Not exactly lying…

Matthew Wald, who likes to retail coal company talking points, is out Tuesday with a piece that deserves a place of honor in the journalism hall of shame. The facts behind the story are that in a collision between a big car and a little one, the little one will be much more damaged and the people inside more hurt. Now you might think this could be thought of in more ways than one, for example that people who choose to drive big cars are putting others at risk, kind of like people who have large vicious dogs, or smoke in bed in apartment houses, or open their car doors without looking back to check for bikes. Wald’s lead, and the entire framing of the story is

Consumers who buy minicars to economize on fuel are making a big tradeoff when it comes to safety in collisions, according to an insurance group that slammed three minimodels into midsize ones in tests.

Excuse me: how is the citizen who does the right thing for the planet the one making the tradeoff?

The [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety] concludes that while driving smaller and lighter cars saves fuel, “downsizing and down-weighting is also associated with an increase in deaths on the highway,” said Adrian Lund, the institute’s president.

Excuse me: why is oversizing and up-weighting not the behavior associated with an increase in deaths on the highway? Why is the “standard” car the fat, thirsty, heavy vehicle of the reckless and self-indulgent? The excess injuries are associated with different sized cars, not small cars; why is the IIHS blithely fomenting an arms race for bigger cars, instead of demanding much higher premiums to insure the road yachts that put sensible people at risk for doing the right thing?

I don’t know where the copy editor of the Times spent the evening, but please: the lead for this story is “Consumers who buy large cars not only pay more for gas and endanger the planet, but also risk the lives of strangers when it comes to safety in collisions, according to an insurance group that slammed three minimodels into midsize ones in tests.” And Wald needs to do some actual reporting instead of snipping up press releases.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.