How Did the Belt Win? A New Freakonomics Radio Episode

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(photos, right: Elevationphoto; left: sexyninjamonkey)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “How Did the Belt Win?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

The gist: suspenders may work better, but the dork factor is too high. How did an organ-squeezing belly tourniquet become part of our everyday wardrobe — and what other suboptimal solutions do we routinely put up with?

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people, ideas, and music in this episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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[MUSIC: Rudy Pusateri, “Fashion Funky”]

Do you ever notice something that’s so commonly used that it’s practically ubiquitous — even though it doesn’t work that well? We get used to things. But does that mean they really make sense? I’m sure some examples come to your mind — maybe some medical practice, maybe a political practice, maybe even something where the stakes are really high. Like … hmm … belts?

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: So Levitt, list for me if you would, all the accessories and items of, let’s say, jewelry that you wear in a given day.

STEVEN LEVITT: You include a belt?

DUBNER: Sure, let’s include a belt.

LEVITT: Okay. A belt. Yeah, I’ve never worn a watch. I’ve never worn jewelry. I don’t, um —

DUBNER: No cravat?

LEVITT: No.

DUBNER: You ever wear a pocket square?

LEVITT: I’ve never worn, in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pocket square, and I certainly have never worn a pocket watch.

DUBNER: Hmm. Cufflinks?

LEVITT: Only when forced to on tuxedo days.

DUBNER: Uh huh. And so for someone who wears no sartorial accessories, why the belt?

LEVITT: Boy, you’ve left me speechless. I don’t know why I wear a belt.

Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author. Now, you’d think when I asked Levitt why he wears a belt, he’d give the obvious answer — to hold up his pants. That’s what a belt is for, isn’t it? Or is it? The late comedian Mitch Hedberg once wrestled with this question:

HEDBERG: I got a belt on that’s holding up my pants. And my pants have belt loops that hold up my belt. I don’t know what’s really happening down there. Who is the real hero?

On today’s episode, we too will wrestle with this and even more pressing questions about the belt. Hey, don’t laugh it off. There are health implications; there are economic implications; there are of course aesthetic implications.

We also look at another solution to another problem — one that really is life and death — that just about everyone believes in. Even though they probably shouldn’t.

*     *     *

The conventional wisdom seems to hold that wearing a belt is the right thing to do. For at least two obvious reasons. Number one: utility.

VOICES ON THE STREET:

Classic Corrella: I mean, well I am a belt person, because it does help keep up the trousers.

Rachel: They’re needed if you can’t keep your pants up.

Robin Blades: I always wear trousers that are a bit big so if I don’t wear a belt I’m in trouble.

And reason number two: style.

VOICES ON THE STREET:

Molly Etling: I love belts. I wear belts all the time. I think they complete an outfit.

Chuck Heaphy: Yes, I always wear belts. They look good.

Edward Qian: I got a belt on right now. I wear belts like pretty much everyday. I’d feel naked if I wasn’t wearing one.

So there’s a lot of pro-belt sentiment out there. A lot of belt wearers, a lot of belt lovers. Let me get this right out in the open: I am not among them. I don’t like belts very much. I don’t think they work very well; I find them uncomfortable. And I’m always reminded of this on the rare occasions that I do wear a belt, when I take it off at the end of the day, and instantly feel much better. So I was happy to have a conversation with someone who feels the same way …

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics – My Dear (from It’s About Time)]

DANIEL SEFCIK: For me it really started back in about 2010 when I was teaching physics in high school.

That’s Daniel Sefcik.

SEFCIK: I’m a data admin for Newbold Advisors as well as an instructor for Lone Star Community College.

DUBNER: Gotcha, and you live where, Daniel?

SEFCIK: Spring, Texas. Basically north Houston.

Okay, back to when he was teaching high school:

SEFCIK: And at the time I had a belt that wore out, you know, I’d had it for several years, and I thought for a second while I was looking for a new belt about the physics of what I was getting. And I was like, well, wait a minute. This basically works the same way as a tourniquet. You know, you strap it on, pull it tight, and hope your pants don’t fall down. But the physics of a belt — it pushes in, and hopes that it creates enough friction to have your pants not fall down. Well, that didn’t make sense. Here I was talking to my students about physics, and what direction gravity was pulling and moving things, and here I was wearing a belt. And I thought about it a little bit, and I was like, well, wait a minute. I need something to pull up, if gravity is pulling down.

DUBNER: So if you’re looking for something to pull pants north while gravity is pulling them south …

SEFCIK: Well, that’s suspenders. And so I took a look around and started wearing them, and they were exceedingly comfortable. And so from there on out, I was like well, I’m not going to get any more belts.

DUBNER: So your argument is that suspenders are essentially superior to belts in terms of the function that belts are supposed to serve, which is holding up pants. Correct?

SEFCIK: Absolutely. And that they’re superior as well in comfort.

DUBNER: Okay. So, let’s say for a minute that I buy your argument hook, line, and sinker — or belts and suspenders as some people say. No offense to you at all, but why does it take until 2015 and a high-school physics teacher near Houston, Texas, to ask this question that surely millions if not billions of people have had opportunity to ask before which is, “Why are we wearing these suboptimal things when there’s something not only that doesn’t have to be invented, but already exists, that does the job better?” Why were you the guy?

SEFCIK: I would not subscribe something quite so grand to myself, but as far as why belts rule, the apparel choice and the choice of holding up your pants, I’d honestly say that it’s mostly social momentum.

Ah, social momentum. Is it true that the belt is superior to the suspender in the eyes of the people who create social momentum?

[MUSIC: Panorama Jazz Band, “Martinique” (from Come Out Swingin’)]

“I mean, suspenders have an image problem.”

That’s Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at F.I.T., the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.

STEELE: You think of them as being worn by people who are maybe too fat to be comfortable wearing a belt, so you have that image. You have some cool images like punks wear suspenders, but even that is a very aggressive kind of look. So belts on the other hand seem much more normative.

But how did belts become normative? Obviously, we need to take a step back.

CHLOE CHAPIN: My name is Chloe Chapin and I’m a fashion historian and I teach theater design at Reed College.

DUBNER: So Chloe, not to be too forward, but what are you wearing right now?

CHAPIN: That’s a great question. I’m wearing jeans, a V-neck t-shirt, and a sweater and suede shoes that have purple soles.

[MUSIC: J. Cowit, “One Level At A Time” (from Our Princess Is in Another Castle)]

DUBNER: Okay, so let’s talk briefly about the history of pants, please.

CHAPIN: Pants were theoretically invented by the Eurasian horse riders of the Eurasian steppes in the Bronze Age, so maybe 3,000 B.C.

DUBNER: And they were wearing what before pants?

CHAPIN: Like a tunic or a wrap. You could think of like a kilt or a sari or a sarong. Any big kind of cloth that you could wrap around the body, that would need to be held up. So belts existed before pants did.

DUBNER: I see, and belts were worn where? Were they worn more midriff?

CHAPIN: Yeah, I think you could think like Braveheart or one of those kind of things, where you would use it to cinch the clothing around you and also as a way to hold up your sword belt.

DUBNER: Okay, so they were functional in at least two or more ways at once.

CHAPIN: Exactly. They would hold your clothes onto you and also hold accessories on to you as well.

DUBNER: But then if you want to ride a horse all day, pants are helpful.

CHAPIN: Right, it just helps with the chafing.

DUBNER: Oh with the chafing, right.

CHAPIN: But they were not considered fashionable with fashionable societies. Like, the classical world, the Greeks and Romans, they never wore pants. They were considered barbaric. You could say pants really entered into the fashion lexicon — based on the Western European system — in the early 1800s. Like, 1820s was when trousers first started to be worn. They had been wearing breeches, which were slightly different and they only fell to the knee. So these new trousers were cut very high-waisted, like above your belly button, so you had to have suspenders to wear them because a belt wouldn’t be functional.

DUBNER: And they were worn almost always with suspenders then?

CHAPIN: Correct.

So the belt came along well before the suspender, but there was a time when suspenders took the lead role in holding up pants. How, then, did the belt win? Well, pants themselves became more widespread, worn in more circumstances — by coal miners, for instance, who carried heavy stuff in their pockets and needed those pants held up. Recreational sports were becoming more common.

CHAPIN: The problem with suspenders is that they’re attached to your shoulders. So if you’re doing any movement where your hips and your shoulders are twisting or moving at different paces, like fighting or sports, a belt might be more practical for you. Because you can just imagine, like, you lift your shoulders [and] if you had on trousers it might give you a little bit of a wedgie.

DUBNER: OK, so the belt was —

CHAPIN: Whereas a belt wouldn’t do that.

DUBNER: A wedgie preventer, right?

CHAPIN: Yes, exactly.

[MUSIC: Dorian Charnis, “Chunky Funk”]

The fashion curve was also changing, then, as always. Chapin points to the early 1920s, when pant waists were lowered. The end of World War I brought a burst of military-inspired fashion — including belts. Cowboys switched from suspenders to belts, in part because a belt could show off a buckle, which might signify a rodeo victory.

Other victory belts would come along — for wrestling, for boxing. And achievement belts — in karate, for instance. The belt became a symbol of strength, of accomplishment. The suspender, meanwhile, would go on to become the symbol of … what: Urkel? The cater waiter?

But if there’s one person you’re looking to blame for taking the belt mainstream, it’d probably be …

CHAPIN: The Duke of Windsor. He was a very small man, so it’s possible that some of the things he helped to popularize were things that just looked good on him. If he was a very rotund gentleman, he might have made suspenders popular instead of belts.

The Duke of Windsor — known before his abdication in 1936 as King Edward the Eighth of the United Kingdom — embraced the belt. At the time, Chloe Chapin says, the belt was seen as a casual, very American thing.

CHAPIN: And so oftentimes what these princes were known for was for wearing and making popular a fashion that an older generation would consider to be much too casual, whether that was morning coats or belts; they were often sort of trendsetters. It was like the people, his friends that were sitting next to him, and then those people would have dinner with someone else and they would be like, “Oh, after dinner I’m unbuttoning my jacket, just like the prince does. You know how I hang out with the prince all the time, because I’m so important.” And then one thing passes on to the next. It’s like a celebrity haircut today. You want to associate with someone you admire or look up to or think is fancy or important, and so you mimic their style.

And this is where we must acknowledge that if you are the kind of person who thinks about clothing as primarily practical — as our friend Daniel Sefcik thinks about the belt and suspenders — well, maybe you aren’t thinking about it right.

STEELE:  Fashion is and always has been about much more than function. Back in the 19th century, scholars used to think that fashion developed out of functional needs. But in fact all the research has shown that throughout world history, people have used clothing and adornment to signal messages to other people. So whether or not suspenders are more “functional” than belts is kind of beside the point.

As Valerie Steele points out, this notion goes well beyond the belt.

STEELE: You can choose clothes that you think are more functional — you could choose to wear sneakers rather than leather shoes, or rather than high heels. But it’s all going to be relative in what you tell yourself is functional for you. It’s like people used to think pants were more functional than dresses. But really it’s all in your head what’s going to be important to you. I remember living in Indonesia and a very famous old artist was invited to come to England and he refused to come because he said to me with horror, “They’re going to make me wear trousers and shoes.” And this is so uncomfortable and horrible, instead of wearing a sarong and flip flops or bare feet. So the idea that clothes are primarily functional — it’s primarily about what makes you feel comfortable and confident.

[MUSIC: J. Cowit, “Spoiler Alert”]

I think you’ll admit  Steele makes a good point. That said, there is evidence the modern belt is — well, stupid.

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[MUSIC: Trip Deuce, “Best Is Yet To Come”]

The belt is a fairly ubiquitous item, at least for those of us who wear pants. Men are more likely to wear belts than women — in part because men are more likely to wear pants, but also because the male body is shaped more like a tube, without the nice rounded hip that prevents pants from slipping down. That’s unless you’re wearing very tight pants or perhaps pants with a drawstring or an elastic waistband, or pants that have been tailored to snugly fit your very own tubular male form.

In all these cases, a belt isn’t necessary — at least not as a functional item.The fashionability of the belt is, as we’ve established, a separate and perhaps more salient issue.

In any case, there are among us some men who are dissatisfied with the belt, who see it as a poor substitute for, say,  suspenders. Men like Daniel Sefcik of Spring, Texas.

DUBNER: So Daniel, let’s make you king for a day. Would you take action against the belt or in favor of the suspender? Or are you the kind of guy who says, You know what, I figured out a better solution for myself and if the rest of the world doesn’t want to get on board, that’s their problem?

SEFCIK: In the king-for-a-day scenario, I would definitely, if I could, issue everyone a pair of suspenders, probably either black or navy because that should fit most outfits, and say, Okay, for one week I want you to try it. After a week if you still want your belts, okay, that’s fine. That’s your option. I’m not going to be an oppressive king. I want to be at least a little beneficent there. But I think that given the opportunity to see and interact with your peers in a set of suspenders, coupled with the comfort and the functionality of suspenders, I think that would probably swing it to where we would see suspenders almost everywhere. And belts would kind of go towards the wayside.

Valerie Steele of the Fashion Institute of Technology thinks that Sefcik is — how shall we say this? — delusional.

STEELE: The thrift stores would be full of discarded pairs of suspenders. I mean, I think that you would find essentially no women wearing suspenders except for a handful who wanted to get that kind of Berlin-in-the-1920s, cross-dressing look. And you’d get a few fat guys and a few punky guys who would like suspenders. Maybe a few hapless guys who thought the Wall Street look circa 1985 was still stylish who would wear suspenders. But most people would keep on wearing whatever they were wearing before, belts or no belts.

Ouch! Maybe Valerie Steele is right. Maybe the belt is too firmly established as the winner of the holding-up-our-pants contest, and the suspender is irretrievably unfashionable. But before we just accept that and move on, let’s at least look at a few empirical differences between the two.

Belts, by squeezing inward rather than tugging upward, can be uncomfortable – and, if worn too tight, potentially harmful.

KEN HANSRAJ: Around the pelvis there’s a nerve that lives there called the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.

That’s Ken Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon in Poughkeepsie, New York.

HANSRAJ: Belts can compress it and cause thigh pain. And that’s called meralgia paresthetica. So if your belt is too tight and you do not have an adequate amount of girth or fat to protect you then the belt will be on the nerve, irritating the nerve, causing thigh numbness and sometimes pain.

Hansraj’s most recent book is called Keys to An Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine. A lot of patients who come to him with pain in their backs or necks have something in common: they wear a belt and use it for something beyond holding up their pants.

HANSRAJ: When you have, for example, firemen or medical doctors or plumbers, people that carry a lot  of weight around their waist, they are not aware of the consequence of the weight. It’s not just the weight; there is a force-times-distance [factor]. And I can tell you from doing other studies that the weight you’re carrying around your waist probably weighs seven to nine times more to your spine because of the consequence of force times distance.

Suspenders, Hansraj says, can offer a lot more support for carrying the weight. That’s why you’ve often seen loggers and construction workers wearing them. And a couple of police studies found that wearing suspenders, along with a duty belt, increased comfort and performance.

All that said, I get it. I get that suspenders just aren’t a social norm – not yet, at least – and that the belt, for now, reigns supreme.

Perhaps, then, we should focus on at least improving the belt.

ANDREW HEFFERNAN: I think the way the belt market is at the moment, is broken.

That’s Andrew Heffernan. He’s a founder of a company called Beltology.

HEFFERNAN: And this is the idea of wearing a piece of leather around your waist with pre-punched holes that basically has no give, it’s like wearing a tourniquet around your waist. You know, it never fits properly and becomes very uncomfortable.

Heffernan did not start out in belts.

HEFFERNAN: I worked for years as a medical doctor in Ireland and then I went to work for Goldman Sachs as a banker and then I did my MBA at Harvard. And after Harvard I worked as a consultant at Bain & Company.

He saw an opportunity in what he calls the broken belt market.

HEFFERNAN: So, menswear is the fastest-growing part of the apparel industry right now. And accessories is the fastest growing part of menswear. And then when you dig into men’s accessories, you see that pretty much every accessory is growing at double digits except the belt.

[MUSIC: Soundstacks, “City Landscape”]

Americans buy about 180 million belts a year.

HEFFERNAN: And again, it’s been pretty close to that for the last few years. And this is in a context where — take socks for example — where colorful socks has been growing at like 40 percent at specialty stores. Gloves is growing, scarves, hats, pocket squares, tie bars, even ties was growing at one stage. And then you look at these numbers for the belt, and so the numbers were telling a story. So we believe that is a sleeping giant of a market.

And that’s why Heffernan founded, along with Anna Lundberg, the online shop Beltology.

HEFFERNAN: So number one, we think that there’s a change in functionality in the way you wear your belt. And number two is the idea that subtly your belt can become an expressive accessory.

Number two kind of speaks for itself. As for number one, the functionality issue — Beltology sells a stretch woven belt, which is popular in Sweden, Lundberg’s home country. The metal prong passes through the woven webbing rather than pre-punched holes. Which means it looks like a traditional belt — not like a camping belt, with the sliding buckle — but is, theoretically at least, a little more comfortable and a lot more adjustable. Heffernan believes the Beltology formula is working:

HEFFERNAN: In our first year, we did sales roughly of half a million dollars and in our second year we’re hoping to do sales of close to one-and-a-half million dollars.

I wish Heffernan and Lundberg all the luck in the world with their business, and if they can make the belt a little better — well, that’s nice too.

But I can’t help thinking that the belt, for all its mainstream acceptance, for all its style potential, for whatever functionality it has — is still a pretty suboptimal solution to the primary problem it’s trying to solve, which is holding up pants.

And it reminds me therefore of another suboptimal solution to a problem that’s a lot more important than pants:

STEVEN LEVITT: I started thinking about car seats when I was doing other research on auto fatalities related to drunk drivingAnd at the same time, I was taking my kids in and out of car seats every day, and I always had the feeling that they flopped around a lot and among other things what car seats do is they prop you up really high in the air, and as I was looking at data on car crashes I came to understand that there were really only two ways you could die in a car crash. One was that you were projected because you weren’t restrained at all and you slammed into the glass or were thrown out of the car. And the other was is if the space you were in collapsed around you and crushed you. And so in that principle it seemed like the lower the better when you were in a car. And so that was my intuition about car seats, is that they were floppy and they got you up in the air. And that might put you at risk. So then we looked at the data.

The data were from the U.S. government, which does a good job collecting information on just about every traffic accident in the country, including the causes, the occupants of the vehicles, whether any one’s been drinking — and whether the passengers were restrained by seat belts or, in the case of children, car seats.

LEVITT: And what we found in the data was really remarkable. It just, it seemed like the benefit of a car seat, a children’s car seat, relative to a child wearing an adult seat belt, was minimal. Almost zero. So in our research, in terms of fatalities, car seats didn’t help at all. In terms of injuries, mostly relatively minor injuries, it seemed like car seats had a small advantage relative to adult seat belts. But compared to the mythology that has arisen around car seats in which people seem to think, wow, these are the greatest inventions ever, the facts and the mythology just didn’t seem to line up very well at all.

DUBNER: Hmm. So if you’re really concerned about protecting kids in cars — the vast majority of whom ride in the backseat — what would be a better way to rig a car rather than add on car seats?

LEVITT: So I don’t even know the answer to that because there’s been so little thought and research put into it because the car seat has been king.

[MUSIC: Sarah Ozelle, “Amethyst Sky”]

Kind of like … the belt has been king. To test out the car-seat theory, Levitt and I contacted an independent lab that conducts crash tests. We commissioned two tests: a 3-year-old-sized dummy in a car seat versus a 3-year-old dummy in lap-and-shoulder belt; and a 6-year-old-sized dummy in a booster seat versus a 6-year-old dummy in lap-and-shoulder belt. Within minutes, we had some data:

LEVITT: And the adult seat belt did great. It would have passed all of the federal requirements that they have for car seats. But I think you and I both came to believe that ironically the people in this industry really weren’t that interested in saving kids’ lives. It seemed like they were more interested in selling products and avoiding lawsuits than actually reducing fatalities.

DUBNER: So you just answered my next question, which is Why, if car seats aren’t really that good at doing the one thing they’re supposed to do, why are they so omnipresent? I mean, really omnipresent because they’re regulated. I mean, how do you describe this kind of weird scenario? You’ve got auto-makers who aren’t responsible, right, for protecting kids in back seats really. You’ve got child-car-seat manufacturers who aren’t responsible, even if their stuff doesn’t work that well, and they profit from them, and then there’s the government who demands it. Is that weird triangulation the reason we’ve got this suboptimal solution?

LEVITT: Yeah, I think it’s a perfect storm of incentives leading to bad outcomes. The only people fighting car seats in this entire country, Dubner, are you and me.

Our research on car seats has been controversial; not everyone agrees that car seats underperform.

But the underlying point is a broader one — for car seats and belts and probably a million other things we use every day without thinking about too much. We form habits. We accept conventional wisdoms that may not be very wise. We think that once someone has come up with some kind of solution, there’s no reason to rethink it.

Well, I think we should all do a bit less of this. Our working headline for this episode was “Belts Are Stupid.” Out of respect for belt lovers everywhere, we ended up toning it down. But I’m not willing to let go of the sentiment — and I’m curious to know what else you think is, on some level, stupid. What’s something you encounter or use or think about all the time that could really use a makeover?

*     *     *

And while we’re talking about stupid things — we’re working on another episode about the stupid things we do in a kitchen. We’re talking with a food-science guy who says we’re getting a lot wrong.  We’ll answer questions like, when is the best time to salt your burger? How long you should let your eggs sit before they go on the stove? And is New York pizza really better because of the water? And we’d like to put your voice in this episode too. What are some of the culinary secrets you swear by? Who taught them to you and … do they really work? No recipes, please. Make a brief audio recording — just use whatever voice memo app is on your phone — and e-mail us the file at radio (at) freakonomics (dot) com. Please tell us your name, age, and where you’re from. Thanks.

*     *     *

Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Audrey Quinn. Our staff includes Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Christopher WerthCaroline English, Alison Hockenberry, and Kasia Mychajlowycz. We had help this week from Matt Fidler.

*     *     *

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas behind this episode:

PEOPLE

RESEARCH

ETC.


Steve Taffee

You buried the lead.

The belt story is interesting but unimportant except as example of a certain type of thinking, or not thinking as the case may be.

The much more important story is the billion dollar industry of child safety in automobiles. And it's not just how using car seats may not provide the extra margin of safety patents want for their children, but that auto manufacturers have outsourced this whole issue to third parties and parents.

James

Why should automakers be the prime focus of child safety? After all, a good many of us don't have children: should we have to pay for (and haul around, with resulting drops in efficiency & performance) child safety equipment that we'll never use? It's bad enough that the automakers insist on adding an unnecessary rear seat to virtually all their models, even those marketed as supposedly being sports cars.

Erin

The least-functionally-designed object I know of is the paint can. How has this thing not had a makeover yet? You need one tool to open it and a separate tool to close it, you almost always need to pour its contents (which must hit their target or necessitate major cleanup) but there's no pour spout, the paint slops all over the side of the can and fills the ring intended for the lid to snap into--ridiculous. I remember some paint brand offering a plastic container with a spout & screw-on lid years ago...how that didn't take off I'll never understand.

Jeff

You guys seem to have ignored that the belt has at times been more practical than suspenders. For example if you were a Viking wearing chainmail a belt would help to distribute the weight making your chainmail much more comfortable because otherwise all of that weight would rest directly on your shoulders.

Even after the middle ages belts are very convenient from hanging stuff from (particularly before pockets took off). And let's face it hanging a sword on a belt is much better than putting it in your pocket. And suspenders (not being horizontal) don't serve the same purpose. One could argue that hey a diagonal baldric is much easier for holding a sword but this is only partly true because the belt makes it easier to get the sword out.

So there we go, we have found a practical use for belts beyond keeping your pants up (in fact many belt wearing societies didn't wear pants). And this practicality continued at least until the 1900s. And even when swords are replaced by guns the belt remains practical. Even in the modern military the belt, beyond holding up pants, allows a soldier to carry a whole lot of stuff he might need in his batman apparatus.

For the belt to disappear there needs to be some other apparatus (suspenders) that is WAY better than the belt at accomplishing it's intended purposes.

Read more...

Matt S

Stupid thing that we do: saying "bless you" (or equivalent of) after sneezing . I still do it, it's a trigger at this point, but it truly serves no real purpose. At best, we do it for social currency (or to avoid losing social currency, it is still considered rude not to say it) or possibly to break an awkward silence that I suspect might arise from sneezes in the first place.

James Isabella

Why did the urinal never make it into the bathrooms of private homes?

I guess I kinda know why....it requires more space that many bathrooms don't have....its another thing to clean.

But considering how sloppy men can be when they urinate into toilets, and the amount of water urinals would save over a normal toilet, I would think that urinals would be somewhat more common in everyday homes.

Nick

I think our number system could use a makeover: switch from base 10 to base 12 or base 16. We'd need better number symbols, but we already use base 12 for time keeping, and computers use base 16. You can count to 12 on one hand by using your thumb to touch the 3 bones in your other 4 fingers, or 16 by touching the tip and 3 joints. Then using the other hand to count a second digit, you can count to 12 x 12 = 144 or 16 x 16 = 256. And math in these bases works a little better since there is more divisibility compared to base 10.

Marian

My friend absolutely hates umbrellas. He thinks they're stupid and doesn't understand why people use them. Living in Vancouver, BC I use umbrellas a lot and he always gives me a hard time about it.

Dr Alan McGlennan

The umbrella
Purpose - to keep short people's heads dry while allowing the rest of the body to get wet
Drawback - eye injuries to all men
Solution- THE HOOD, PEOPLE, THE HOOD

Daniel J. Meyers

As soon as I finished listening to the podcast I purchased a few pairs of suspenders from http://www.suspenderstore.com, no joke. I thought about buying them for a while, I started wearing some wool pants that required suspenders and because of your podcast I will be moving to wearing only suspenders. Even when I wear my Army uniform (Army Reservist), I will wear suspenders.

Gigi

I think brassieres are designed soooo wrong. They do the job but they're so uncomfortable. There must be a better way to hold up heavy weight that is inclined to head south.

Jordan

I dislike how people think wearing a digital watch means that you can't read analogue clocks.

I don't brag about being able to read Roman Numerals and I certainly wouldn't force myself to use it over Hindu Arabic Numbers just to prove that I understand them.

I also dislike those who think watches are unnecessary because of cellphones. I was annoyed when a speaker felt the need to shoot down watches when talking about smartphones.

Trish

As I was listening to this and hearing men complain about belts... Having to take off the belt when they get home because it's so uncomfortable, etc... I just kept thinking BRAS!!

Belts are not as "compulsory" as bras and bras are way less comfortable. What about that? How did we get to the point of strapping ourselves in this way?

Taz

Stupid design.
I don't get mops. You put clean water in a bucket, you wet the mop put it on the clean floor then transfer the now dirty mop in the the clean water contaminating the water thus using dirty water to "clean" the floor. This makes no sense to me

Suzanne

On the subject of women wearing suspenders, I believe that Valerie Steele is correct--only a very few women would wear them. However, not even she brought up a reason that seems obvious to me. That reason being that women have breasts! Women have more narrow shoulders in general, and that coupled with not having flat chests makes suspenders uncomfortable to wear and hard to keep on the shoulder.

Bill Settles

Interesting topic. But like so many of your shows, your white perspective is quite evident. One issue about the need for belts is anatomy. White males generally (yes, my sample is only slightly more scientific than your child safety seat sample) lack the amount of gluteal flesh (i.e., have smaller behinds) needed to hold up their pants. Black (and many latino) males are likely to have more sitzfleisch and can often get away with wearing running slacks and other beltless pants.

Your findings on child safety seats need much more research and it would be good if someone would do it.

Sub-optimal solutions: We want quickly served small amounts of coffee; the suboptimal solution is the Keurig type of coffee maker which is mostly a plastic distribution system.

Jon

The comment near the end misdiagnoses the issue. Dubner states, following his discussion on car seats:

"But the underlying point is a broader one — for car seats and belts and probably a million other things we use every day without thinking about too much. We form habits. We accept conventional wisdoms that may not be very wise. "

People use car seats because scientific and engineering research indicate they are safer and worthwhile and now most laws take this into account, not just do to common sense or "conventional wisdom." People don't have the resource to do their own engineering studies, so they must rely on the media and laws to obtain this sort of information.

Levitt has done a detailed observational study which claims that in practice they don't save lives, but other observational studies contradict his.

As one who builds models, I can assure you that these type of observational studies have a high likelihood of providing a wrong answer. They can be very sensitive to the model assumptions, interpretations, missing data, or inadvertent biases and flaws in how data is collected. In the medical field, many are later contradicted by randomized control studies.

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Mike

I believe that recycling in many cases is a bad idea. I know this will sound crazy at first but please let me explain. My girlfriend wants to recycle everything and we spend a lot of time and energy sorting, organizing, and dropping off recyclables. I live in Cleveland, TN and we have a top notch waste management land field. They drive by every house in the city to pick up trash weekly and take it to the land field to be stored in a central location. I believe we should just put or recyclables in the trash bin and let them be taken to the land field for “Storage”. I think that in the future technology will make recycling much more efficient and clean and until then we will just be storing these future raw materials in a safe central location. So I am not against recycling, I just think we should store this stuff as most others are and in the future these land fields will be little gold mines. It will save current processing energy and create a future resource.
Thanks,
Mike

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