Banning tools to affect behaviour: still doesn’t work

Suppose you’re a despicable busybody Caring Person who just gets all hand-wringingly knotted up about the Obesity Epidemic*.  You do a study, mostly consisting of sitting alone in your room pondering just how people might get themselves pudgy, and come up with the idea that people are eating too goddamn much.  “Eating too much is dangerous!”, you proclaim.  “We must pass a law to stop people from eating too much!”

So you pass a law making eating-too-much a ticketable misdemeanour, and nothing statistically significant happens.  Still wringing your hands, you go back to your room — er, you commission another study — and ruminate upon the question of why people are still eating too much despite your well-meant law.

Finally, you come up with the solution: forks.  Forks make it easy to eat too much.  They’re enablers.  Why, picking up a fork is practically identical to eating too much!  And while there just aren’t enough cops around to catch everyone who eats too much (they’re probably off investigating crimes you don’t care about, like rapes and murders), it’s far easier to catch someone with a fork on their table, even before they’ve (inevitably) used it to eat too much.

So you pass another law banning the use of forks at tables, and nothing statistically significant happens.  You commission another study — you shut-in, you — and come up with the idea of banning spoons as well!

Does that sound silly?  Let me change the words:

  1. “Eating too much” becomes “distracted driving”
  2. “Forks at tables” becomes “cellphones in cars”
  3. “Spoons” becomes “texting”

Do note that I didn’t change “nothing statistically significant happens”.

Just one excerpt out of many enlightening points:

Jalopnik: So how can it be that cellphone use is dangerous and not have an effect on crashes?

Lund: Maybe people who talk on cellphones are less likely to read the newspaper as they drive to work, maybe they’re less likely to tune their iPods or shave on the way to work. Insurance companies have in their files (all sorts of) excuses people give about why they crashed – it’s bugs and bees and dogs and cats and shaving. What we don’t understand is how they integrate this new distraction of being on the cellphone and texting. If all it does is substitute for these other behaviors, it’s not surprising.

(Emphasis added.)

The problem isn’t cellphones, or texting, or bees in the car, or the ear-shattering shriek of your kid in the back seat.  The problem is self-satisfied incompetents who are willing to pry their focus from the act of driving.  If you take away their cellphones and their Crackberries, they’ll fill their new-found “free time” with something else, like reading the paper or eating breakfast.  You’d think this would be obvious, but apparently it isn’t.


* We know that there’s an obesity epidemic because, well, politicians and journalists talk about it all the time.

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anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW


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