"Without understanding the assumptions on which a particular theory rests it is impossible to comprehend its meaning. Without a clear idea of its internal logic it is impossible to understand the connections between ideas about causes and their implications for policy." (Henry and Einstadter (1995: Preface).
The above quote neatly sums up the importance of not allowing the allure of pragmatism supporting rationalizations such as: "we need to do something even if that something is based on a limited or flawed theoretical basis regarding how it is supposed to work" to get in the way of knowledge development in the area of causality of whatever the problem is that we are trying to deal with. Because doing that can mean our problem oriented endeavours are at best coincidentally slightly effective and at worst lethal.
In an academic debate among professors police officers and students on the Linked[in]American Society of Criminology Group where we are discussing my busting of the criminology and crime science Ratortunity Myth that truisms can be theories of causality, I highlighted how blood-letting made sense when its theoretical basis remained unchallenged for 3000 years:
"If we relied upon pragmatism to such an extent that it stopped us inquiring into causality we would still be practicing medicine according to the four humours of the human body. This four humours notion held sway throughout the world for 3,000 years and was only debunked at the end of the nineteenth century. One of the most prolific treatments stemming from this plausible, simple and universally applicable belief system was blood letting. In cases of high fever blood letting served some use - although the mechanism by which it aided the patient was 100 per cent misunderstood. Other than that, blood letting and other treatments were at best useless and at worse lethal. The four humours notion is today known to be 100 per cent wrong. But it was followed in the absence of anything else for pragmatic reasons. In other words they did it because they could sell the idea to others and make money from it as expert practitioners and because practitioners tend to forget the easiest person to fool is yourself.
The Classic RAT Crime Event as Used to Underpin Crime Opportunity Theory Notion Of the Elements in the Crime Opportunity
Today, hundreds of young men are being electrocuted stealing live copper cable (Google it if you suspect I am exaggerating) . Copper has always fetched a good scrap metal price. It used to be capably guarded by electricity (at least according to the Routine Activities Theory 'Classic, Basic RAT triangle'). So what is the Crime as Opportunity answer? Obviously the increasing price of copper, due to the demand from China's expanding economy, is likely to be a major element. And some research on coroners reports in the USA found electrocuted thieves were intoxicated with alcohol. For the dead at least it was the capable guardianship (electricity) that prevented them committing the crime of theft - if not the crime of attempted theft. So what of those who succeed to survive electrocution today but not tomorrow?
Following irrational and wrong principles of the understanding of causes - like the four humours in medicine and blood letting is most likely to be, at best, a bit efficacious and at worst lethal.
Copper cable theft is just one area where Crime Opportunity Theorists have shied away from disconfirming evidence for their theory and their arguments that pragmatism underpinned by irrational beliefs is acceptable for policy, practice and scholarship.