Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | January 11, 2014

Alarming the Herd

As I have previously mentioned, I am building a house. It’s in a very nice little development that will have just over a hundred houses when it’s finished. One of the things that comes with each house is a complete security system, however it’s up to the homeowner to activate it…and pay for the ongoing ¬†monitoring.

I’m toying with the idea of not activating the system. Here’s my reasoning:

Every other house in the development will have an alarm, therefore the chances are overwhelming that a burglar choosing a house at random will encounter a security system. Presumably this means he will be promptly caught, or, preferably, run away and never come back. There is less than a 1% chance that the house he happens to pick will be mine. Therefore I can rely on my neighbors’ alarms to de facto protect me.

Alarms don’t always work of course. Houses with security systems are robbed every day. Nothing is 100%. Anyone who really wants to get in is going to be able to do so, if they’re smart enough and determined enough. Still, no one can deny that the presence of an alarm is a reasonable way to lessen your chance of being targeted.

But what would happen if someone got up at a meeting of the homeowners association and started spouting off about the evils of alarm systems. Don’t we realize that the monitoring company uses the system to eavesdrop on us? We should all purge our homes of this terrible technology. (Maybe she just happens to be selling a proprietary electonic cleanse for houses.)

Think about what would happen if people began listening to her and disconnecting their alarms. Once about 10% of them were off, we may start finding an increased number of break-ins. If the number fell as low as 50%, the place could become a crime magnet, since a burglar would have a 50-50 chance with any given house. Disaster!

It occurred to me that this is just like vaccination and herd immunity. When everyone else around you has been vaccinated against a given disease, germs trying to enter the community can only find homes prepared to rebuff them. When people start skipping it — counting on their neighbors to protect them — that protection quickly disappears.

Objections to vaccination make even less sense than arguments against security systems. Not only does it make sense both to immunize your kids and to activate your security system, it is your moral obligation to your community.





  1. Dr. Hornstein,

    I am a 4th year med student going in to Family Medicine, and I just finished your book. As your book points out, there are many concerning things about FM. Most people have tried to talk me out of it, but I really believe it is what I will love doing. I certainly hope it is not a dying breed, and that our changing healthcare system will provide the increased focus on primary care that we need. What are your thoughts? I just wanted to let you know I loved the book!


    P.S. The only thing I disagreed with was the comment that the distinction between ‘medicine’ and ‘alternative medicine’ is that medical treatments are those that have been proven beneficial by science. In many cases that is true, but I have already seen many treatments in the hospital that either have no data (many off-labeled uses) or have limited data. I would grant, though, that generally there is a plausible theory in these cases as to why the treatment is effective.

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