Site Headlines

Please scroll down for posts on main page...

WARNING: THIS SITE FEATURES ORIGINAL THINKING...Jim Croce once sang Don't tug on Superman's cape..., which seems like reasonable advice should we not wish to anger the supreme powers. We do have this duality in our culture: the Superman that is the state collective, the leftist call to a politics of meaning managed by the state, the deification of "we're from the government and we'll take care of you" - versus the Superman that celebrates individual freedom, private property, freedom of conscience, free enterprise, and limited government. We humbly take on the latter's mantle and, eschewing the feeble tug, we dare to PULL, in hope of seeing freedom's rescue from the encroaching nanny state. We invite you, dear reader, to come and pull as well... Additionally, if you assume that means that we are unflinching, unquestioning GOP zombies, that would be incorrect. We reject statism in any form and call on individuals in our country to return to the original, classical liberalism of our founders. (We're also passionate about art, photography, cooking, technology, Judeo/Christian values, and satire as unique, individual pursuits of happiness to celebrate.)

Most popular posts Recommended reading
Meet another hero - but he's not allowed to vote WA Governor's Race Saga
The Heroes of India Company United Nations - Oil For Food - Oil For Fraud
WA Governor's Race: EXTRA EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT! Wisconsin Vote Fraud
One day in Fallujah Bioethics
Diktat summons Simplicio 'Science'? What's that?
Harsh Conditions Japan


WWW Pull On Superman's Cape
Superman's product of the century (so far):

January 20, 2004
Anyone watching?
Filed in: Articles

Another example of New York journalism gone awry!

The January 12th issue of the New Yorker published an anti-SUV article (Requires Adobe Acrobat reader):

Download gladwell_suv_040112.pdf

I'm not particularly pro or anti-SUV - I certainly think that if I were to argue against them, there are much better arguments than those made by Mr. Gladwell.

Given that there were glaring errors in the article, I did my civic duty and wrote a flaming letter to the editor and subsequently wrote the author as well. They never responded or even corrected their unbelievably simple math mistakes made in public.

Here's my letter to the editor:

The blaring “Road Killers – Malcolm Gladwell on the S.U.V. culture” in the January 12th issue is certainly attention getting – it’s too bad that the New Yorker apparently performed no modicum of review on this article else you, dear editor, would fain have published such drek.

Mr. Gladwell, despite your insistence, there is nothing here. You’d have us understand that the only reasons people buy SUVs is so they can be “high above the ground … look down on other drivers … see if someone was lurking behind or beneath [the vehicle] … [and] drive it up on someone’s lawn with impunity” – all in some self-induced haze of misbegotten safety. What happened? Did someone in an SUV run over your poodle? If these are really the reasons, why isn’t everyone driving 18-wheelers? They certainly make an even better match for your humors. Of course, no one who has an SUV acquired it because it can drive places that other vehicles cannot, or that it can carry a few more passengers than a Boxster, or that it fits with their recreational desires, or that they have a towing application, or that they must regularly confront hazardous weather conditions. No, no, these people of the “SUV culture” move along in some hulking drool, murmuring “high above, look down, see lurking, drive up …. ” in some Feldman-esque fashion – it must be where they got the idea for that Buick commercial.

In your prolonged search for small differences that mean big things, you must have decided that SUVs are bad. After all, you present a tablature – pseudo-science proof - which shows that people die within all kinds of vehicles. Also people think that SUVs are safe and because they think that they must be unsafe –they aren’t as maneuverable as a Boxster so they must not be safe. Please!

The fact is that your table demonstrates no causality of any kind in relation to what kind of vehicle is involved in fatality accidents. The only thing that it does show is that the difference between the vehicles, statistically, is so small that it hardly makes any difference. If we took the ‘best’ versus the ‘worst’ in the table there is a difference between them of almost two parts in ten-thousand – which in this context is nearly indistinguishable.

To be a little less callous about the loss of human life let’s compare the statistical difference in the ‘safety statistics’ (though a subcompact is apparently the next worse offender as the bad old pickup), with… let’s see, I know: the game of golf. Let’s take the statistics for the PGA tour – as good a statistical examination as any. For 2003 the best golfer in scoring stats was – surprise – Tiger Woods. The 33rd best golfer (or let’s say ‘worst’ so we are matching up with the 33 vehicles in the proffered table) was K. J. Choi. For the entire year, it took Tiger, on average, a little less than two strokes per round to get around the course than it did Mr. Choi (68.41 to 70.35). Pretty close, huh? Their performance in scoring is separated by about 2.8%. Of course Tiger took home 334% more dollars than did Mr. Choi in tournament winnings and probably an inconceivable amount more in sponsorship dollars. Little differences can mean a lot – very true. It wouldn’t be statistically commensurate of course to pit these gentleman’s totals of about 12,000 strokes for the year against the almost 3 trillion miles that Americans drove last year – nor does a comparison of the 33 best golfers in the world match with every grandmother, 16 year old, and taxi driver that drives a vehicle, but just for the benefit of the doubt let’s compare the statistical differences. Tiger and K. J. Choi -pretty close right? The difference between them in their scoring skill is 155 times larger than the largest difference in Mr. Gladwell’s table. That’s two orders of magnitude. If Tiger and Mr. Choi were separated in their scoring skill by the amount that the vehicles are in the table their score would be indistinguishable from each other. To argue that the statistical difference between the vehicles in the table is meaningful is simply vacuous.

Mr. Gladwell not only argues it, he opines about the “extraordinary performance of some subcompacts” evidenced by his table. Let’s see, that would be roughly equivalent to a golf scoring average of 68.41 compared to one of 68.4107. What an extraordinary difference!

Unwittingly, Mr. Gladwell delivers a round riposte to his own argument (even with employing poor math in his favor) in his diatribe against the attention that everyone gave Bridgestone Firestone. At the end of his treatise, he states: “That sounds like a lot [the number of fatalities associated with Firestone tire failure], until you remember that the total number of tires supplied by Firestone to the Explorer … was fourteen million, and that the average life span of a tire is forty-five thousand miles. The allegation … amounts to the claim that its tires failed with fatal results two hundred and seventy one times in the course of six hundred and thirty billion vehicle miles”. Hello! Mr. Gladwell, that’s not vehicle miles – that’s TIRE miles you are referring to. That’s not “six hundred and thirty billion vehicle miles” it’s “one hundred and fifty seven billion, five hundred million vehicle miles.”

So what? According to the NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2002 ( report we had 42,815 traffic deaths in 2002 with a total of 2,829,645,000,000 (almost 3 trillion) vehicle miles driven. That means at current levels (which are reduced from the averages of times past) we’d expect to see 2363 fatalities in 157,500,000,000 miles (or 9450 in 630,000,000,000 miles). Mr. Gladwell takes everyone to task for having a focus on identifying 271 deaths out of an expected 2363 as being directly attributable to manufacturing defect. Let’s see – statistically that’s about 11.5% of expected deaths for the mileage involved. That’s just shame, shame on all of our institutions for paying so much attention. After all, that’s only 646 times the statistical variation in Mr. Gladwell’s table! Even if we were to accept his comedy of horrors (14 million vehicles, each riding along on one tire for 45,000 miles!) the statistical difference between what he argues as unwarranted attention and the variation in his table exceeds even the golf example above.

Mr. Gladwell, you really must offer Gilda Radner’s famous refrain. An honorable man would offer a public retraction – or at least a promise not to practice pseudo-science or math in public places for five to ten years.

An examination of the NHTSA report does provide a number of insights relative to Mr. Gladwell’s arguments. Out of fatality accidents in 2002, over 13% involved non-motorists. Apparently something needs to be done about the maneuverability of pedestrians – they don’t seem to be able to avoid all those motor vehicles very well. The statistics also belie Mr. Gladwell’s arguments about vehicle maneuverability – in the report, fully 70% of fatality accidents are classified as ‘moving in a straight line’ – and this in a list that includes turning left, and right, veering one way or another, attempting to avoid other vehicles or obstacles, etc. Apparently, SUVs (classified within the Light Trucks category), in terms of fatality data, are a little safer to drive than passenger cars (of course 18-wheelers are much, much safer – at least 2/3 safer. That couldn’t have anything to do with driving skill could it? Watch for grass roots legislation sponsored by Mr. Gladwell against citizens buying truck cabs for personal use.)

Additionally, the state in which you live had much more statistical impact (for all states between 2001 and 2002 - except Texas) on traffic fatalities than what kind of vehicle you drive – and far more variation than Mr. Gladwell’s table... error standards for the collection and reporting of data for this report far exceeds (by at least two orders of magnitude) the variation that Mr. Gladwell wants us to believe is so important in his table… In 2002, almost 3,000,000 people were injured in some kind of motor vehicle event. That’s about 70 times the number of fatalities. Perhaps that’s worth some study as well.

Of course there are really glaring statistics in the NHTSA report. After a brief reading, one could easily produce a headline like: “Road Killers: 41% of fatal vehicle crashes in 2002 were caused by drunk drivers. Of those deaths, drunks driving between 9pm and 6am, primarily male, caused more than 2/3 of them.” Now, there’s a Tipping Point for you Mr. Gladwell. Perhaps it wouldn’t rank a frontispiece in the New Yorker – but at least it would be true.

UPDATE: What is it, a year and counting? No correction or retraction from the New Yorker or Gladwell so far. Michelle Malkin decries an anti-SUV bias headline today, January 31, 2005.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference: Anyone watching?:

People Pulling

I thoroughly agree with your article. I too am not particularly for or against SUV's but people who do have an axe to grind should get their facts straight. I also had a story on my URL which referred to the government statistics pdf file you mentioned. I had to take it down because I was getting too many hits per month, but one thing I noticed in there was the death rate PER ACCIDENT (page 30 of 220). Since pickup trucks, vans and SUV's have been expanding in use by leaps and bounds just in the past 5 or 6 years, one might expect that the rate of deaths per accident might spike up during this time if they in fact are so dangerous. Yet the rate of death from 1988 through 2002 has been rock steady that entire time at 0.6%. For every single year from 1988 through 2002 inclusively the rate has been 0.6% not varying even one tenth of a percent! Thanks for speaking up.


Posted by: Bob at Feb 21, 2005 8:39:10 AM

My Photo
Patriot 'Dillo!

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member

Ron L - Wisconsin election watchdog and hilariously fun grandpa.

James Pell - Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class - American hero with stories to tell about Iraq, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

Emcee - "Don't encourage him!" Jeff Goldstein

November 2010
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

Recent Posts


Site Info
Powered by TypePad

Blog design by:

Header art by: Coby Cyr

Ann Coulter
The most brilliant journalist of our age - does heavy lifting

Black Five
Want to know what is really going on in our armed services? Matt does tell. He's a man of honor and gives tribute to men and women who serve all of us around the world.

Blogs For Terri
Terri Schindler Schiavo - We will NEVER forget!

Master photographer Jan shows off spectacular photos around the Pacific Northwest.

Commissioner Hugh Hewitt
The man! Inspirer of blogs, flogger of the currently most important.

Common Sense and Wonder
Great group blog - full of common sense penned by very talented people. I wonder...

Cream of the Crock
Diana once killed me in a place of wisdom. We've made up. One of my favorite experts.

Day by Day
Chris Muir provides the best first place for you to spew your coffee every morning

Digital Brown Pajamas
Sleepy Stormtroopers of the Religious Right. Plus Jeff is just a great guy. And Steve! Don't forget Steve! Oh no, where'd you guys go?

Evangelical Outpost
What can I say? I like Joe.

File it under...
These guys are animals. I mean it, they are animals.

Hamilton's Pamphlets
The Federalist Papers are still alive - and so is Alexander ...

Huffington's Toast
Hilarious answer to Arianna Huffington's psuedo-blog

In DC Journal
Bill is positively InDC, occasionally InDCent, always Bill

Jihad Watch
Lead by Robert Spencer - dedicated to bringing public attention to the role that jihad theology and ideology plays in the modern world.

Laura Ingraham
Find her on the radio and listen - does heavy lifting

Matt Rosenberg
Culture and current affairs from Seattle journalist and musician - and contributor to Sound Politics and Redstate - all in one very productive guy.

Michelle Malkin
Conservative goddess - does heavy lifting

MY Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
Beth has a terrific blog AND she's my favorite Bama fan. (Which for an AU guy is like we've overcome class warfare, you know?)

Nerf Coated World
Friend Matt's wisdom tech and politech

Ninme, tenme, elevenme, just don't two-time me

Pillage Idiot
Replacing the creator of worlds - do you miss Allah? Go see Attila.

Pixie Lair
I'm a Pixie. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. (It's Shell - Look what God made!) - Found her again!

The triumvirate. I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!

Protein Wisdom
Jeff's menagerie of extreme thoughts, well said.

Scribal Terror
Gail can write! And make you do your English homework!

Sissy Willis
'Wiley' Willis cats and thoughts.

Sondra K
Like Special K - only better

Sound Politics
Shark and friends dig out the unsound

Tapscott's Copy Desk
Mark Tapscott, Director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy. Solid good read all the time. Moved to Examiner now...

The incomparable Ace of Spades HQ
The truth in spades!

The Jawa Report
Dr. Rusty and pals. Find original fisking and research here.

The Mighty Beldar
Crusty trial lawyer, bemused observer of politics & internet dilettante from Houston, Texas

the pragmatic chef™
Scott is a connoisseur of food and life! He really knows what seared means...

The Radio Equalizer -Brian Maloney
Could Brian be the next conservative heavy lifter? My money's on him.

The Truth Laid Bear
TTLB Ecosystem host and esteemed pundit.

Timothy Goddard
Brilliant analysis - plus Red State WA!

Great conservative commentary and about some kind of Weblog awards or something like that

Fellow traveler McGehee's musings