07 January 2011

Some Words About Some Website

So. Some of our readers have us a link to a website that has, apparently, written some sort of comment about the TED x Copenhagen talk I gave a while back at the event here in Copenhagen. About The Culture of Fear relating to safety equipment and the slippery slope that society is on.

Some website somewhere in another country commenting on something Copenhagenize has said is not really news. Such is the internet. It's a vast, ungovernable place and there is hardly time enough on the clock to click around to all of them. Unfortunately.

What disappoints me about this article is that when a reader sent me a link the other day the title read "Danish Iconoclast Opposes Bicycle Helmets". On a link today on Facebook I could see that the title had been changed to "Danish Speaker Opposes Bicycle Helmets".

Alas, I preferred the 'iconoclast' label:
S: (n) iconoclast, image breaker (a destroyer of images used in religious worship)

It fit so well with the Cycle Helmets & Other Religious Symbols post. It underlines the Knowledge or Faith - it's your choice slogan at the Danish-language site, Cykelhjelm.org.

To be honest, I haven't read the piece. It was posted on the website of something called "The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute" and I am rather used to reading texts attacking what I try to say about promoting cycling positively so I figured the text would be rather predictable. I had come across the site before at some point over the past four years, but didn't spend much there.

I have a habit of looking at the Alexa.com ranking add-on feature in my Firefox browser when looking at sites I've never been before. Alexa ranks websites using a variety of parameters. It's not a perfect system but in a busy everday on the internet it is sometimes helpful in determining a site's worth. Alexa has a golden cut-off of 100,000. Advertisers and investors look keenly at this Top 100,000 and it's tough to break into it. I've been told by colleagues in IT-related branches that the top 200,000 is highly regarded. What does it all mean? Absolutely no idea.

This 'Institute', according to Alexa, ranks at 2,225,047. That was enough for me to click on to other things.

Rest assured, there are many, many websites out there with a low ranking that are well worthing spending time on. I usually end up on them through referrals from friends and colleagues in my network. But you have to draw the line somewhere. Much like not bothering following someone on Twitter with 8 followers.

I was, however, curious. I put out an email to some colleagues, asking them about this 'Institute'. Ten emails in all. Five had no idea what it was. Three called it "the usual propaganda" or suchlike wording. One confused it (ironically) with the group of scientists and professionals who make up the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation. One email was more detailed, saying "the most utterly irrelevant and, at the same time, the most dangerous website in the battle to promote cycling."

Oh, goodness me. Sounds like the safety gear version of those vehicular cyclists.

I learned from the emails that it is largely the work of one man. Retired and concerned with 'safety', apparently. Bully for him. Although in a previous post we've highlighted the work of individuals on personal crusades. Which kind of makes the 'Institute' label seem a little grandiose.

Perhaps I should found the "Copenhagenize Institute for Bicycling Promotion".

I did notice that on the main page it states 'consumer funded'. Damn. I want to be consumer funded! I wish I had a powerful industry backing me so I could place Volunteer Run - Consumer Funded on my banner! That would be cool!

Or maybe I could start the Copenhagen Cycling Embassy and instead of the traditional diplomacy associated with 'embassies' I could use the label to market the products of several profit-oriented companies.

Alas, promoting cycling positively has few wealthy sponsors and the only real reward, apart from some modest revenue from ads for friends' companies, is seeing so many bicycles returning to the streets of cities all over the world.

There ain't money in a blog like this, but get this... it's worth it.

And remember kids, if wearing a bicycle helmet keeps someone on a bike - great! If not wearing a bicycle helmet keeps someone on a bike - great! I just wish the safety nannies would leave the latter group the fuck alone.

More knowledge, less blind faith.

Have a lovely weekend. Oh, and anyone has read the above-mentioned article, give me some entertaining highlights in the comments.


bikeolounger said...

Hard to argue against a zealot. Some of his "logic" is sound enough, except that it's based on false premises.

I have no doubt that helmets can lessen the severity of head injury if I crash. I am alive today because I was wearing a good motorcycle helmet at a key moment in my life. I also have no doubt that had I been wearing a bicycle helmet at that "key moment," I would have suffered a more severe concussion than I did.

Insurance companies in the United States like to point to a study that claimed something like 85% reduction in head injuries based on helmet use. I've seen writings suggesting that that study was flawed at best.

For organized (i.e. bicycle club) riding, the clubs' insurance companies require helmet use. The League of American Bicyclists, accordingly, requires that I teach the importance of helmet use as a League Cycling Instructor. I wear a helmet myself, in part to present the good example, in keeping with what I teach.

I have no big personal problem with anyone deciding to not wear helmets. I look at it as a choice thing. However, I find myself compelled to encourage helmet use in the context of my role as a cycling educator in a society that too often is driven by the insurance companies' obsession with actuarial tables, here in the "United States of the Lawsuit."

Of course, I also teach vehicular cycling, but with a grain of salt roughly the size of an Exxon supertanker. After all, society in the "United States of the Gas Guzzler" is already anti-bike, and our country lacks the will and ability to suddenly start making Copenhagen-ish bike infrastructure happen in our current economic situation. As a result, vehicular cycling (with that aforementioned grain of salt) remains the best solution in my corner of the world.

Would that it be otherwise, but there it is.

Etienne de Briquenell said...

Mikael, when certain people reach the point of believing life is a series of hospital visits punctuated by a few short spells of living then it's almost impossible to argue reasonably with them. It's a matter of getting to the ears of open-minded legislators before they do.

kfg said...

"I just wish the safety nannies would leave the latter group the fuck alone."

There are two kinds of people, those who think there are two kinds of people and. . . no wait, wrong rant.

Those who like to tell other people what to do, and those who don't. The safety nannies wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they weren't telling people what to do.

Anonymous said...


sexify said...

That piece starts off oddly ("helmets... are actually designed to protect against catastrophic brain injury in the vast majority of bicycle crashes"), goes on to suggest risk compensation doesn't exist, and finishes by holding up the lack of 'published, peer-reviewed evidence' of reduced cycling from helmet promotion or helmet laws in the US as proof of the absence of this effect there.

Had a 2-hour read through the rest of the site. The word cherry-picking springs to mind, as you likely guessed.

The site is run by members of the ANSI and ASTM helmet standards committees. (Though they claim not to accept funding directly from the helmet industry.) Link.


Happy New Year, BTW.

Daniel Sparing said...

"the top 200,000 is highly regarded"

and you must have noticed that you are not that far from that goal either :)

Adrienne Johnson said...

CYLRAB is only 3,203,054. Does this mean we won't be drinking anymore mojitos together?

word verification- susni

Susni was a happy girl until she found she was irrelevant in the interwebs at which time she became a hermit and took up knitting cozies for bicycle parking stands.