Most car crashes caused by cellular phone usage?

I saw an item on a Facebook group where the general meme was that everyone knows cellular phone usage while driving is the cause of most vehicle crashes. The data, however, paints a remarkably different picture. Cellular phone usage, per the government’s own data, is a minor causative factor in vehicle crashes.

There are many causative factors in car crashes: one category of causative factors is “distracted driving”. Cellular phone usage is a subset of “distracted driving”.

The U.S.government’s National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a report in 2016 on distracted driving, with data up to 2014 (the most recent data available).

Here is what they write on page 1:

“A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash.

  • Ten percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014 were reported as distraction-affected crashes…”

Let’s restate this:

  • 10% of fatal crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 18% of injury crashes involved a driver distraction
  • 16% of all reported crashes involved a driver distraction

The proportion of those distracted driving incidents where a cellular phone was a causative factor is a subset of these percentages (see tables in the report):

  • 7% of 10% of fatal crashes or less than 1% of all fatal crashes
  • 13% of 18% of injury crashes or about 2.3% of all injury crashes
  • Cellular phone usage for “all crashes” (including non fatal, non injury) is not provided in the report but is likely similar to the two other categories.

The data provided by the U.S. government does not support the widespread meme that cellular phone usage is the leading cause of vehicle crashes. Is my interpretation off in space? The report uses remarkably plain language for a government report. Am I missing something?

Why do people believe cellular phone usage is a leading cause if not pre-dominant cause of vehicle crashes?  (This was the conclusion of those in a Facebook group discussing this topic.)

There is no official answer to that question so we can only guess:

  1. Selected (cherry picked) emotional stories are given widespread media exposure
  2. Bad journalism/bad reporting (fake news from “non-fake” news sources) – often using a variety of propaganda methods to convey this. One common approach in news reports is to quote an “expert” (appeal to authority) who says “Over 30% of crashes are caused by cellular phone usage”. This is a common quote in many news reports, none of which substantiate the number except by an appeal to authority.
  3. Propaganda efforts by the insurance industry to promote a reduction in risk (and their costs)
  4. The tendency to generalize from n=small numbers (I once saw a bad driver using a cellular phone, therefore most bad driving is due to cellphone usage, and if most bad driving is due to cell phone usage then this must be the cause of most crashes). This is a”logical fallacy“.
  5. Everyone just knows that cellular phone usage by drivers causes most crashes (both the assertion and the get on the bandwagon propaganda methods).
  6. If anyone cites the data in a social media reply, this unleashes a barrage of name calling (another propaganda method) that if you disagree, you are a denier, an idiot or whatever.

Facts and logic are the enemy of propaganda. When many people believe something to be true, and that “something” is not supported by official data, it is likely that propaganda messaging has been used to persuade the public.

Repost: Media and social media perpetual “outrage culture”

I posted this previously on November 17, 2016. Social media and media messaging have turned our entire world into a culture of perpetual outrage:

We have a media system that loves to yell and scream. It is basically its default setting. Forget deliberation and civil discourse, it goes immediately to outrage and cynical condescension, or in other cases, relentless and unprovoked shaming. And we, as the consumers and residents of this culture, have come to confuse all this noise and reaction with action. Psychologists call this the narcotizing dysfunction—when the amount of effort and energy poured into something becomes self-soothing, obliterating any notions of effectiveness or reality.

The result? Our daily nightmare. A world in which not only are truth, vulnerability and nuance completely lost—but the incompetent and the conniving in our midst are able to capture immense amounts of attention. Where not only is shamelessness the ultimate defense against any form of accountability, but where all the normal, qualified and well-adjusted people have walked away in disgust.
At this point, everything in-between—vulnerability, nuance, truth—may as well not exist. When our culture encourages the fakeness and stupidity and trolling it is supposedly trying to rail against, there is no room for anything else.

Source: This Is The Hollowed-Out World That Outrage Culture Has Created | Observer

I was reminded of this today because of widespread publicity about the Women’s March to protest Trump. The March was initiated after a recording of Trump making lewd, vile and disgusting comments about women, was made public last fall.

Today I realized I am so old that I remember when women’s rights leaders actively defended a serial sexual predator in the White House and condemned the victims.

What has changed between then and now?

Perhaps the power of social media to keep us in a state of perpetual outrage.

(If it is not clear from the first paragraph, I believe Trump should be condemned for his outrageous and lewd comments. I have to state this, of course, because of the logical fallacy that if I do not, you may – will – assume the opposite.)

Did the Washington Post publish a fake news report about fake news? The Intercept says yes.

With the help of uncritical journalists, a story about “fake news” ended up disseminating far more than it exposed.

Source: Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

The Intercept (and others) allege the Washington Post published a fake news story based on anonymous sources and lobbyists, making assertions and allegations without supporting evidence.

The WaPo story reads like fake news stories prevalent on social media, typically based on allegations sourced from flimsy evidence and quotes of “she said, he said”. RT notes WaPo has agreed to publish a correction to provably fake allegations made in the article.

The article appears designed for the so-called “outrage culture” – literally the shouting and sharing on social media. Social media amplifies the media’s propaganda message, as people Like and Share online, attempting to persuade their “friends” to adopt someone else’s agenda. As we note on this blog, few will attempt to question or correct such stories, as few want to take the time or risk their friendships. The consequence is that social media becomes a friction-less platform for the spread of nonsense.

The WaPo article appears to use many propaganda techniques including appeals to anonymous authorities, logical fallacies, patriotism, lies, and emotion.

Political campaigns use fake “Astro turf” social media influencers

In politics, “grass roots” supporters refers to an organically developed  group that supports an initiative, a party or a politician. The idea is the group has arisen “from the people”.

Counter to that, lobbying organizations create fake “grass roots” support groups, with fake names such as “Citizens for Jobs”. These fake organizations are known as “astro turf” – literally fake grass roots support organizations funded and managed by lobbying groups working to present the false impression that this is a concerned citizens effort.

This article: Astroturf ‘Outrage Machine’ of Paid Trolls Floods Social Media to Counteract Negative News About Hillary Clinton | The Stream names individuals and groups who created or organized fake social media “astro turf” campaigns and accounts to further the agenda of their sponsor. These fake groups create fake Twitter and Facebook accounts and use them to flood social media with the appearance of support – or criticism – of various viewpoints. They often use “Appeal to Authority”  or “Get on the Bandwagon” propaganda methods.

For example, the Wikileaks document dump reveals what was already assumed – political campaigns employ armies of fake social media accounts to generate support for their initiatives and political goals. According to The Daily Kos, there were numerous online posts claiming to have switched from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton – but most of these posts were fake “astro turf” operations run on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

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Did attack dogs bite a little girl in the face at pipeline protest in North Dakota?

girl-attackedTL;DR Summary

  • Graphic photo of a little girl with bite wounds to her face was presented online as proof that attack dogs were unleashed on Native American and other protesters at an oil pipeline construction site in North Dakota.
  • This photo was then passed on social media, including online comments at “news” sites, as proof of the vicious attacks by dogs.
  • The photo, however, first appeared in a June 26, 2012 NY Daily News report about a dog attack that occurred in Texas. This photo has nothing to do with the events in North Dakota.
  • This is a classic example of social media propaganda used to incite riots based on false information. Social media almost instantly descends into mob mentality, lynching everyone in their path, including the innocent.

Read on to discover the fascinating history behind this false social media meme and how this became an established “fact”, in spite of it being an outright lie.

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“In the age of the Internet, the truth does not matter”

“In the age of the internet, the truth does not matter. The message you want to propagate can be told, and it will spread like wildfire. And spread it did.”

Propaganda spreads faster than wildfire on social media, often torching everything in its path. The marriage of social media and propaganda is extraordinarily dangerous if you think about how Internet mobs convict people, groups, ideas – in a matter of hours – in the absence of a full set of evidence. Or how similar behavior may rally support for a war – or rally a mob of protesters that trash a community.

The above quote is from a scientist that was slimed, tarred and feathered by an Internet mob about a supposedly secret email he had written to help stop an anti-GMO initiative. The story began with incompetently written and unvetted news reports from Wired, Nature and others and was then shared online in social media. The report and the social media mob, in fact, had the story backwards – and completely wrong.

Social media then propagated the false story – manufacturing a “new fact” out of thin air – a fact that was never true nor even possibly true. And in so doing, ruined the reputation of an innocent scientist.

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Social media peer pressure enforces conformity to group norms

If you want the tl;dr response, stop here: social media is a pretty effective mechanism for peer pressure. If you disagree, please consider how many temporary profile pictures have been updated on Facebook to red, white, and blue in the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris (including perhaps your own). We know that online peer pressure is powerful. But what we don’t know is whether that pressure is driving real change.

Sharing your opinions and thoughts online is as simple as clicking a button. But you might want to hold off on clicking that button if your opinion or thinking differs from the at-the-moment sentiment sweeping through your social network. To do otherwise, might bring the ire of your connections, and with it ostracism from the group. While it has never been easier to share online, it’s also never been harder to share things that differ from public sentiment or to not offer an opinion in the wake of emotionally charged eventsPeer pressure, which was once categorically regarded as a negative driver of drugs and deviant behavior, has morphed to a broader expression of social pressure in online spaces and is more aligned with maintaining group norms.

Source: What Do Those Temporary Facebook Profile Pictures Really Mean?

(Emphasis added in bold face text)

The above was written after the attacks in Paris but is just as relevant today after the ISIS-affiliated attack in Orlando, Florida.

Peer pressure is the same as the propaganda method of “Get on the bandwagon” (or don’t be left out or off the bandwagon).

Let us re-emphasize the last point:

Peer pressure, which was once categorically regarded as a negative driver of drugs and deviant behavior, has morphed to a broader expression of social pressure in online spaces and is more aligned with maintaining group norms.

Not having an opinion on social media is the same as having the wrong opinion! There is no escape! You must have an opinion to, among other things, signal your virtue and membership in your social media groups!

How System 1 Thinking controls our thoughts

TL; DR Summary

  • Many people insist their views are based on science and education (fact-based) but on many topics, they stick to their ideology or party/group think position.
  • In the chart below, especially in the “Climate change & Energy” category, the strongest factors in one’s views are ideology/group membership and age. Both political parties are likely to be “fact deniers”, contrary to the views they hold of themselves. (Indeed, Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson emphasizes this point – left and right are both “science deniers”).
  • This leads to intuitive, quick, easy “System 1” analysis versus the time consuming, harder, rational thinking of “System 2”.
  • This illustrates the persuasive power of propaganda to influence opinion.


Source – Linda Regber


Thinking Fast and Slow author Kahneman, and creator of the “System 1 and System 2” thinking concept acknowledges that 11 of 12 studies cited in his chapter on “priming” were from weak studies. That chapter implied that “subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness“. This does not mean his conclusions are wrong but that the evidence supporting his conclusions may be weak on the subject of “priming”. This acknowledgement is independent of the System 1/System 2 thinking style issues.

Example of trade group social media propaganda

CaptureTL;DR Summary:

  • Most people view propaganda as something undertaken by governments, especially in war time, and by politicians. But propaganda and the methods of propaganda are employed every single day by all types of organizations and participants.
  • By sharing messages like this, you become a propagandist in the chain of propaganda!
  • On Facebook, a “Like” or “Comment” is identical to “Share” – which means you may be “sharing” items you do not realize you are sharing!


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