person A could say x is the motive, person B could say y is the motive, I can say motive is not even a thing, we are all equally correct. I think most of the criminology 'science' isn't very scientific, it's much less DNA evidence and much more Freud, a publicly known lead expert criminoligist is likely just some opinionated dude that thinks he is right on this subject.

Edit: as the other answer linked to the rules of this site I should do the same to lift my game. You question is on the motives of a group of separated individuals, so it can't be improved into a good question for this site.

  • It sounds like you're saying criminology is not science so it should be off topic. Couple of problems: 1) I disagree, 2) it's currently not off topic, 3) If you want to make that argument you'll have to do it in another meta post.
    – user11643
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 14:53
  • I am convinced to take the focus off children and school shootings however, so your answer here was a little helpful. Thank you.
    – user11643
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 16:07

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