Cell phones STILL not causing crashes

Of course, we all know that cell phones used when driving are causing crashes to skyrocket, right? It’s such an epidemic that many states have started to make cell phone use behind the wheel a traffic offense, so it must be a problem, right? I mean, our government wouldn’t go creating problems that don’t exist just to pass more legislation, would they?

Initially, all indications were that the use of cell phones while driving had no real effect on accidents, injuries, or fatalities. In fact, it was shown that other more mundane activities such as changing the radio station were more dangerous. Well, now, finally, at long last, we have a comprehensive study of cell phone use and crash data (PDF) that, once and for all, shows…that there still isn’t any increased danger.

We investigate the causal link between cellular usage and crash rates by exploiting a natural experiment induced by a popular feature of cell phone plans in recent years—the discontinuity in marginal pricing at 9 pm on weekdays when plans transition from “peak” to “off-peak” pricing. We first document a jump in call volume of about 20-30% at “peak” to “off-peak” switching times for two large samples of callers from 2000-2001 and 2005. Using a double difference estimator which uses the era prior to price switching as a control (as well as weekends as a second control), we find no evidence for a rise in crashes after 9 pm on weekdays from 2002-2005. The 95% CI of the estimates rules out any increase in all crashes larger than .9% and any increase larger than 2.4% for fatal crashes…We confirm our results with three additional empirical approaches—we compare trends in cell phone ownership and crashes across areas of contiguous economic activity over time, investigate whether differences in urban versus rural crash rates mirror identified gaps in urban-rural cellular ownership, and finally estimate the impact of legislation banning driver cell phone use on crash rates. None of the additional analyses produces evidence for a positive link between cellular use and vehicle crashes.

In fact, they found that the crash rates fell over this period, by quite a lot. They also found that legislative bans on cell phone use reduced neither crashes nor fatalities.

But don’t go just casually blabbing because of this:

It should be noted, however, that our result is not inconsistent with the claim that cell phones are a source of attentional distraction. One possible explanation is that drivers compensate for the dangers of cell phone use by driving more carefully.

This a corollary to the Peltzman Effect, which deals with the effects of safety measures such as road signs and speed limits that I’ve blogged about in the past. Also, they found that, in general, people who talk on cell phones while driving are substituting the cell phone use for other distractions, and might even improve one’s driving by alleviating boredom.

As usual, don’t just go blindly accepting what politicians and pundits tell you. They’re more interested in taking your money and your liberty than they are in your safety.

Iraq and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

USA Today has an article on the Iraq War, relating to the Sunk Cost Fallacy. This fallacy, often described as “throwing good money after bad,” is usually described as when an investor keeps investing in an unprofitable venture, merely because he has put so much money into it already. He figures if he doesn’t keep investing then all the money he has put in was wasted, but by staying in all he does is waste more money. The phrase “sunk cost” refers to the fact that the money is gone, and there’s no way to retrieve it, and therefore the decision to invest further should be made on the basis of future costs alone.

The article does a good job of explaining the trap this fallacy leads to, as it is with the Iraq war:

Here’s the problem: As our involvement continues, X gets bigger and
bigger, making withdrawal increasingly costly, pressing on easier to
justify, and the decision itself less sensitive to the potential and
rewards of victory. Incorporating sunk costs into our war
decision-making does wrong to those called upon to make future
sacrifices as we strive to make lost lives count.

Why do our leaders consider X in their decision-making over the war?

Probably because we feel a strong emotional response toward X,
unlike, say, the merely financial sunk costs incurred by firms. It is
hard to bear the idea that the sacrifice of these American lives would
be devoid of existential meaning. Moreover, the more we have invested
in the war, the worse we look by withdrawing.

In the rhetoric of the difficult decisions over whether to extend
our involvement in the war, including X as a cost of withdrawing
inappropriately inflates the cost of a withdrawal. Just as it is harder
to quit Silver Falls after wasting $10 worth of quarters, it is harder
to quit a war after incurring 3,600 dead and tens of thousands wounded, and spending the better part of a trillion dollars in a failed effort.

Although it may seem callous, we need to forget about X in our
decision-making about the war. The correct way to think about whether
or not to proceed is to weigh the costs and benefits from pressing on
from this point forward. What value do we place on victory? What are
the chances that we will prevail if we do press on? And what will be
the costs of pressing on in terms of lives and resources? Our country
may be divided on this issue, but we owe it to those who may yet be
called to make the ultimate sacrifice to properly count our costs.

Wise words, but good luck getting Bush & Co., or even most of the current crop of Presidential candidates (Ron Paul excepted), to understand it.

I HAVE to recommend this movie

I just saw a movie that, in my opinion, every single American should see.

But before I tell you the title of the movie, I want you to remember who you’re dealing with here. I’m a skeptic. I produce Bogosity. I wrote the SkepticWiki entry on the 9/11 conspiracies.
I have no time for conspiracy theories, and nothing but disgust for
those who would crap all over the 3,000 lives lost just for the sake of
spreading them.

Let me be clear: I would never, never, never, ever
recommend viewing any movie that supported or even suggested any
9/11-was-an-inside-job crap.

With that out of the way, here’s the name of the movie:

9/11: Press For Truth

Don’t
look at me that way. I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the
same thing when I first saw the title. But please remember who you’re
dealing with here. This is not a movie that claims in any way that 9/11
was an inside job or supports any related conspiracy theory.

What
it does do is show, quite brilliantly, using direct sources from the
news, how our government’s incompetence failed to protect us, when
(although they insist otherwise) they had all of the information needed
to stop it. When we needed Torchwood, we got the Keystone Cops.

Worse
than that, those in the government who should have been held
responsible avoided accountability every chance they got and resisted
the 9/11 Commission’s investigation. Even Bush and Cheney refused to
testify under oath, insisting that they testify together so that they
could support each other (and maybe make sure their story was
straight?).

It focuses on the “Jersey Girls,” wives of men whose
lives were lost in the attacks. These brave women, along with others,
fought Washington–and won!–to investigate not only the attacks, but
what policies of our government led up to the attacks and their failure
to do their jobs, only to have the 9/11 commission fail to answer most
of their questions.

I promise you, no conspiracy mongering.

Watch the video. Those who failed us must be held accountable.

Oh, give me a break!

So now there’s an article in The New York Times about Facebook.com being the new haven for “sexual predators” (there’s a weasel word if ever there was one!). From the article:

Facebook, the online social network, has stolen some of MySpace’s
momentum with users and the news media. Now, it is being subjected to
the same accusations that it does not do enough to keep sexual
predators off its site.

Richard Blumenthal,
Connecticut’s attorney general, said that investigators in his state
were looking into “three or more” cases of convicted sex offenders who
had registered on Facebook and had “also found inappropriate images and
content” on the service. The inquiry continues, he said, and state
officials have contacted Facebook and asked it to remove the profiles.

“There
is no question that Facebook is encountering some of the same problems
that MySpace has posed,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “They should be held
accountable, and we intend to do so.”

Folks, these dangerous criminals hang around churches, schools, parks, lots of places. We don’t hold those places accountable for the actions of others; why is cyberspace any different? No, this is just more excuse-mongering to fan the flames of fear in order to regulate the internet. Facebook does everything possible to make sure adults just can’t automatically talk to youngsters. But what is the source of this fear? Read it for yourself (emphases mine):

But in some cases, Facebook’s younger users are vulnerable to sexual
solicitations from older users, as was demonstrated last week to The New York Times
by an anonymous person who described himself or herself in an e-mail
message as “a concerned parent.” The evidence of this person’s
activities on Facebook may give state investigators further cause for
concern.

In early July, this person opened a fake account on the
site, posing as a 15-year-old girl
named Jerri Gelson from North
Carolina. The photograph on the fake profile page is of an under-age
girl whose hair conceals her face. On the profile page, Ms. Gelson —
whom the “concerned parent” said was not a real person — is described
as looking for “random play” and “whatever I can get.”

This
person then signed up for three dozen sexually themed groups–forums
of users organized around a particular topic.

Yes, that’s right. This person didn’t make the fake account and then passively start getting sexual advances–he went looking for it! It’s the same thing that TheRegister.com and others have found whenever they’ve tried the same thing. They get nothing, until they go to sexually-explicit groups or chat rooms. And then they get sexual advances! Gee, who’da thought?

No one’s blaming the victims here, but geez, is it really that hard for parents to monitor their childrens’ internet activities and teach them to avoid the dangerous places, just like they have to do in the real world?

Nooooo, that would mean they would actually have to be responsible. Far better to let the government run a scare of everyone, be lazy enough to want the government to do their jobs for them, and have them coming in on a white horse to save us from these evil internet predators. Bye-bye, the one and only bastion of free speech left to us by the power-hungry fear mongers. Hey, after all, it’s for the good of the children.

Well, everything but their (and everyone else’s) liberty, that is.

Prayer: the double-edged sword

It’s no secret that I’m for the separation of church and state, but to be honest it’s never really bothered me that Congress prays before each session. I’m so much more worried about the bills they pass during the session that they could begin by sacrificing a chicken for all I care.

But see, here’s the thing: if you’re going to allow prayer in a government setting, you have to allow all kinds of prayer, from all faiths and religions. But when a Hindu delivered a prayer before Congress in his own faith. Christians protested.

You can see the CNN video here. One of them yelled that it was an "abomination." If you ask me, it’s their behavior that’s an abomination. Jesus had a word for these kinds of people: hypocrites.

So I would hope that most Christians will chastise these people for their despicable behavior. And then, just maybe, consider that people might have a point when they talk about separating church and state.

Just one more thought: how much do you want to bet that these three people will call their arrest "persecution against Christians"?

Congratulations: You’re Free! (For Now)

Every year, Americans for Tax Reform calculates the Cost of Government Day. The idea is that taxes take a certain percentage of your income; apply that percentage to the year, and if you consider the first part of your pay in the year as going solely to taxes, then the Cost of Government Day (some call it “Tax Freedom Day”) is the day where you’ve worked off all your taxes and the rest of the year the money goes to you.

This year, that day is July 11. So congratulations–you’re free of taxes! Until Jan. 1 of next year, that is.

That means that, 192 days out of the year, you’re working to make money for the government, not for you and your family. That’s two days more than 2006, and 11 days more than 2000–you know, the year that “fiscally conservative” “small-government” Republicans took control of all three branches of government.

Basically, what all this amounts to is that government takes about 52% of your income in taxes. Think about it: without all of these repressive taxes, one parent could stay home with the children (I’ve talked to couples who basically say that one couple works to pay the taxes while the other works to bring money home). People would have more money for their retirement funds, and not have to be dependent on Social Security. Charities would see their donations doubled. And all of that money in the economy would buy a job for everyone who can work and charity for everyone who can’t. We only need government to give us crutches because they’re the ones who broke our legs in the first place.

Other figures: People now work 45.7 days to pay for state and local government, and 61.8 days to pay for the cost of government regulations.

And people wonder why I’m a Libertarian.

I’m getting sick of all these “Impeach Bush/Cheney” pleas from Democrats

Lately I’ve been inundated with emails, MySpace bulletins, etc., from Democrats calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, because of their wholesale infringement of even our most basic liberties.

Here’s what gets me: where were these people back when all this was started? What were they doing?

They were going along with it. The Democrats voted for the USA PATRIOT ACT without even reading it;
now they’re all horrified about it. The Democrats voted for the
authorization for the Iraq war when there was plenty of evidence it was
all a fraud; now they’re all horrified that they were “lied to.” The
Democrats voted for the military tribunals, and now they’re all
horrified about the treatment of prisoners. The Democrats voted for the
Military Commissions Act and the suspension of habeas corpus, and now
they’re all horrified at the loss of our rights.

They voted for it. They supported it. Now, years later, they’re against it and calling for impeachment.

Why now? Why
did they wait all this time to turn against it all and call for the
impeachment of Bush and Cheney? Why didn’t they do it back then, when it actually could have done some good?

Because now, the impeachment of Bush and Cheney and their removal from office would mean that a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, would
become President. That’s the only reason. They don’t care about your rights; they only care about power.

Stop being conned. Support Ron Paul and your local Libertarian candidates. That’s the only way out of this mess.

Happy Indepence Day!

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Why do people just call it the Fourth of July? Do we say at Christmas, "Have a great December 25th"? Why don’t we say the actual name of what is perhaps our country’s most important holiday?

Well, whatever the reason, by way of celebration I’d like to share this video of a very patriotic routine by Penn & Teller:

You need to watch this.

You need to watch this.

If you support Bush, you need to watch this. If you hate Bush, you need to watch this.

If you support any Presidential candidate other than Ron Paul, you need to watch this. If you support Ron Paul, you need to watch this.

If you’re a Republican, you need to watch this. If you’re a Democrat, you need to watch this. If you’re a Libertarian, you need to watch this. If you’re a Green, you need to watch this. If you’re an Independent, you need to watch this.

If you’re an American with a heart beating in your chest, you need to watch this.

You just need to watch this.