OPEN LETTER TO KRISTEN MERTZ & HAROLD WEISS
AP Floods Media with Flawed Statistics from Pittsburgh Professors
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14 June 2008
Kristen Mertz, MD, MPH
Department of Epidemiology
Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh
130 De Soto Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
Phone: (412) 624-57101
Harold B. Weiss, PhD, MPH
Department of Neurological Surgery
University of Pittsburgh
UPMC Presbyterian, Suite B-400
200 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: (412) 648-9290
To Professors Mertz and Weiss:
As an American citizen whose tax dollars fund the grants that subsidize you, and having in addition paid $10.00 for
the privilege of downloading a copy of your report entitled "Changes in Motorcycle-Related Head Injury Deaths,
Hospitalizations, and Hospital Charges Following Repeal of Pennsylvania's Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Law"...
...please allow me to convey my assessment of same. I will start with your conclusion and work my way back to
the data ... much the same as I suspect you did.
Let me begin by assuring you it does not take a PhD to appreciate the utility of a helmet. A motorcycle was my
exclusive form of transportation long before gas topped four dollars a gallon. And as a 24/7 biker and long
distance rider, I use and recommend the use of helmets when riding a motorcycle. But the issue here is not
the utility of helmets. The issue here is the futility of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws ... laws that
are arbitrary in definition, discriminatory in application, and heinous examples of "feel good" social
legislation the unintended consequences of which include the loss of life and liberty by the very citizens
they purportedly protect. That said, let's take a look at your conclusion:
"These data strongly suggest that Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law was effective in preventing traumatic brain
injury, given that its repeal led to disproportionate increases in head injuries."
Again, one does not need a PhD to see the logical fallacy in this statement: Unless your data PROVED that
"Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law was effective in preventing traumatic brain injury", you cannot truthfully
say that its repeal led to "increases in head injuries", proportionate or otherwise. And "strongly suggest"
does not mean "prove", professors. For that matter, where did "strongly suggest" come from? Only a few
paragraphs earlier, you stated:
"The large postrepeal increases in head injuries relative to nonhead injuries, both for statewide deaths and
hospital discharges, indicate that lower helmet use was most likely responsible."
Jumping from "indicate" to "strongly suggest" is a pretty big leap. And in this case, your leap was not
substantiated within the framework of your content.
So, having proven your conclusion to be a bit of a stretch if not totally specious, the next step in our
backtracking would be to see if your research does at least "indicate" that lower helmet use led to
disproportionate increases in head injuries:
But we can't do that. Why? Because your analysis did not factor in pre- and post-repeal helmet usage
for the overall PA motorcycling population. And although you do mention that "helmet usage in
reportable crashes in Pennsylvania declined from 82% in 2001-2203 to 58% after the repeal", I fail
to see where you segregated your crash, injury and fatality data in order to develop independent
statistics for the helmeted versus unhelmeted population segments. And without that segregation,
I fail to see how you can make any objective comparisons--or draw any statistically valid
conclusions--about the crashes, injuries or fatalities of helmeted versus unhelmeted riders over the
course of the pre- and post-repeal periods that frame your "research".
In other words, my learned friends, although your data does in fact "indicate" an increase in head injuries
resulting from motorcycle accidents in Pennsylvania for 2004-2005 over 2001-2002, you established no
causative correlation between that increase and the helmet law repeal or any change in helmet usage that
may have resulted therefrom. In fact, there is nothing in your published data that even proves the
increase (or any portion thereof) to be attributable to accidents involving helmetless riders.
Consequently, it would be plausible to suggest that helmets failed to prevent--or caused or
contributed to--some of these head injuries, and even likely that a significant portion of the
increase is due more to what the rider hit than what the rider wore.
As Moonrider graphically conveys in her two-part video on "Dangerous Designs"...
http://tinyurl.com/5qs9zq (Part 1)
http://tinyurl.com/6or6uj (Part 2)
...in many recent accidents riders are colliding with supersized SUVs and similar light truck vehicles
("LTVs"), resulting in disproportionately high fatality-to-injury ratios, including increased head
and neck injuries.
I don't know what your true agenda is, professors. Maybe you have to "publish or perish". Or perhaps
you saw this as a good opportunity for the Associated Press to give you your fifteen minutes of fame.
But if you really want to help make our highways safer by restricting personal freedoms, consider
championing cell phone bans. Legislation restricting cell phone conversations while driving could save
up to 15 times as many lives as mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, and would be far less discriminatory:
If on the other hand you're more interested in head injuries than highway accidents, I have news for you.
Only 1.2% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are motorcycle-related, which means that mandatory
motorcycle helmet laws are irrelevant in 98.8% of all TBI cases:
You may good intentions here, but if so you need to recognize the unintended consequences of
you actions: By shifting attention away from a much-needed focus on crash prevention
(e.g. motorcycle awareness training for drivers), you are costing
far more motorcyclists' lives than will ever be saved by your myopic advocacy of a failed public policy
based on crash survival (i.e. motorcycle safety gear for riders).
Speaking strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations,
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-Ray's Biker Forum
Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
2007 Chairman's Circle, American Motorcyclist Association
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