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.

Jesus vs. Doctor Who

Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait says that this is the “Best. Web. Comic. Evah.” As a fan of both the Bad Astronomer and Doctor Who, you know I’m hardly going to disagree!

Part 1

Part 2

“I’ve seen him.

“He’s like fire, and ice, and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm, and the heart of the sun.

“He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the Universe.

“And he’s wonderful.”

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

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.

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.

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

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.