4 days ago, I was contacted by Joseph Rose, who writes the Hard Drive blog for the local paper, the Oregonian. He mentioned that he was linking to my “Why I Don’t Wear a Helmet” article in a column he was writing (now posted at the link above) about the crash of former pro football quarterback Joey Harrington in Portland. Harrington’s father had made a statement that Harrington’s helmet saved his life, and in his email, Rose said that because this had hit the news, he thought it was a good time to bring up the arguments between the two sides of the helmet debate.
Immediately, this raises big red flags for me. Intentionally furthering this debate is something I have no desire to do. As I see it, I am not on either side. I choose not to wear a helmet, and I choose to let everyone else make whatever decision they feel like – as is amply noted in my “Why I Don’t Wear a Helmet” post (see the link in the menubar at the top of the blog). I chose to be wary in my interaction with him because of this, and gave him the following statement to use if he would like to quote me, which he didn’t: I feel people should look at research, their own circumstances and behaviors, and make an informed decision for themselves about wearing a helmet.
I also made the following statements to Rose via email:
There probably is some chance that the helmet saved his life, but without a lot of testing, which would require putting a human in a life-threatening position over and over, it’s impossible to know for sure, as there are just too many variables – it’s really all conjecture, one way or the other, and that’s not even taking into account the risk of a crash in the first place, which is another very complicated equation with a multitude of factors. I think it’s important that people take all of those things into consideration and make a decision for themselves that they are comfortable with, and I think it’s perfectly fine to choose to wear a helmet in some cases, and not in others, as the circumstance plays into how likely you are to crash and how serious it might be.
He said to me, in explaining what his article would be about: “Mention of your article will take up just a sentence or two of the larger column, which explores both sides.”
In reality, his column focuses largely on attacking me personally, putting words in my mouth, and making a lot of emotionally charged statements, and saying that I state things which I do not. I am the only person he mentions by name in the “helmet haters” category. He makes the statement that I am on a “fool’s crusade” to stop people from wearing helmets, and that I state on my blog that a propeller beanie offers more protection in a crash over 20mph than a helmet.
Now, to quote what I actually say in my article:
The following statement of mine is not meant to be an argument, it’s not meant to convince anyone to not wear a helmet, and it’s not meant to incite yelling, name-calling or any other such emotional reaction.
Firstly, I am not anti-helmet. I don’t hate people who wear helmets, or think they are stupid, or childish. I think many of them make a perfectly rational decision to wear a helmet at least some of the time they are on a bike, and I believe that is their free choice, and I trust them to make a decision based on their own set of circumstances, as I would expect them to do for me.
I think a big part of the decision for me is that, yes, a helmet will probably reduce your overall likelihood of injury – but the likelihood of any kind of major injury (speaking with regard to my own personal case specifically) is so small in the first place, it doesn’t make that much difference.
Please take all research and statistics with a grain of salt, and think about them rationally and in relation to your own personal situation before coming to any conclusions based on them. Find out how they were conducted, and the overall scope of the research, if possible. Research studies are often heavily skewed, making the results misleading and even if the study was done well, the results of the study may not be applicable to you, depending on the focus and intent of the study. People also have a penchant for (consciously or unconsciously) taking the results of studies out of context and using them to make a point, which can also be problematic. The media, as well, has a penchant for creating hysteria where there really is nothing to be hysterical about. Anyway, all I’m trying to say here, is inform yourself, and then make a decision based on what you are comfortable with.
Clearly, I have it out for anybody who decides to wear a helmet. I’m on a crusade to convert you, watch out!
I think this is one of the most disgusting pieces of what passes for journalism that I’ve run across in recent history, and not just because it focuses on me. He either deliberately mis-states my point of view, never read my statement in the first place and just attributed the “helmet hater” label to me since I don’t wear one, or deliberately mis-understands my point of view himself. The one actual statistic he lists is from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which it states on their page is “wholly supported by these auto insurers.” – and provides a link to a list of them. Also, the statistic listed is coincidental evidence. You might as well say 93% of riders killed in the U.S. were not wearing sunglasses. Listing a statistic like that does nothing to prove causality one way or another, as, for all we know, many, most or all of those people might also have died if they were wearing a helmet. To state otherwise is disingenuous and misleading.
In his column, Rose states “Of course, there will always be smart, educated people who are skeptical of statistics. I’m glad I wasn’t one.” I think any smart, educated person should be skeptical of statistics, for exactly the reasons I state in my article. When I made that statement in my article, I was referring to all statistics. They can always be gotten by invalid measures, taken out of context to make a point, and manipulated and spun in any direction.
Basically what happened here, is Rose needed someone to be anti-helmet to write a controversial column that would get attention, so he chose me because I don’t wear a helmet, represented my position as a helmet hater in his column, and now gets to make money for it. He also exploited someone else’s injury, and possibly near-death to both attack me, and further a debate online which is well-noted for being light on evidence, and gushing over with emotion. This is the state of our media.
I’m not trying to make a statement one way or the other about whether the helmet did or didn’t save Mr. Harrington’s life. What I am trying to do, is say that my position on the issue of bicycle helmets was grossly mis-represented here, intentionally, by Joseph Rose, and used divisively to start an argument, supporting his own agenda, and using the misfortune and coincidental celebrity of another person as the platform on which to float his column.
Joe, there’s your statement. Feel free to link to it.