Thursday, June 24, 2010

Holy War

Consider your classic holy wars: Mac vs. PC, Campy vs. Shimano, or even the original model, Christians vs. Heathens; they all pale in comparison, of course, to the most contentious of all: bicycle helmets vs. helmetless, a controversy that rages unchecked all around the world every day especially on the internetz, where it inevitably proves the veracity of Godwin’s Law sooner rather than later.

I myself fall into the helmet-wearing camp; soon after I got back into bike-riding around 1990, when we were living in Minneapolis, I happened upon a couple of newspaper stories and a television news spot about head injuries; the way I saw it, the Universe was trying to tell me something, and since wearing a Styrofoam bowling ball on my head seemed like a reasonable trade-off against the possibility (slim as it might be) of cracking my skull and spending the rest of my days drooling into a bedpan, I opted for it, and took to almost always wearing a “brain bucket” while riding, even to this day.

It occurred to me, though, as I rode home from school yesterday in the bright sunlight, that if you were to examine the actuarial tables, I’ll bet you’d discover that, all things considered, it’s better for you to wear a hat than a helmet; after all, the likelihood of contracting skin cancer is probably way higher than that of a catastrophic head-injuring crash.

Here’s an example, I think, of what they call the “availability heuristic;” it’s the cognitive bias that leads us to fear shark attacks more than asthma, for instance, based on how much easier it is to call to mind the striking event than the commonplace one.

Now I’m not saying we should give up bike helmets in favor of hats, but maybe there’s a market to be tapped here: if you made a cap that had an unbreakable brim, you’d probably prevent most head injuries and melanoma simultaneously—without the holy war.


Blogger David Scott said...

The United States started World War III by invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Now our global reputation is ruined and it will be years before this Holy War will be over. Take a look at this:

5:06 PM  

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