Sunday, May 1, 2011

Towards a Pro-Life Transportation System

The term "pro-life" is instantly recognizable from the U.S. abortion debate. It's a classic example of framing an issue to give positive spin to one point of view. Well, I'm not above that, since the way you describe an issue can have a powerful effect on how people think about it.

As I've written about before, the U.S. transportation system kills over 33,000 people per year. Not very pro-life at all. Public discussion about transportation usually comes down to griping about how "expensive" gasoline is or how there's "too much traffic", but I would argue that given the death toll, we should be focusing much more attention on making our transportation system less fatal.

I don't have all the answers on how that should be done. There is a lot of research out there on the subject, and it sometimes leads you to conclusions that are counterintuitive. We should challenge ourselves to have a better grasp of the research. Lives are on the line, so this issue is too important to let our thinking be taken over by the crutch of ideology. Academics need to do a better job as well, by making their research easily accessible to the public without regard to ability to pay, and communicating deep insight and complex thought without excessive jargon that pointlessly hinders comprehension by a broad audience.

In closing, let me leave you with some data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's a map of fatal crashes in California from 2007-2009, and it requires a free Google Earth plugin to view. You can click on the points to get details about each fatal crash. This is also available for other states. If we're going to get to a pro-life transportation system, we'll need to stick close to the facts, be ready to challenge our own assumptions, and get the word out aggressively, creatively, and compassionately.


  1. As an academic (albeit quite a junior one), I assure you that it isn't academics who are trying to lock their research behind pay walls. Journal publishers control subscription and article fees, and often publication requires that authors agree not to post their work elsewhere. While most academics are, I think, insulated from the impacts that the pay wall has on broader societal dialog (because, after all, anyone at a decent university doesn't have to worry about it), there are quite a few of us who do want to see our research opened to the public.

    What needs to happen in most domains is what happened in the field of medicine- NIH made open access to the finished paper a mandatory condition of receiving funding. (You can find any NIH-funded research at NSF and NEH should do the same, as should any other agencies who fund academic research. If the taxpayers are buying, they ought to have access to the finished product.

  2. I'm sure it's frustrating to a lot of people in academia too. I just think it's crap that the average person can watch any number of mindless tv shows free, read newspapers free online, but is asked to pay to read academic research (or to go to one of our fine public libraries, often with limited selections of journals and struggling with budget cuts). It's like the system is intentionally designed to get as few people as possible to read academic journals.