So Study-ish is Kind of Bookish? Or: Straight Dope Columns and Conversations That I Google

So this isn't exactly book related, but this is one of those "I want to save the links and read up more on this later" posts, so skip entirely if the subject is dullish!


In the past I have a chunk of posts that have loads of links thanks to Googling stuff in books - in case you wonder why you don't see those as often it's because work has drained my energy/free time. I have an annoying amount of saved links in a file for whenever I get back to posting, so it's not like I've stopped finding things. (I'm home sick atm with stomach fun, so that explains this current posting.)


Anyway! Short version: subject here is roughly about safety measures and whether having them causes humans to assume they're safer and it's less possible to get hurt than is actually the case. Especially in football with helmets and armor ("padding" in my world = armor), and in vehicles, seatbelts and other safety measures. Those two things aren't equivalent really, except in the way it may cause people to believe they have less of a chance of being injured than is actually the case. People do seem to be really certain of how safe they are inside their cars in certain situations - like how to drive in bad weather, for instance (in the US not everyone knows to drive slowly).  


This started with a random conversation with friends about injuries and football, and how hard helmets caused tackling methods to change and thus injury to change. My grandfather was a football coach and as a player years before that he wore the old leather helmets. In our conversation I did wonder what he’d have to say about all this - always sad to think about conversations you can’t have. (Though not too sad because this time it isn’t one of those “if only I’d spent more time with X” - this is a conversation that’s all about current events in sports.)


The idea of greater safety leading to greater risk reminded me of a study I’d heard cited from back in the 70s about seat belts. Seat belts are mandatory in the US now but it may surprise people to know that, despite the logic of it being a safety thing, back in the day people did NOT like being told what to do. ...Or depending on how much you know Americans, this may not be a surprise. (Same thing with laws making motorcycle helmets mandatory - and there are still people out there who refuse to wear them. Having seen a motorcycle accident where the cyclist didn’t wear a helmet, I have um, feelings about this.)


As always when I google odd things, it’s fun when I bump into answers in the Straight Dope columns (answers to random odd questions), which I’d recommend for interesting reading. No matter your feelings on the results, each column has a bibliography at the end with links, so you can move onward if you want more research. In any case, it’s a fun and interesting read, and a good starting point. (Not unlike a lot of wikipedia pages.)


And here are two relevant column excerpts, so if you're interested in longer quotes, here we go...



Why Should Tax Payers Pick Up The Tab When Some Daredevil Gets In Trouble?

Straight Dope, November 7, 2014

"...Theoretically, greater safety measures may in fact cause people to take more risks — a phenomenon known as the Peltzman effect, after the researcher who showed that wearing seat belts correlated with riskier driving. But the effect on mountaineering soon leveled off. Since the 1980s, the fatality rate per climber attempt at McKinley has fallen more than 90 percent."


And that's the study I was vaguely remembering - Peltzman. Here's the wikipedia take:


Risk Compensation: Peltzman Effect

"...The reduction of predicted benefit from regulations that intend to increase safety is sometimes referred to as the Peltzman effect in recognition of Sam Peltzman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who published "The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation" in the Journal of Political Economy in 1975 in which he controversially suggested that "offsets (due to risk compensation) are virtually complete, so that regulation has not decreased highway deaths".Peltzman claimed to originate this theory in the 1970s but it was used to oppose the requirement of safety equipment on trains in the Nineteenth Century (Adams, 1879). A reanalysis of his original data found numerous errors and his model failed to predict fatality rates before regulation (Robertson, 1977). According to Peltzman, regulation was at best useless, at worst counterproductive. Peltzman found that the level of risk compensation in response to highway safety regulations was complete in original study. But "Peltzman’s theory does not predict the magnitude of risk compensatory behaviour." Substantial further empirical work has found that the effect exists in many contexts but generally offsets less than half of the direct effect. In the U.S., motor vehicle fatalities per population declined by more than half from the beginning of regulation in the 1960s through 2012. Vehicle safety standards accounted for most of the reduction augmented by seat belt use laws, changes in the minimum drinking age, and reductions in teen driving (Robertson, 2015).


The Peltzman effect can also result in a redistributing effect where the consequences of risky behaviour are increasingly felt by innocent parties (see moral hazard). By way of example, if a risk-tolerant driver responds to driver-safety interventions, such as compulsory seat belts, crumple zones, ABS etc. by driving faster with less attention, then this can result in increases in injuries and deaths to pedestrians."


Which led me to this - note that it's dated 2013, and more studies have been done, more doctors, etc., have spoken since then...


Do Pads and Helmets Increase Rather Than Prevent Football Injuries

Straight Dope, February 22, 2013

"...The concept here is called risk homeostasis or risk compensation. It holds that everyone engaged in a dangerous activity has a personal risk-vs.-reward level they’ll stick to no matter what. In other words, if you force someone playing a contact sport to wear protective equipment, they’ll take bigger risks to bring the overall danger back to the level they’re comfortable with.


Does that sound self-destructive? If only. When risky behavior increases, others may bear the brunt. A watershed 1975 study of automobile safety measures theorized that motorists increased their driving “intensity” if they felt safer behind the wheel, leading to fewer driver and passenger deaths but more dead pedestrians.


Applying this theory to football, one might suppose that as players switched from simple leather helmets to today’s elaborate headgear, they’d hit harder, use their heads more, and generally play more recklessly. In fact that seems to have been what happened."


That I find all of this interesting means that I probably wasted a lot of time studying liberal arts when I might have gone into insurance. (Nah, I don't think so.)


I should also add here that I think we SHOULD DEFINITELY have all these safety measures. But that along with them you have to educate people on things like, you  know, you can still be injured even if you were helmets and armor, and even if you wear seatbelts in accidents. Humans tend to get into more trouble when they think they're indestructible.