When Safety Measures Lead to Riskier Behavior by More People

Yves here. I am keen about this article on overconfidence in safety steps since it addresses two pet topics of mine: misplaced faith in surgical masks and hand sanitizers.

By Alex Horenstein, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Miami and Konrad Grabiszewski, Associate Professor of Economics, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College (MBSC) of Business & Entrepreneurship. Originally published at The Conversation

Coronavirus fears triggered a recent surge in sales of protective masks, as well as disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Now there’s a shortage and concern that even health care providers who must wear face masks won’t be able to get the gear they need.

Setting aside the fact that public health experts say healthy people get no benefit from wearing masks, there’s another major issue to consider: Wearing a face mask and constantly sanitizing hands could lead to worrisome changes in behavior as people recalibrate their sense of risk.

From driving a car to investing in the stock market, risk is a quintessential part of human experience. With coronavirus, being in public spaces – taking a subway or going to a doctor – becomes a risky activity due to the possibility of getting infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Safety measures make risky activities less risky: seat belts for car occupants, bailouts for financial institutions. Masks and disinfectants might feel like they do the same for anyone afraid of coronavirus.

But as behavioral economists, we are well aware that people and their behavior hamper the effectiveness of even the best safety measures.

It’s Safer: Let’s Take More Risk!

Forty-five years ago, economist Sam Peltzman studied the impact of the 1966 automobile safety regulations for cars sold in the U.S. His finding forever changed researchers’ understanding of how safety measures work: Regulations had no impact on the overall fatality rate.

Given that driving became safer, this result seems impossible. But Peltzman argued that drivers, feeling safer, started to behave more recklessly, paying less attention to road conditions or pressing pedal to the metal. While fewer drivers and passengers died, the number of accidents increased, as did fatalities among pedestrians.

Researchers have documented a similar behavioral mechanism at work in other areas. Skiers, hockey players and NASCAR racerstake more risks when safety measures are implemented. Government guarantees have the same impact on financial institutions. Introduction of naloxone, a medication used to prevent death in the case of opioid overdose, seemingly led to an increase in opioid abuse and opioid-related crime. Access to the morning-after pill resulted in more risky sexual behaviors and increased in birth rates.

In the case of coronavirus, a mask (a perceived safety measure) makes presence in a public area (risky activity) seem less risky. It’s likely people will ease off on other forms of prevention, such as carefully washing hands or avoiding contact with sick people. In the worst case, the risk of infection actually increases.

It’s Safer: Let’s Participate!

The story is incomplete, though, without realizing that there are people who sit out risky activities. Not everyone attempts to drive in a NASCAR race or invest in the stock market, because not everyone has the talent and capabilities.

For people with low capabilities, a risky activity might be so dangerous that they prefer not to participate. They trade bigger potential payoffs for greater safety. But once a safety measure is introduced, some of them change their minds.

We investigated this phenomenon using a large data set provided by iRacing, an online racing simulator that generates behavioral data, including measures of players’ driving capabilities. We found that less capable drivers tend to choose safer cars.

Researchers report similar results in the financial literature where capabilities are understood as an investor’s financial literacy. Low financial literacy is associated with lower probability of investing in risky assets.

But a safety measure acts as an encouragement to participate. When accompanied by a professional driver, a NASCAR race seems less dangerous. With a ban on complex financial instruments, investing becomes safer.

Crucially, as these weaker individuals join the fray, the average capabilities across the field decrease. Their entrance potentially makes a risky activity riskier for everyone involved.

Would he have stayed home if he didn’t have the mask? Lucrezia Carnelos/Unsplash, CC BY

In the case of coronavirus, you can think of some people – apparently older folks and those with underlying illness – as having lower capabilities at surviving the infection. A protective mask or frequent use of hand sanitizer might provide incentive for them to leave their homes and interact in public places.

We think that public health officials should be concerned about a resulting increase in infections and even deaths, thanks to overconfidence in protective measures.

A final warning message: When encountering someone wearing a mask, be cautious. Perceived safety offered by the mask might alter their behavior in a way that puts them and you more at risk of infection.

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73 comments

  1. The Rev Kev

    Maybe the difference here is that between predator and prey. What I mean is this. Suppose you were out in the wild and you were armed with a rifle. With that in your hand you would feel six foot tall and master of your domain. You almost feel invincible and may not worry about walking through long grass or going underneath overhanging branches. And there within lay the danger of depending on having one.

    But now imagine that you had nothing but a knife in the wild. Suddenly you would be far more aware of your surroundings. You would be alert to any noises and things that look of place in that landscape. It is the same here. That mask that you have may make you reckless and forget to worry about wearing gloves or touching your face. Without it, straight away you will distance yourself from other people and would pay attention to whether others look sick or not. With Coronavirus, you will be keenly aware that you are, in fact, the prey.

    Reply
  2. PlutoniumKun

    This type of risk displacement is very common, its been studied for decades (and generally ignored by authorities). One researcher got in trouble a while back when he said the best safety device in a car would be an 8 inch spike in the steering wheel pointed at the drivers chest (and no seatbelt).

    My favourite example of this is bike helmets. There is minimal real evidence of their utility – its not just altered behaviour from cyclists, there is also significant evidence that drivers go closer to cyclists with helmets.

    Reply
    1. California Bob

      I used to ride a lot 30 or so years ago, until I felt it got too dangerous where I lived (the Silicon Valley; I was hearing about car/bike fatalities about once a month). I always wore a helmet, even before they became ‘popular,’ and I took a couple spills where my helmet saved me from head injury (but not some nasty scrapes and bruises elsewhere). After one particularly nasty spill, my hard plastic helmet had a long, deep scratch on it, my scalp would have been ripped open if not for the helmet (and the judo I’d learned). Since I’ve moved to the Central Valley I’ve started riding again as there are bike trails on nearly my whole route, though occasionally the local yokels like to play chicken (because they’re morons).

      There is no ‘safe’ in this world anywhere–driving, flying, sex, sitting on your living room couch–there are only varying levels of risk. Some cars are more crashworthy than others, but none of them are ‘safe’ (looking at you, Subaru).

      Reply
        1. Left in Wisconsin

          +1. But unlike you, PK, I have given up trying to argue this point with people. The only time I engage is when I’m on my bike and someone pulls up next to me in their car to yell at me for not wearing a helmet, which in my extremely woke neighborhood happens not infrequently. Then I tell them the odds say they are the one who should be wearing the helmet, and please don’t hit me.

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    2. xkeyscored

      I came up with the 8″ spike idea independently of Tullock, much to the ire of drivers of my acquaintance. (Well, mine was 12″; maybe that explains their ire.) As a lifelong cyclist and pedestrian, I’ve noticed how these supposed ‘safety’ measures make cars/car drivers more dangerous, not less.

      Reply
    3. Carolinian

      Does this mean you don’t wear a helmet when you ride?

      I had a bike accident that involved a head injury and wish i had been wearing one. Thankfully there were no long term consequences except to my wallet.

      Here’s suggesting that if safety measures cause riskier behavior then that’s a problem with the humans, not the measures. For those of us who would prefer to be safer we welcome them. I miss riding without a helmet but learned my lesson. Especially on a bike on the highway you are subject to many dangers that you have no control over. Your behavior is not the issue.

      Reply
      1. Wukchumni

        When a Kennedy and Sonny Bono died on the slopes within a fortnight of one another, skiing/snowboarding went from no helmets to 99% all wearing one now.

        Reply
      2. PlutoniumKun

        I wear a helmet along with kneepads and elbowpads when I mountain bike. I wear a helmet when I intend to cycle fast on hills and twisty roads. I do not wear a helmet when I bike commute, unless it is in bad conditions at night, when I mount lights on my helmet as an additional aid to visibility.

        The evidence that helmets help normal riders in normal conditions is highly equivocable. Helmets have been actively promoted by the motoring industry specifically because they increase the perception of danger. In some circumstances, they may increase rider hazard, by encouraging drivers to drive closer (link in my comment above), by increasing brain trauma through rotational impact, or simply because a van side mirror clips your helmet when it would otherwise miss your head. They are also a strangulation hazard for children.

        There is at least as much evidence (arguably more) that helmets would save car drivers lives if they wore them. But why don’t they?

        Reply
        1. Jessica

          There is also evidence that every time a jurisdiction makes cycling helmets mandatory or runs a campaign that increases helmet use, cycling decreases.
          There is also the empirical finding bicycle safety and the number of cyclists are positively correlated. (Safety^3 = constant x Cyclist numbers^2)

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    4. Anon

      Here’s a 2017 study that indicates that a well-designed bike helmet does, in fact, improve head injury risks:
      https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/46/1/278/2617198.

      I do not always wear a helmet when riding. But I no longer ride my “road bike” on the road. I agree that drivers get too close to cyclists; that seems a function of cell phone use while driving (inattention). I recently confronted a driver who came within inches of me while riding my City Bike (upright position). Her car was a distinctive orange color. While walking my neighborhood I discovered she lives one block away from me.

      Risk is always elevated in a self-centered culture.

      Reply
      1. ewmayer

        I think PK and the skeptical responders to his post are talking past each other: Yes, wearing a well-designed helmet reduces chance/severity of head injury in a crash. The study PK linked shows that, at the same time, wearing a helmet increases the chance of getting hit by a car. On balance, you should probably still wear a helmet, because the overall risk is lower – just not as low as it would be in “all other things being equal” terms, because of the drivers-drive-closer-to-helmet-wearers moral-hazard aspect.

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    5. fajensen

      My favourite example of this is bike helmets. There is minimal real evidence of their utility

      FWIW – I know two trauma nurses. The majority of the organ donors they get in Copenhagen are young people falling off their bikes without a helmet and of course motorcyclists. Based on their experiences, I would really recommend a helmet unless one is in the mood for donating!

      Reply
      1. ook

        I wear a helmet with a motorcycle, not with a bicycle. I’ve had accidents with both. Based on my experience, I suspect head injuries with bicycles are mostly due to collisions with vehicles, not people falling off. I’d love to see statistics on this. If so, the real preventive measure would be to avoid cycling on roads that one shares with cars. Fortunately, that is entirely possible where I live.

        Reply
  3. Clive

    Yes, this exactly resonates with my observations as a volunteer in drug and alcohol treatment centres. A significant proportion of patients did not, while they were addicted, want to recover. Rather, they wanted to stay sick, safely.

    Being able to continue with their addictive careers — “safe” in the knowledge (as they perceived it) that, if things got too bad they could always go into rehab and dry out, albeit temporarily — reduced the potential for an addict to hit bottom and seriously address their addictive behaviours.

    Some, by no means all, but definitely some, of the recovery “industry” were quite happy to go along with this ping-pong approach to treatment. They got paid regardless of the success, or otherwise, of the addicts’ recoveries.

    Reply
  4. Wukchumni

    Setting aside the fact that public health experts say healthy people get no benefit from wearing masks, there’s another major issue to consider: Wearing a face mask and constantly sanitizing hands could lead to worrisome changes in behavior as people recalibrate their sense of risk.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    I look at differently in that I only saw my first mask wearer here yesterday @ Wal*Mart, and think of it more psychologically, what impact must it have on those without, and no chance of getting one, as they’ve been sold out for well over a month.

    And as far as taking more risks because you wear a helmet while skiing, I don’t see that really. Your abilities are what they are, and if you’re a decent skier, it’s not as if clamping one down on your noggin is going to make you want to double black diamond runs all of the sudden. Snowboarders are a different breed of cat though, I could see a helmet giving them confidence to do stupid stuff.

    Reply
    1. QuarterBack

      I have also heard from people I trust that masks (especially without following a full protocol) offer little protection to prevent a healthy person from contracting the virus, but I have also heard that the most significant benefit of masks is in reducing the potential of infected people from spreading the virus through coughing, talking, and normal breathing. This would seem to be more important in the case of CORVID-19 where people can be infectious and asymptomatic.

      I have been told too that frequent and vigorous washing of hands and high-contact surfaces with plain old soap can be arguably better than relying on sanitizers

      Reply
      1. MLTPB

        Perhaps the unintended consequence of people wearing masks to avoid catching is that when it is asymptomatic like this one, those who have it, but not knoeing, wearing to avoid catching in fact becomes wearing and not spreading.

        And without the intend to avoid catching by wearing a mask, they would have spread to others.

        Reply
      2. Brooklin Bridge

        I preface this, in case there is ANY doubt, with the total agreement that face masks in the US should be saved for medical staff.

        So health experts say that safety masks do not help healthy people and they also say they must be saved for medical staff. Hmmm.

        The CDC on their web page say that face masks do help contain the disease (not give it to others) by average people wearing them assuming they have covid-19 (and are presumably asymptomatic or presymptomatic or even just in doubt).

        I’ll grant that our broken CDC could be considered non health experts, but still, they are clearly saying that masks do have some benefit to the public at large. We still know very little about the virus. I have heard conflicting reports as more studies come in on the usefulness of face masks worn by the general public both for preventing others from getting the disease as well as to prevent the wearer from getting the disease. Face masks have been made mandatory for certain parts of China.

        The woes of falsely feeling secure is indeed a problem, but it’s one that actually includes the limitations and proper methods of hand washing; what it can do and what it can’t, and only the same exhaustive training being used to explain hand washing will (I should say would since it’s a moot point in the US anyway – we can’t have them due to lack of supply) make face masks a useful addition to the few tools we have.

        As I understand it, hand sanitizer is lower down the food chain in terms of usefulness. That is no excuse for it’s lack of availability in the US. Again, what’s needed is massive training efforts so that the public has a clear idea of what these things are, how to use them, just like for hand washing, and what they can and can’t do. And if suddenly, face masks are found to be a significant help, then the authorities should simply admit it, do a 180, make adjustments, and move on. But of course they can’t. They can’t increase avaiability because of just in time supply chain profits, and since authorities are not quite so craven as to brag about profits when the stakes are people’s lives, the message that they are useless must continue, except of course that we should save them for medical staff.

        Reply
        1. QuarterBack

          Back to the point of the effectiveness of preventing transmission over being a prophylactic, the urgency to prioritize masks for medical personnel is because despite their masks and other protective measures, medical workers face a very high potential for getting the virus anyway, and therefore pose a greater risk of passing the virus along to others. They also need to replace their masks more often.

          Reply
          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Thank you, QuarterBack. That is instructive and certainly makes sense. I’m all in on medical personnel having priority, and clearly there are excellent reasons (not giving ithe disease to others for ex.), but that does not excuse the U.S. inability to manufacture or stockpile an adequate amount of items that are clearly and ubiquitously useful in an extended health emergency such as a pandemic (the WHO finally fessed up).

            This is even more evident than the heavily guarded secret prior to 9/11 that planes can be flown into buildings.

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            1. Brooklin Bridge

              Adding, I’ve heard that we don’t even have enough face masks for medical personnel – clearly a very significant fault with Mr. Market and it’s MBA just in time, profit worshiping Temple lickers.

              Reply
          2. Harvey

            When the message is muddied people stop listening.
            So “face masks are useless so don’t wear them” vs “health staff need the face masks”.

            And the latest here:
            “Please all go to the football match tonight, I am going too” – Govt minister said today
            vs
            “Do not go to the football match tonight, stay home” – President of state Medical Association said today.

            Here in Oz the government has decided re the virus to Let ‘Er Rip, everyone for themselves.

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      3. rosemerry

        I have found the same. Masks are for those with the virus, so there need to be enough for all medical personnel, which is not now true in many places.
        Soap and water handwashing is very effective and the bottled alcohol rubs are more a fad.
        I wonder too at the stocking up in bottled water in “developed” countries- do people think the potable water in their taps is suddenly undrinkable?

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      1. Wukchumni

        I was in the rental condo jacuzzi in Mammoth with a 65 year old fellow skier, and between us we have 97 years of experience and no injuries of note in that nearly century of going downhill.

        In comes 5 guys in their late 30’s-early 40’s that work for Raytheon in LA and all snowboarders, and talk revolves around to injuries, and each of them go through a check list of maladies, I couldn’t believe how many injuries they had suffered, but then again snowboarders are way reckless in attempting to do stupid stuff, in a way 99% of recreation skiers aren’t.

        Reply
        1. Irrational

          From personal experience I would say that the perceived safety wearing a helmet and the advent of carving skis have caused most skiers to ski way beyond their ability. I have been mowed down a couple of times by such idiots.
          I am also convinced the helmet impairs their ability to hear (people with helmets speak more loudly than others on lifts). This deprives them of valuable sensory input on the slopes.
          And don’t get me started on adding crunch zones on cars, so pedestrians and bikers don’t die when hit. These jokers should just be driving far less aggressively in the first place!

          Reply
          1. xkeyscored

            Crunch zones on cars are another idea that my car driving friends have repeatedly ridiculed. Airbags for them; bare metal for us.

            Reply
    2. a different chris

      > I could see a helmet giving them confidence to do stupid stuff.

      When you score 100% crazy, which all the better snowboarders do, adding a helmet doesn’t change anything. It does generally* spare the emergency crew a lot of extra work which is an unvarnished good.

      *yeah I’ve heard all the “neck injuries” crap, mostly from motorcyclists. Not buying it.

      Reply
    3. skk

      hence the joke that’s going round:

      We were in the bank when two people wearing masks walked in. Everybody panicked. Fortunately, it was just a bank robbery

      Also, thanks for the paper. That should occupy me for some days.

      Reply
    4. Lee

      If I absolutely have to go out among people, and that’s pretty much limited to getting groceries I can’t have delivered, I’m wearing a P-100 face mask, which proved useful during last year’s fire season, and carry a container of 70% alcohol for my hands.

      How come we are being told by experts that masks are ineffective and at the same time, we should not contribute to their shortage so that there will be enough for medical care providers?

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      1. Anders K

        Masks are great when
        A) you are infected and wish to reduce the infections of others
        B) you are dealing with someone who IS infected and wish to reduce your chances of being infected

        However, if you are using a mask “just in case” you are likely to use it up (hopefully replacing it when necessary or it becomes worse than useless) without either of those situations happening.

        Now, I agree that you ought to say “keep masks for healthcare professionals and infected people.” rather than just for the healthcare people.

        Reply
        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Going into a supermarket isn’t just in case. The issue isn’t priority – that’s established and fully accepted – the issue is availability and why an inexpensive item, easy to mass produce or stockpile, that is essential to medical personnel and useful to the general public in a wide variety of health emergencies is NOT available in quantity in a large wealthy country such as the US.

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      2. Octopii

        A fabric mask such as a Cambridge N99 lasts a few hundred hours of wear and does not affect medical mask supplies. All this business about masks not working only applies to surgical masks or masks that don’t fit.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Stop making shit up.

          We have written repeatedly that n95 masks require training to be fitted properly and when fitted properly, are so difficult to breathe through that that users can wear them at most an hour without a breathing break, they start freaking out because they feel they are being asphyxiated.

          N99 respirators filter 99% or more of non-oil-based particles, but they also have a few downsides. To have a better filter, the masks use denser material and have a better seal which reduces air flow making your lungs work harder. This is especially noticeable if you are wearing the mask during physical activity like cycling or working in dusty environments.

          https://insidefirstaid.com/prevention/what-makes-a-good-n95-mask-or-respirator

          n99 masks are an even more stringent filter than n95 and hence are MORE difficult to breathe through….unless you are actually breathing part though gaps on the sides, vitiating the purpose.

          https://nirvanabeing.com/n95-better-choice-pollution-protection-n99/

          The N95 mask filters out 95% of dust and particulates. The N99 masks will filter out slightly more (4% to be precise) polluted particles but N95 mask offers 50% lesser breathing resistance than N99. It means you can wear the N95 mask for longer duration without feeling suffocated.

          Reply
  5. clarky90

    Re; “….public health experts say…”

    After three months of the Covid 19 Pandemic Three countries, with credible statistics, stand out as having very low covid19, (1) number of infected citizens, (2) low rate of increase of infections, (3) low number of people in critical care (4) low case fatality rate.

    (1) Hong Kong, (2) Taiwan, (3) Singapore

    Notice that all three countries are very close and connected to the original outbreak in Wuhan.

    They all wear masks. Most people wear gloves. Everybody practices social distancing. They learned this during the original SARS outbreak.

    I taught my kids, and now my Grandkids, how to cross the street. Stop, look left/right/all-around, listen, cross quickly (no stopping, half way across, to pick up dead butterflies or broken bits of shiny glass).

    I discount what “experts” say. I take notice of what happy, healthy, content and vigorous people do, eat, think, drink.

    I live in a little seaport. We have a constant flow of giant log trucks driving down (literally down hill) our mainstreet. I do not panic about them, but……I always stop, look and listen…..

    Reply
    1. RickV

      Agree. “US” health officials discourage use of facemasks by the general public because there is a shortage of facemasks for hospital workers. “Chinese” health officials require the use of face masks by all citizens and provide stiff fines or jail terms if not used in public.

      When the first case of community spread arrives in my area I will sharply cut back on my outside trips until one of the following occur: all others are wearing masks outside in public places, a vaccine is available, or the virus burns itself out.

      Reply
        1. Brooklin Bridge

          The real problem regarding face masks in the US is availability. On one end of the seesaw is profit and on the other end is mortality. Guess which end weighs more in the US?

          As to the time for face masks, assuming availability, early is good, but any time is better than never, since even if someone without mask gave the disease to another yesterday, it is still better if he or she with mask didn’t give it today. The more people who don’t give it, the less people who get it and the lower the case load, smoother the distribution curve, on our medical system.

          Granted, as I mention below, training is key for face masks, including what they can and can’t do, and how to use them for best effect, just as it is for washing hands.

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      1. Brooklin Bridge

        As I understand it, face masks are not universally required in China, each province decides for itself, but in areas of high contagion, they usually require them. I could be wrong.

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    2. jrkrideau

      Taiwan has a low incidence apparently because they have a well-funded, highly skilled pandemic team that as soon as China notified WHO on 2019-12-31, mobilized to start testing inbound passengers from Wuhan almost immediately.

      They also have very highly developed methods of tracking contacts and so on.

      My bet is that the masks are a cultural thing and contributed little or nothing to the containment of the virus. What they had is a topnotch public health agency with well thought out plans.

      https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/3/10/21171722/taiwan-coronavirus-china-social-distancing-quarantine

      Reply
  6. PKMKII

    Many NFL players have attributed this phenomenon to the rise of brutal hits leading with the helmet. The advancements in the safety technology that goes into helmets causes defensive players to use them more as battering rams because said technology prevents them from getting injured.

    Reply
    1. Keith

      “…prevents them from getting injured”

      Only for a while, hence the recent issue of brain damage and concussions. They should go back to the old leather caps.

      Reply
    2. Lee

      Helmets protect the outside of the skull. The don’t stop the brain from getting bounced off the inside of the skull due to a violent stop or change of direction.

      Reply
      1. Wukchumni

        Rugby players either wear helmets that resemble a 1920’s Bronco Nagurski model, or nothing at all.

        How often are players diagnosed with CTE, one wonders?

        Reply
  7. John A

    Up until the 1980s, wearing a helmet when playing cricket was unheard of. Getting hit on the head was a very rare occurrence. Now they are mandatory and players seems to get hit on the head when batting in every game as these days, they take their eye off the ball assuming the helmet will protect them. Up to a point. Sadly a top Australian player was killed a few years ago and concussion is now becoming an issue, to the point that the rules have been changed to allow concussion substitutions.

    Reply
    1. a different chris

      I won’t argue with you, in fact I agree with your argument that the changes (also mentioned above wrt American football) for “safety” applied across highly competitive people may not work out like you would think it would work out.

      But I will caution that your last sentence, “concussion is now becoming an issue” however doesn’t really mean, for the sports I know which is not cricket for sure, what you have it meaning. People of my age were all told at best to “walk it off” after the “how many fingers am I holding up” bit

      It’s not an “issue” if you don’t measure it, as we are all seeing. Of course it is still an issue, just not the quoted type.

      Reply
  8. nothing but the truth

    Maybe globalization/technology needs to go in reverse now.

    Most people who can remember would likely prefer living the way they used to in the days of the gold standard.

    Reply
  9. Ignacio

    Regarding the last recommendation, it is instinctive to me too keep a distance from people wearing masks. And I think this applies for most people.

    The epidemics development in Madrid has reached a point where people are starting to accept there is an important risk of contagion. Buses and Metro are almost empty as well as restaurants etc. You now see some people wearing masks in the street: the worst way to waste masks. I have decided today to buy a bunch of masks (not N95, let them for HC use, call them “dust masks”) with no other intention but to deal with the case someone at home gets ill, and the case that someone is forced to go to a place where there is some risk, like when I go to the supermarket. I would use it inside the supermarket (crowded, ventilation system not appropiate for virus elimination) and discard it immediately as I am outside into a bag I will take with me. A mask is for temporary use and if you use it in a risky place it becomes your worst enemy. If someone gets ill at home the mask can serve to let her/him out of the room for a while and then discard it to a bag.

    Social distancing does the work far better than masks. It is not true that all in Singapore or Taiwan wear masks all the time. Don’t be fooled by pictures that show only a part of the reality. The part that newspapers like to show.

    Reply
    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Thanks Ignacio, this is useful information or would be here in the shining tower on the shining hill if face masks were available.

      Reply
        1. Ignacio

          I will take a look tomorrow thank you. The epidemics is in full swing in Madrid and I know of several close cases. I have realised that most cases are not tested. If you have some pain headache, fever up to 38ºC and some cough it is it. Self quarantine at home and isolate yourself from the rest of the family. We are advised to go to ER only when things go worse: fatigue and difficult respiration. And I think it is correct not to be obsessed with testing. So if you read two thousand cases in Spain it is, as we suspected, just the tip of the iceberg. I can say with certainty that most cases aren’t tested.

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          1. Ignacio

            My recommendations would be as I have been thinking a bit more on this: The sooner the better reduce social life to the indispensable, avoid meetings and any enclosure with frequent human traffic (airports, flights, buses, metro, commercial centres, restaurants… the workplace if possible, supermarkets, AVOID HOSPITALS unless you really need intensive care!). Avoid gatherings in general (in buildings or outside). Special protection and care for those vulnerable: no visits at all except the indispensable and with protection (masks in this case are a good idea). Reserve masks for these moments when risk is higher and for those already infected at home to protect the rest.

            Take care

            Reply
  10. doug

    Stop lights now are red in both directions for a few seconds. They did not used to be. So we all know we can squeeze that yellow to red, as it will be red in the orthogonal direction for another second or two.

    Folks run more lights now than when there was no ‘dead time’ of red lights in both directions.

    They will not be changed back, ever….dumb.

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      When I have the nerve and think I can pull it off, I love stepping out in front of red light runners and seeing them slam on their brakes. Sometimes there’s the added delight of hearing them being rear-ended by another idiot.

      Reply
  11. kevbot9000

    I don’t have time to dig to verify this thought, but with car regulation, wasn’t it shown that whether people adjusted behavior was based on how visible the safety measure was? So anti lock brakes people would adjust to thus driving in a more risky fashion, but crumple zones in cars aren’t adjusted for in driving so there’s no change in driver behavior. I know Yves’ point isn’t that regulations are bad, but similar arguments based on car safety data have been used to make regulations seem worthless.

    Reply
    1. Keith

      Then there are the safety devices due to political graft, like backup cams. People wouldn’t pay for them, so Ray LaHood ( A Chicago pol (R) with Team Obama) decided these were needed for safety, so every car gets them, so increasing the price of the car, but providing a false sense of security. You get to watch what you will hit, but have no view of what is coming into range unless you look backwards, what people are/were supposed to do.

      Reply
  12. rd

    If the figures provided in this article from today are true, the US CDC, state public health departments, and private labs are in the middle of a massive colossal fail on COVID-19 testing. It appears total testing to date across the entire country since December is less than countries like China and South Korea can do IN A DAY.

    The reason there are so far reported cases is because nobody has been tested.It appears that there have been less than 10,000 total tests to date in the US.

    https://news.yahoo.com/cdc-tested-only-77-people-this-week-coronavirus-testing-slow-around-the-nation-153646616.html?.tsrc=jtc_news_index

    Reply
  13. RMO

    An article by an economist that says safety regulation doesn’t work… if I could get a copy I bet it would make entertaining reading. I notice it was published in 1975 and concerns the initial safety regulations put forth in 1966 – so it will basically cover a time when seatbelts were mandated in new build cars, side marker lights became mandatory and some interior designs were modified a little to make them a bit less dangerous in a crash. During the same time there were lots of new young drivers getting on the road, car culture was heavily oriented towards high performance and street racing and we had horsepower rising quickly going well beyond what brakes and tires could handle. And few people actually wore the newly mandated seatbelts. In the early to mid 70s my family was an oddball outlier in that we put the things on all the time. And there was a lot more drunk driving a social acceptance of the same.

    Oddly enough, regulations mandating improvements in car safety and crashworthiness have continued over the decades and – amazingly – deaths and injuries have steadily gone down in that time. Funny that.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Wearing seat belts is second nature to many older people who came of driving age during the era of slick bench seats. That seat belt helped sliding around, in addition to other safety benefits.

      Physics is hard to ignore, as it persists regardless of our efforts to ignore mass, force and eventual deceleration.

      Reply
      1. Brooklin Bridge

        And yet, (I’ve got to fess up) I didn’t wear seat belts until they were mandated here in MA. Now it’s almost automatic, I’ll even make others put them on.

        Reply
  14. rtah100

    This is really important:

    The article is the usual “government knows best” bromides but it blows the lid on a scandal: sound international public health science is being overridden by the unfalsifiable pseudo-science of behavioural economics from the privatised successor of Cameron’s infamous “Nudge Unit”. This is the bunch of lightweights who made policy proposals to increase the take up of loft insulation or prompt payment of income tax. Seriously!

    This is a scandal.

    Even the sandwiching of Fatty Johnson between the beanpole nerds as Laurel, Hardy and Laurel is apparently because it makes him look trustworthy.

    Reply
  15. anon in so cal

    Scary dental article. Horrifying, really, especially since a dreaded root canal appointment looms on Monday. I’ve been fretting about this since I made the appointment. I even called the office back and asked what their Covid19 protocol was and the office staff seemed oblivious. If I weren’t a procrastinator, this would have been history last November.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41368-020-0075-9

    Reply
  16. Savita

    Thanks everyone and ‘hello’ from Australia. Black Swan author Nassim Taleb spends a long time pontificating about risk and odds. He says he avoids certain risks so he can make big risks elsewhere. Smoking and sugar + high fructose corn syrup are on the avoid list. As is cycling anywhere in the vicinity of cars. Sounds good to me! I love all the theory about cycling in traffic. In practice? I don’t need stats and studies to show me how incredibly vulnerable a cyclist is amidst heavy lumps of speeding metal operated by sometimes distracted or emotive humans. Interested in what its like in your country, but here in Aus there can be some aggro between cyclists and car users. Car users can be selfish, not wanting to share the road, and get impatient. Some cyclists can have a sense of entitlement, feeling its okay to interpret rules as they wish, and take up space in the name of the ‘critical mass’ movement I believe started in England (Clive?). The other morning in Sydney I paused at traffic lights in my conveyance and noticed the yuppy cyclist in high tech gear next to me was not wearing any high vis. I know from experience, joggers and cyclists without high vis clothing can assume they are visible solely by virtue of a car having headlights. Not so! Sometimes such a moving body isnt seen until they are metres away. So, in the spirit of community relations and consciously mustering up as much good will and friendliness I could, as to not offend, I wound down window and said with a smile ‘high vis would be a good idea’ (smiley emoji). I got a ‘what the (familyblog) do you think this is?’ And he pointed to the shoes he wore, a ridiculous orange pair of bikeshoes that went up the ankle and looked like they were designed for a toddler to go with matching bonnet. I then got a further lot of (familyblog) and why dont I mind my own business? Wow, looking out for someones welfare IS my business, and sorry I dont consider road cycling safe at all!

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      The cyclist was right, and you were wrong.

      From Queensland University Study comparing clothing colours at night:

      From the abstract:

      Drivers recognised more cyclists wearing the reflective vest plus reflectors (90%) than the reflective vest alone (50%), fluorescent vest (15%) or black clothing (2%). Older drivers recognised the cyclists less often than younger drivers (51% vs 27%). The findings suggest that reflective ankle and knee markings are particularly valuable at night, while fluorescent clothing is not.

      Reply
      1. BillC

        Yeah, but … “The other morning in Sydney I paused at traffic lights …” Sounds like daytime to me. Hi-viz orange is great but in the daytime, it’s total hi-viz surface area that counts, and it counts even more if it’s near a driver’s eye level. “… up to the ankle …” is down low and not much area. If reflective, one might argue it’s sufficient at night (as a former year ’round cycle commuter, I wouldn’t), but it doesn’t help much in daylight.

        Reply
  17. Tim

    As any reliability engineer will tell you, it’s always about the denominator…hte best way to reduce risk is to not take it in the first place.

    Reply

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