Man Without Qualities

Sunday, July 10, 2005

But At Least They Are Expensive And Inconvenient

From a New York Times item by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt:
[The] Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) ... compiles police reports on all fatal crashes in the U.S. since 1975. These data include every imaginable variable in a crash, including whether the occupants were restrained and how.

Even a quick look at the FARS data reveals a striking result: among children 2 and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts. There are many reasons, of course, that this raw data might be misleading. Perhaps kids in car seats are, on average, in worse wrecks. Or maybe their parents drive smaller cars, which might provide less protection.

But no matter what you control for in the FARS data, the results don't change. In recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seat belts in saving the lives of children older than 2. (In certain kinds of crashes -- rear-enders, for instance -- car seats actually perform worse.)
Professor Levitt is a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal who actually has interesting, popular, stimulating things to write in the New York Times - and doesn't have to resort to parrotting partisan talking points or slicing and dicing statistics. In fact, he has been writing more and more in the Times recently.

Could it be that the Times is discovering that it might be better to have a genuinely talented, interesting, non-paranoid, non-repetitive, open minded, fun, serious, John Bates Clark Medal-winning academic economist (one who the Clark committee is not embarrassed to have given that medal to in the first place) like Professor Levitt writing columns for the paper instead of Paul Krugman? Where could the Times have got such an idea like that? - assuming, of course, that they've caught on yet.

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