BBC lie about helmets again

Discussion in 'Technical Chat' started by burtthebike, Aug 27, 2010.

  1. burtthebike

    burtthebike Guest

    Some time ago, I requested the BBC R4 prog "More or Less" to examine
    the case for cycle helmets, as they had done some very significant
    demolition jobs on other misuses of statistics. I was agreeably
    surprised to find that they took up my suggestion and helmets were
    featured on their programme today. Listen again at

    The helmet bit starts at about 12' 30" in.

    Silly me! This is the BBC, which appears to have taken a policy
    decision to promote cycle helmets, but I'd be surprised if they would
    admit it. The prog is supposed to be a "Magazine show investigating
    the ways we use numbers, statistics and measurements." except in the
    case of cycle helmets apparently.

    They interviewed Angie Lee of BHIT, completely pro-helmet of course,
    and Dr Ian Walker, who appeared to be ambivalent. No-one was
    interviewed who was against helmets. Not a single statistic was
    quoted. The dichotomy between the helmet proponents' evidence and
    choice people's evidence was not examined.

    Also, the presenter was grossly biased as he wore a helmet because he
    thought they worked.

    The BBC has sunk to a new low, has gone through the bottom of the
    barrel and is halfway to New Zealand.
    burtthebike, Aug 27, 2010
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  2. burtthebike

    Matt B Guest

    What leads you to come to those conclusions?
    Do you know anyone or of anyone who is against helmets?
    Matt B, Aug 28, 2010
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  3. Almost universal helmet-wearing in programmes.
    The usual pro-helmet nonsense in parts of their website aimed at children.
    Resistance to changing any of this when challenged.

    This just shows how hard it is to be counter-cultural. I don't think we
    have yet grasped how much non-cyclists, and most cyclists, want helmets to
    be THE ANSWER on cycle safety. If they allowed themselves to be convinced
    that helmets don't work, they'd have to think about doing much harder
    things like (drivers) slowing down, giving cyclists more space, and
    looking for them more carefully, or (cyclists) claiming more road space,
    anticipating hazards, and being aware of what's behind them.

    The only solution I can see is relentlessly challenging helmet promotion
    and compulsion wherever it is seen, with a short explanation of the facts.
    A lot of commitment will be needed to do this enough to make a difference.
    Semantic slip? I'm:
    AGAINST the myth that cycle helmets can prevent life-threatening injuries
    AGAINST the myth that cycling is dangerous compared to other road use
    AGAINST increased risk-taking by or around cyclists because they're
    AGAINST anyone being forced to wear something of no practical safety
    AGAINST wearing of helmets except as a protection against minor bumps when
    you are deliberately riding at the limits of your ability to control the
    And frankly, AGAINST riding in such a way that these minor bumps are
    likely, especially if other people are likely to be around.

    Colin McKenzie
    Colin McKenzie, Aug 28, 2010
  4. burtthebike

    Tony Raven Guest

    The almost universal comments about should be wearing a helmet whenever
    there is an item about cycling on Breakfast TV
    Not least because helmet compulsion leads to a drop in people cycling
    (Australia, New Zealand) but even helmet promotion does the same (TRL
    286, 365)

    So unless there is good evidence that the safety benefits of helmets
    outweigh the health disbenefits of not cycling, then helmet promotion is
    contrary to public health objectives. Currently the balance is believed
    to be 20:1 in favour of cycling, not helmets.

    Tony Raven, Aug 28, 2010
  5. burtthebike

    A.Lee Guest

    I listened to that, and found no bias toward either side.
    In fact, he did say there was no evidence either way that helmets helped
    or made things worse, and it is down to personal opinion whether to wear
    them or not. Why you say it was biased is beyond me.
    He also said that the anti-helmet/helmet campaigners were vociferous in
    their protests, and a few loud voices drown out the other people in
    espousing their views.

    Maybe take a step back, and see the full picture, rather than the small
    part you want to see?

    A.Lee, Aug 28, 2010
  6. burtthebike

    Simon Brooke Guest

    (apologies for following up to you, Colin, I wouldn't have seen Matt's
    post otherwise)

    This is overly simplistic.

    Helmets do have their potential benefits. I will wear a helmet this
    winter when there is ice on the road. I do wear a helmet occasionally
    when mountain biking on routes I don't know. In both these circumstances
    the chances of simply falling off are relatively high, and the chances of
    being hit by something very heavy moving very fast is low.

    Cycle helmets have very limited strength. They have enough strength to
    mitigate a simple fall. They do not have enough strength to do anything
    useful in a collision with a moving motor vehicle, and believing that
    they do leads people - both wearers, and the motorists around them - to
    make dangerous choices, substantially increasing risk.

    This is reflected by the fact that across the world generally, when
    cycling helmet wearing rates go up, so do KSI per billion cyclist
    kilometres. It is causation not correlation, because when there are
    sudden large shifts in helmet wearing so there are also sudden large
    shifts in KSI per billion cyclist kilometres.

    So I am not 'against helmets'. I am against the promotion of helmets as a
    routine safety measure for cyclists on the public road, because they are
    in fact a risk enhancer, not a risk reducer.
    Simon Brooke, Aug 28, 2010
  7. burtthebike

    nmm1 Guest

    That is a theory that is not repudiated by the known facts, but not
    demonstrated by them, either.
    The first sentence is true, but the second is just plain crap, just
    like the protection claims of the pro-helmet brigade.

    The clearest cases of correlation are ALSO associated with a similar
    drop in the amount of cycling, and that makes it impossible to tell
    whether it is the helmet-wearing per se that is the cause, the 'herd
    immunity' effect, or the fact that the most unsafe cyclists are the
    ones that continue. The remainder are so complicated that no firm
    conclusions on causality are possible.

    Encouraging helmet wearing is undesirable on the demonstrated grounds
    that it is bad for the public weal (and against policy), but that does
    NOT mean that helmet wearing necessarily reduces safety. Not even the
    joke helmets currently available.

    Nick Maclaren.
    nmm1, Aug 28, 2010
  8. burtthebike

    Tony Raven Guest

    As Einstein said, science is not democratic. A single voice can
    overturn the whole cannon as indeed he did and so did Barry Marshall
    and Robin Warren and more recently Andre Geim.

    Tony Raven, Aug 28, 2010
  9. burtthebike

    nmm1 Guest

    Grrk. While science is certainly not democratic, there have been very
    few cases where a single voice has overturned the whole canon - it has
    also been said that, in science, the cause of all progress is the death
    of the previous generation of influential voices.

    Einstein did, to some extent, but to nowhere near the level that his
    worshippers claim - and we are still seeing the dogma that derived
    from his work being propagated as proven fact, despite the voices that
    point out that there isn't a scrap of evidence for it that doesn't
    depend on assuming it. I am, of course, referring to the existence
    and properties of gravitational singularities.

    While the others did overturn standard dogmas, they had already been
    rejected as deficient by the real scientists, so no more than a
    fingertip push was needed. I.e. they explained an anomaly, but did
    not overturn a well-established theory.

    A few people (me included) started saying that sunscreens could well
    be a cause of the 'melanoma epidemic' rather than a cure some 30+
    years ago. Only now is this starting to be admitted, and then only
    rarely and as a way-out hypothesis. According to an informed source,
    the true scientists specialising in the area now accept that it IS
    the case for some sunscreen chemicals - but that's still not a view
    that you will head admitted in the popular press.

    However, this is all getting very off-group.

    Nick Maclaren.
    nmm1, Aug 28, 2010
  10. burtthebike

    Tony Raven Guest

    But what "science is not democratic" really says is that you cannot just
    ignore the lone voices because they are few in number. And just because
    all but one scientist supports something it doesn't mean its correct.
    Helicobacter Pylori is probably the best example we have of that in
    action and is something climate science with its constant appeals to
    scientific democracy would do well to heed.
    His special and general relativity are still pretty much accepted as the
    best we have for the moment. He did not get everything right though and
    he was never comfortable with quantum mechanics. On the other hand,
    probably one of the most solid Laws of Physics, the First Law of
    Thermodynamics had to be redone to incorporate mass/energy equivalence.
    Prior to general relativity it had only considered energy alone and not
    the possibility of mass-energy conversion..

    He also turned Newton's Laws of motion into low speed approximations of
    the relativistic laws of motion. Which sometime in the future may turn
    out themselves to be wrong or approximations.

    As for gravitational singularities, as with most things cosmological its
    likely to be a long time before anyone can resolve that one, unless of
    course the Large Hadron Collider throws off some stable microscopic
    black holes and gives us long enough to study them before they consume
    us ;-)
    I've been of the same opinion for many years - well over 20 - and I got
    that from dermatologists and ophthalmologists I worked with.

    I haven't kept up to date to know whether current thinking is its risk
    compensation or the inclusion of photoactive chemicals in the sunscreen.
    We've always used TiO2 sunscreen to exclude the latter as a cause.

    But this has all got very off-topic and a long way from cycling and helmets.

    Tony Raven, Aug 28, 2010
  11. burtthebike

    nmm1 Guest

    This will be my last on this, but my second point is of relevance to
    many cyclists.

    That is true. My points were and are that the previous theories had
    ALREADY been rejected as incompatible with observation in all of the
    cases you gave, with the possible exception of general relativity.
    So there was nothing to overturn.
    Except that the scientists (as distinct from the medics) already knew
    that the established theories were in conflict with all of the known
    facts on its occurrence.
    Mainly the former, partially the latter, and possibly another cause.
    Some of the chemicals preferentially protect against tanning/burning,
    which leads to both risk exponentiation and sometimes vitamin D
    deficiency. And some people believe that vitamin D is protective
    against melanoma, to some extent. A double whammy :-(

    As cynics would expect, I have also heard that there is considerable
    pressure on researchers from both the government and sunscreen
    manufacturers to keep such results 'confidential'. So I don't have
    certain knowledge of the state of play in the theories.
    For the above reason, it is unclear that using total sun blockers
    is the best solution. Being relatively burn-resistant, I use nothing
    except a cotton shirt - whether THAT is the best approach is unclear,
    but what the hell.

    Nick Maclaren.
    nmm1, Aug 28, 2010
  12. burtthebike

    Tony Raven Guest

    I think you downplay the fundamental changes that Special Relativity
    introduced. For a start it abolished the concept of aether which was
    still central to the theories of Lorentz and Poincare of the time. It
    also introduced a fundamentally new concept of space-time in which there
    were no preferred inertial frames of reference and in all of which the
    laws of physics were the same and light travelled at the same constant

    And that too is the last I will say on this OT topic.

    Tony Raven, Aug 28, 2010
  13. burtthebike

    pk Guest

    it is just that sort of over statement that undermines your case:

    In many collisions with a moving motor vehicle the impact speed of head with
    road would be similar to that in a simple fall.

    pk, Aug 28, 2010
  14. I thought it was Angela Lee who said that? I will listen once more but
    Angela is the one who most notably misperceives scepticism as anti-
    helmet activism and asserts that contrary evidence does not exist.
    Just zis Guy, you know?, Aug 28, 2010
  15. burtthebike

    Tom Crispin Guest

    Perhaps it would be better if you read urcm without the use of a
    killfile; if you did you would find no need to reply to Matt's post,
    which clearly you find of sufficient interest to reply, through
    someone else's post.
    Helmets can and do reduce the severity of head injuries involving
    impact with other moving objects such as cars. Not in all cases, but
    probably in a majority of incidents where the top part of the head
    comes into contact with part of the car such as a windscreen. On the
    day that I was knocked from my bike by a white van man I wish I had
    been wearing a helmet. It would not have saved my shoulder from
    injury, but it would have offered some protection to my head when it
    hit the tarmac.

    Risk compensation in relation to cycle helmets is conjecture. While
    there may be limited evidence that this is true, risk compensation is
    little more than a theory.
    This is conjecture. There may be any number of confounding factors. I
    will list some possible confounding factors if requested to do so.
    For individual cyclists there is substantial evidence that helmets
    reduce the severity of head injuries.

    At population level there is little evidence that cycle helmets are of
    benefit, indeed, there is evidence to the contrary.
    Tom Crispin, Aug 28, 2010
  16. burtthebike

    Simon Brooke Guest

    Fair enough; I accept my honourable friend's correction.
    Simon Brooke, Aug 28, 2010
  17. burtthebike

    nmm1 Guest

    That is probably true. I doubt very much that there is a large (or
    even statistically significant) number of such incidents in the narrow
    range of speed that is likely to cause brain damage but not break the
    victim's neck.
    It is very, VERY little more substantial than the evidence that, for
    individual cyclists, helmets increase the incidence of head impacts.
    It is massively unclear whether the combination of those two factors
    causes them to reduce or increase risk, even at the individual level.
    Yes, that's clear.

    Nick Maclaren.
    nmm1, Aug 29, 2010
  18. burtthebike

    Peter Fox Guest

    They missed the WHOLE POINT

    The programme should have been *how statistics are misused* (they could
    have asked bhit why the ASA forbade them to use the 85% statistic) NOT "are
    helmets a good thing".
    Peter Fox, Aug 29, 2010
  19. burtthebike

    Tony Raven Guest

    Its interesting to speculate how you can create a situation where the
    individuals benefit but that benefit is not visible in the collection of
    all individuals known as the population without having a group of
    individuals who are harmed. The question then becomes, if you accept
    Tom's proposition, are you able to identify a priori which group you are
    in and whether you will benefit or be harmed by wearing a helmet (not
    that I accept Tom's proposition)

    Tony Raven, Aug 29, 2010
  20. burtthebike

    Peter Clinch Guest


    I'd have loved Ms. Lee to be asked how she came up with "over 50
    deaths a year" in a publication at a time when a decade's worth of
    figures were easily available, exceeding 50 once and with a mean
    back in the 20s, and the BMA why they chose to reproduce that
    figure in one of their position pieces.

    Peter Clinch, Aug 29, 2010
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