The article linked above on diet vs. sugary drinks has a passing reference to arguments about bike helmets—specifically, those that claim that helmets don't work. That does indeed sound silly. But the best argument I've heard against bicycle helmet laws (not against helmets in general) goes something like this:

1) Bicycle helmets help prevent traumatic head injuries in the event of an accident.

2) Some traumatic head injuries are sustained in bicycle accidents, but many more are sustained by people riding in cars and by pedestrians. This is, more or less, true even once you adjust for the number of journeys taken by these various methods.

3) Therefore, if one thinks it would be silly/overreach to mandate the wearing of helmets in cars or while walking, it does not make sense to advocate strenuously for bicycle helmet laws, or to shame people for not wearing bicycle helmets.

4) Motorcycle helmets are an entirely different case, as that mode of transit is almost uniquely dangerous, with a far greater risk of traumatic head injuries than other modes of transit.

So, the argument is that if one thinks the risks of traumatic head injuries justify bicycle helmet mandates, then one should also think that those risks justify mandates for helmets for drivers/passengers in cars, or by pedestrians. Many lives would unquestionably be saved if people—kids especially—who get in car wrecks wore protective helmets. But most people see this as completely absurd.

This argument seems pretty sensible to me—IF premise 2 is true. And it's a big if! I have long wanted to see a calm and impartial look at the data on this. Years ago, I emailed BBC's More or Less about the issue, but they never took it on. Perhaps Stuart could do a piece? The question is: in terms of risk of traumatic head injury on any given trip, is traveling by bicycle comparable to driving and/or being a pedestrian?

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You write, "But we need to find (or train) the next generation of hard-headed, rational, pro-science debaters who can hold their own against BS vendors of all kinds in live debates"

I would be interested in discussion, or debate :-) regarding the definition of "pro-science" and "anti-science". As one example, in the following article I make this claim...


"This article will argue that the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which is the foundation of science and our modern civilization is simplistic, outdated and increasingly dangerous."

Would you consider this "anti-science"? Or perhaps "pro-reason"? Or something else?

Imho, you provide one example of an "anti-science" view yourself, when you stated:

"Until anyone actually produces solid evidence that UFOs aren’t just camera artefacts (the exact same UFO filmed from different places by multiple cameras would be a start), maybe we should just lay off the UFO stories"

Imho, this is the kind of stubborn willful blindness (posing as reason) that will likely some day come to bite the science community on the butt big time. In the spirit of friendly debate, here's the case:

1) In order for UFO skeptics to be right, every single UFO report ever made has to be wrong. Every single one.

2) In order for UFO believers to be right, only a single UFO report has to be valid. Just one. Only one.

I would agree that attempts to explain UFOs are wildly speculative, for example, in the use of the word "alien". But the existence of SOMETHING not of our making navigating our atmosphere is not at all speculative. Not proven perhaps, but certainly rising to the level of requiring serious investigation, as it seems the U.S. government has itself concluded.

It's typically easy to dismiss any one particular UFO sighting. It's an entirely different matter to try to dismiss ALL of them.

If UFOs are real, and if they are being flown by some form of higher intelligence (future humans?), that would have the most profound implications for society's relationship with the science community.

If UFOs are a mass delusion which includes thousands of people, including some very highly credible witnesses, that's a huge story too, and the science community are fools to ignore it.

Ok, I've given you plenty upon which to practice debating. :-) Let me have it! Invite all your science friends to have at it too.

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@Stuart Ritchie - FYI, this business about having to repeatedly login to participate in your comment section is a deal breaker. If you're worried about access, perhaps put your comment section behind a paywall instead.

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