Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Let's not ask the experts?

Can Sips at Home Prevent Binges? is a fascinating article in the New York Times. It turns out there’s very solid evidence about this:

“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he told me. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”

What is the evidence? In 1983, Dr. George E. Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, published “The Natural History of Alcoholism,” a landmark work that drew on a 40-year survey of hundreds of men in Boston and Cambridge.

Ironically, the Times decided to ask their readers: “Do you think teenagers drinking wine with their parents at home encourages reckless drinking or more responsible habits with alcohol later in life?” See the sidebar. Without any disrespect to people reading the Times, why would we care what they think about this? We have evidence of what really happens. Why not ask “Why do you think we can’t fix a broken law?” or “Would you vote for a candidate who promised to fix these laws?”

Relatedly, Adam Barr wrote:

I saw an article today about how the Smart ForTwo (that tiny car you see around) had earned top marks in safety tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Despite this, the Institute decided to disqualify the car from potentially earning its “Top Safety Pick” designation because it is just too dang small. “All things being equal in safety, bigger and heavier is always better,” says the president of the Institute. (“Things that Everybody Knows.”)

Experts are experts because they have data and the tools to analyze them. That’s why we listen to them. When did we become so resistant to science?

8 comments on "Let's not ask the experts?"

  • “Test results can be compared only among vehicles of similar weight. Like full-width crash test results, the results of offset tests cannot be used to compare vehicle performance across weight classes. This is because the kinetic energy involved in the frontal test depends on the speed and weight of the test vehicle, and the crash is more severe for heavier vehicles. Given equivalent frontal ratings for heavier and lighter vehicles, the heavier vehicle typically will offer better protection in real-world crashes.”
    So, indeed, the rating of an ultra-light car might well be misleading when it will be on the road with heavier ones…

  • David Brodbeck says:

    While I don’t doubt the safety of the Smart ForTwo, there is something to what he’s saying. Part of the issue is the nature of barrier impact testing. The tests are carried out at a consistent speed. Small cars have an advantage in these kinds of tests because they have less energy to dissipate when they strike the barrier. But in the real world cars don’t drive into brick walls very often — they get hit by other cars, and when a large car impacts a small one more of the kinetic energy will be transferred to the small car.
    Generally speaking these effects mean you can only compare crash test ratings between cars in the same size class.

  • Adam says:

    Michael, David, good points, but you assume that the car will hit something. Small, light objects are easier to both maneuver and stop than big, heavy ones. So given two situations, say (a) an SUV and a Smart headed for a head-on collision, and (b) two SUVs headed for the same collision, and everything else being equal, the Smart may stop fast enough that no collision occurs, where the SUVs will slide into each other. Heavy is only useful when you have no alternative to hitting something. But heavy makes that impact more likely.
    My car manual clearly states “at high speed, your car maneuvers better than it stops.” It’s not an SUV

  • beri says:

    In tradtional Jewish homes, where wine has a sacramental role, alcoholism is very low, because wine is not seen as a (pardon the pun) forbidden fruit. It takes away the thrill of abusing alcohol when you can drink every Friday night and every holiday.

  • Nick says:

    the part of the brain responsible for judgment is not even fully formed until the age of 25.

    Ahhh, that explains my post-college choices…

  • Iang says:

    We don’t need science to explain this, just travel to another country, like (mainland) Europe. Or Bahamas in spring break. Or another time, like Prohibition, if travel-shy.

  • Oh, hey, I lost track of a smart car safety video from eons ago. Wish I could dig it up for you.
    I admired these cars flitting about while I was working from Paris in 2001 and a video showed one slamming head-first at 50+ mph into a concrete wall. The cage was intact and the passenger had no injuries.
    The whole irony (I’ll hold back from saying stupidity, since feelings are involved) of the idea that larger vehicles are dangerous to smaller cars so we need larger cars. Fact: “smaller safer” cars are safer (as the word implies) than “larger unsafe” ones. The factors for safety are measured and measurable. If you want smaller cars to survive head-on collisions with a full-speed semi, then make it so (ala Speed Racer bubbles), but let’s realize that even the largest passenger cars will not reliably survive such a collision today and that isn’t making anyone drive a semi to soccer practice.

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