Christian Long

Steven Levitt: Child Carseats

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Reflection by RACHEL L.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Steven Levitt:  Child Carseats

Clicking on this video I was expecting some basic information on why car seats are uneffective, yet when I started to watch there was this man talking about a disease. I became extremely confused and puzzled as to how any of this was relevant to child car seats.

When the video begins Levitt is talking about this disease which kills children and how there is a “cheap and simple” drug and an “expensive and complicated” drug to cure this disease. Supposedly, a man discovered that the “cheap and simple” solution worked just as well as the other cure, yet no one could believe that. Then he says that this disease is fatal car crashes, the “cheap and simple” solution is a seat belt, and the “expensive and complicated solution” is a car seat. Of course the seat belt doesn’t work for infants, yet for children 2-6 years old Levitt says that the car seat and the seat belt perform the same.

The whole analogy of comparing an accident to a disease was a bit long and self-indulgent.

He doesn’t tell what the “dread-disease” is until around four and a half minutes into the talk.Being a teenager with a short attention span, I became very bored and uninterested at about one and a half minutes.

I also find his data to be flawed.

When he shows the “raw data” of the percentages of children that die in car crashes in which at least one person dies the data shows that the lap only belts are the most effective. Levitt then says that by common sense we know that the lap only belt must be worse and that “when you are dealing with raw data there are hundreds of confounding variables that may be getting in the way.” So if he is throwing out that data and saying that it is not important and accurate then what makes the other data correct? He is using the same source so the same randomness is in play when it comes to the “variables”. How can he pick and choose what data is credible and what data is not?

I just found his whole presentation to be sloppy and not very well thought out.

He also forgets that children’s organs are not completely protected from the impact of the seat belt on their stomachs. Car seats help to protect their soft organs from serious damage in crashes. You can’t test internal damage on a dummy.

In the end he proposes a new way to restrain children, one which, according to his data, would be the perfect combination of a seat belt and a car seat. I think this is the only brilliant part of the video. This new seat belt involves a part of the seat which folds down to reveal a child restraint within the seat. Perhaps this design will be seen in more cars in the future.

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