Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An ounce of sense is worth a pound of stupidity

Generaly speaking, there are two things which will encourage even the meekest soul to voice his or her opinion about a topic with uncharacteristic bravado, especially if that opinion is derogatory in some way.  The first is liquor.  The second is the opportunity to express comments under the cloak of anonymity, a concept with which I am all too familiar. 

Specifically, I am speaking of an article published in the Columbia Tribune on Sunday that expressed concerns about a city-commissioned survey conducted to determine the effectiveness of the GetAbout program whose mission is to raise awareness and participation in alternative, non-motorized transportation.  The original article suggests that the GetAbout program has not resulted in increases in non-motorized transport and in fact states that fewer COMO citizens are cycling or walking these days.
To emphasize the article's point, the editors chose to publish a picture of a solitary, lonely looking, wet bicycle outside a Methodist Church.  I wasn't even aware that Methodists were allowed to ride bicycles, so wonder if this one is owned by a defecting Lutheran, or something....

The problem is, the agency that conducted the study (St. Louis-based research firm Philips and Associates) did so via land-line telephone only.  The response piece, authored by Robert Johnson, demonstrates how this inherently skews any data obtained. By polling a sub-population of COMO citizens that owns land-line telephones, the surveyors also preferentially selected homes inhabited by an older population.  (Research has shown that inhabitants of homes with land lines are older than the average population of a community). This explains why the average age of those surveyed (55 years) was older than the average age of COMO citizens.
Interestingly, further research has shown that the older-than-85 demographic is evenly distributed among those using tin cans and string, smoke signals and carrier pigeon.

Based on experiences in other cities that have seen rises in cycling advocacy and practice, it's believed that alternative transportation may be more likely adopted and practiced by a younger population.  Thus, the survey didn't get an accurate representation of the current trends  in Columbia, and the data is flawed and misleading.  Furthermore, Johnson goes on to quote the results of research conducted by Associate Professor Stephen Sayers (co-director of scholarly activity in the Department of Physical Therapy) which actually reported an increase in cycling by 18% in 2010 documented by direct observation.  Predictably, Mr. Johnson's article evoked some colorful reponses:

jefnmel (anonymous) says....
"Get a life. There are so many other worthwhile casues [sic] to put your energy towards than trying to justify your disdain for anything with an engine."

themorethingschange (anonymous) says...
"Robert, please hop on your bike and pedal out of town.  Intentions may have been good, but the reality is that an obscene amount of public money was wasted trying to convince people to bike or walk to work.  The outcome was totally predictable to anyone with an ounce of common sense.  And speaking of a younger demographic, there is an expression they no doubt would use to describe this deal: Fail."

As Mr. Johnson is likely not allowed to respond to these anonymously-posted comments, I hope he doesn't mind if I do, as I feel particularly qualified to do so based on the following: 1) I am under 55 years of age, 2) like the Tribune commenters, I too, am anonymous and 3) I possess exactly one ounce of sense, no more and no less.

I could start my response to 'jefnmel' and 'thremorethingschange's arguments by suggesting the bigger waste of money in this entire story was whatever the city of Columbia paid the St. Louis research firm to conduct a worthless study....or I could suggest that commenter  'themorethingschange'   probably has a land-line phone and is thus forbidden to use the word "fail" to describe anything other than the inadequate response to their Geritol and Centrum Silver....but instead, I think I will match their anonymously-posted, but well-crafted arguments with one of my own:

And I'd also like to take this moment to reiterate that in no way, shape or form am I suggesting or condoning that older people actually make the en masse switch to cell phones as a means of communication.  Speaking from personal experience, my mother now has an iphone and is learning how to text, and this frightens me.

Anyway - speaking of riding your bike and talking on the phone, I stumbled upon this today.

This photo is depicting a helmet with a built-in Bluetooth allowing you to make those important phone calls (or responding to critical phone surveys) while riding.  Of course, only cyclists under 55 will likely be able to master this complex technology.  However, that will probably result in the over 55 crowd being hit by cars far less frequently as their left ears won't be completely deafened to the sounds of oncoming traffic.  On the upside, the resulting shift in average age of cyclist could help the accuracy of the next phone survery to be conducted. 


  1. Columbia, MO, has a very minute population of people who HATE--for whatever reason--bicycles, and those who ride them, and of course, they are the ones who always speak up online. I pretty much let it go in one ear and out the other.

    Something these people seem to never realize is, Columbia was given grant money from the Feds for all this GetAbout mumbo-jumbo, and very little of what the city does is paid for by local tax payers.

  2. Aaron -

    Thanks for your comments. I like to remember that the federal grant dollars arose from ALL US tax payers' contributions - local or otherwise...thus the money was going to go to a predetermined set of cities in the US regardless...so isn't it better that Columbia was a recipient, even if some people don't necessarily think the enhancements make a difference? Or would non-approving COMO citizens rather have had their small percentage of tax dollars that were already dedicated to this grant end up in Walla Walla, or DesMoines or somewhere else? Those that disapprove shouldn't be upset with GetAbout, or the local government but rather the Federal Government for deciding that the program would exist at all (which I'm sure they are). The fact that the money is being used locally should honestly make them at least satisfied in that they get to witness how the money is being spent - most US citizens who paid into this didn't get to see those dollars return to their hometown.

  3. To learn more than you wanted to know about GetAbout Columbia click here.

    The intent of the program is certainly noble: A Healthy form of commuting (the program includes walking and I guess running).

    The getabout site shows that the city of Columbia has only just begun some of their planned infrastructure changes, with a bulk of projects let to be completed over this year and next year.

    So I would suggest it is too early to call a "fail" or a "win". And most certainly not with a phone survey as definitive proof. That's makes about as much sense as a completely dry cat pushing a watermelon out of a lake.

    Seriously...... cats don't even like watermelon.

  4. I cannot believe I have my own "search label" on this blog. I'm honored!

    Thank you, Poobah!!!!!!


  5. DH - thanks so much for the link

    Robert - The cat pushing the watermelon was for your benefit....certainly your job must feel like that sometimes....