A Scientific Argument for Cell-Phone Ban for Drivers

You've probably heard by now that the NTSB has recommended that states forbid drivers to use cell phones, whether hands-free or not. Here is a good AP article by Joan Lowy about what is known and not known about phone risk. She makes the excellent point that it's harder to argue for a ban when highway fatalities keep falling -- but that a falling death rate hardly means that cell phone use isn't dangerous. (Off-topic but not too dissimilar: Americans are losing their taste for the death penalty, theoretically because it's sometimes applied so haphazardly -- but in truth it's a lot easier to argue against the death penalty when the murder rate has fallen as dramatically as it has.)

In the AP article, Marcel Just of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon, puts in words why phones may cause a particular risk of distraction:

"When someone is speaking your native language, you can't will yourself to not hear and process it. It just goes in," Just said. Even if a driver tries to ignore the words, scientists "can see activation in the auditory cortex, in the language areas (of the brain). "

This would also explain why hearing someone else's cell-phone chatter in public is more annoying than it ought to be.

Vengeance Is Whose?

Here’s a fascinating abstract, no comment necessary other than a little bolding for emphasis, from a new working paper called “Vengeance” by the economist Naci Mocan of Louisiana State University. He has done a lot of work on crime. He argues, for instance (contra Freakonomics) that the death penalty has a strong deterrent effect on […]

How the Supreme Court Misread My Research: Empirics and the Death Penalty

Cass Sunstein and I have an Op-Ed in today‚Äôs Washington Post, discussing the mis-reading of available empirical evidence in recent death penalty jurisprudence. Some background: A recent Supreme Court ruling (Baze v. Rees) reaffirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty, and along the way, the justices revisited the empirical literature on whether the death penalty […]

FREAK-TV: Another Take on the Death Penalty

Video We’ve written about the putative deterrent effect of capital punishment both in “Freakonomics,” and here on the blog. But none of those explanations were delivered by our International Video Woman of Mystery (known to her friends, natch, as Ivwom), whom you first encountered in a video last week about sport and violence.

Does the Death Penalty Really Reduce Crime?

Associated Press reporter Robert Tanner writes an article today stating that evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty reduces crime. As with most media coverage of controversial issues, there is a paragraph or two in which the other side makes its case. In this instance, the lone voice arguing against the efficacy of […]