Can Intersections Function Better Without Road Signs?

This week, I read an article from Vox about towns in Europe that are getting rid of traffic signs. This article was accompanied by a video that detailed what getting rid of traffic signs would look like and how those intersections would function. It also showed footage of the intersections in action. They seemed to be functioning well, which is encouraging, but I think that I’d have to experience it firsthand to really understand how they function. They are also apparently faster than normal intersections. Because there are no traffic lights, people end up spending less time going through the intersection, even with the added slowness.

I am very skeptical of intersections being able to function without traffic signs, but I must address my own biases that create this skepticism. First, I am used to road signs and place a lot of importance on them. Second, I have never encountered a road sign free intersection, so I have no firsthand experience to how they function. Because of both of these things, I went into this article assuming that they wouldn’t work, and found myself favoring the arguments of the dissenters.

The reason that these intersections work, according to the video, is that people drive more cautiously without the road signs. This is because they’re not sure how to handle the situation, so they drive carefully out of fear of the unknown. The other reason that they work is that the people who design the intersections put things like trees that create edge friction, which is the idea that vertical elements nearby to where a person is driving create a visual cue for their speed. Edge friction tricks people into driving slower, making them more aware of their surroundings.

I think my main concern with these intersections is that I don’t trust people in my community to not be complete assholes. There have been plenty of times where people have driven through the crosswalk that I’m trying to walk across, and plenty more times where people have cut me off when we’re both driving. I feel like I would feel unsafe if I didn’t have traffic signs. I’m already on guard any time I’m in a car or walking in front of a car, so I can’t imagine how much more anxiety I would have if I didn’t have rules that told me how to behave in these situations. I think that a lot of drivers that I have encountered think only about themselves, so I could imagine them barreling through intersections without road signs without checking too carefully to see the people around them.

The other concern that the video addressed was that these intersections don’t work very well for people with disabilities, especially people who are visually impaired. These types of intersections require the pedestrian and the driver to work together through visual cues to decide who will go first. A person who is visually impaired cannot tell if traffic is stopping for them with visual cues, and the cues like the noises that crosswalks make aren’t present. This poses a problem where these intersections may be better for the able-bodied population, but they may be more dangerous for differently abled people, leading to more discrimination and disenfranchisement.

I think that these intersections would work better in small communities and at intersections that don’t have a lot of traffic. I can’t imagine how hectic things would be at these intersections during rush hour or in the middle of downtown. This video and article didn’t say anything about where these intersections would function best, nor did it say anything about where they wouldn’t work. I think it was treating all intersections the same, which is not fair. Busy intersections, especially ones that have a lot of pedestrian and driver traffic, pose more risk than lower traffic intersections.

At the end of the video, they talked about intersections that were a mix between the old and new. They had crosswalks so that differently abled people could cross safely, but they didn’t have any other road signs. I think that these are a good compromise. Having a crosswalk where people have to stop that has auditory cues makes it so that differently abled people can use the crosswalk, but it also has the benefits of faster traffic and perhaps even safety benefits long term. For now, though, I think I’m still skeptical, but I’m curious to see where these go in the future.

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Are our political opinions as stable as we think they are?

This week, I read an article from Vox about how people often change their political opinions without knowing it. The author framed it from the perspective of Republicans changing their views to become more aligned with those of Trump. He states that when people do change their opinions, they often don’t realize that they’ve changed their opinions.

This article talks about several studies. The one that he talks about in most depth was one done on college students where they were asked their opinions about spanking. They asked them if spanking was effective. Then, they brought the participants back in a few months and had them read different arguments about spanking. Then, they asked them if spanking was effective again, and they also asked them to recall what they said in the first session. What they found was that participants ranked spanking as more effective if they read arguments that were inconsistent with their beliefs, and they also recalled their initial ranking as higher than it actually was. This study was done on college students, so it may not apply to all populations.

belief graph

Another study that he briefly talks about was one where people in Sweden were given opinion polls. The researchers collected the polls, changed the answers to reflect the opposite opinon, and gave them back. They found that 92% of participants didn’t notice the changes. The questions on the poll were things like, “gasoline taxes should be increased”, and “the legal age for criminal responsibility should be lowered”. I don’t know anything about Swedish politics, so I don’t know if these were important issues to people. I would imagine that they weren’t that important, since most people didn’t notice that their polls had been changed, but maybe this supports the idea that people’s opinions are easily changeable, regardless of how important they are. I suspect that it’s the former, but there’s not enough information in the study for me to know. I also think that I suspect the former because I don’t want to believe that the beliefs that are important to me would be easily changed. I want to believe that if these were important issues to me, I would be part of the 8% who noticed the changes. This definitely could be biasing my analysis of this study.

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The author makes an important statement at the end that I think he doesn’t spend nearly enough time on. He says, “We’d have better awareness if we changed our minds on a topic that is more deeply connected to our identity — like access to abortion or belief in climate change.” The issues that Republicans have changed their minds on that were outlined in this article were opinions about Putin and opinions about free trade. These opinions have changed from 2015 to 2017. It’s not surprising that these opinions have changed. In 2015, I don’t think that either of these issues were well talked about in the media. Now, Trump is making more public statements about both and there is more media coverage about both, so it makes sense that opinions would have changed. Perhaps in 2015, these were neutral topics to a lot of people, and in 2017, they went with the opinions of Trump because it was easier than forming their own opinions from research. I suspect that if Trump suddenly made pro-choice statements, we would not see a drastic change in Republicans’ views, and would instead see a public outcry. I don’t think this invalidates his argument. It’s true that opinions on these issues have changed, and it can likely be attributed to Trump’s public discussions of these issues. However, if this article is meant to make people think about how easily their opinions can be changed, even the ones that they thought were firmly held and stable, this point becomes very important.

Does the one county that overwhelmingly voted for both Obama and Trump tell an interesting story about American politics?

This week, I read an article from FiveThirtyEight about the single county in the United States that overwhelmingly voted for both Obama and Trump. This was such a fascinating concept for me, because we think of Obama and Trump on two sides of a political spectrum, and we often think of people as firmly in one party or the other without much room for change. We often hear about people voting with their party simply because that candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, with little knowledge about their policies. However, I don’t believe this is the case with this county. In the case of Howard County, a county of 9,332 people, I believe voters were making a conscious choice for both candidates, which makes this article even more fascinating. Howard county is 98% white, only 13% of residents over 25 have at least a bachelor’s degree, and the median income in 2015 was $49,869. (A quick aside- I don’t know why they used the median instead of the mean. Perhaps there are a few people who run the businesses in Howard county who make a considerably larger amount, say, millions of dollars, that make the mean artificially inflated, but because the source didn’t tell me where the data came from, I have no real way of knowing). They don’t have high unemployment. Their main concern is stagnant wages and a collective sense that they have been working harder while other people have been receiving bigger rewards in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

What I found even more fascinating is that people said that if Bernie Sanders had won the primaries, they may have voted differently. The county felt like Clinton was elitist and that her policies wouldn’t benefit them as a blue-collar town. Many of the Sanders fans also felt like she stole the primary nomination from Sanders, which encouraged many of them to vote for Trump instead of Hillary. Others just wanted a change in the administration, and felt like Clinton would not provide as much of a drastic change as Trump (they were probably right in this, but I’m not sure if it ended up being the change they wanted).

Overall, I think that this article is fascinating and paints an interesting picture of American politics. The people in Howard county felt like the administration under Obama wasn’t benefitting them the way that they deserved. They voted for both candidates because of a common thread of anti-elitism. It’s hard for me to look at Obama and Trump and see anything in common with the two of them, but this feeling of anti-elitism makes sense. The people in Howard county saw both candidates as presidents who would help them, the small counties with little growth. When Obama didn’t create the drastic change they wanted, it made sense to move to Trump as someone who was drastically different. I don’t believe that this story is calling for vast political change, nor do I believe this single county is significant enough to necessitate it. However, I think that anti-elitist sentiments are not exclusive to this county. Perhaps knowing those sentiments would help future candidates know how to appeal to these blue-collar counties. However, I’m not sure if a change like that would have changed the outcome of the 2016 election. Howard county is a fascinating case study, but it may simply be a unique situation that doesn’t have implications for the rest of the country.

The New Government Report on Climate Change Paints a Concerning Picture- that the Current Administration Seems to be Ignoring

This week, I read an article on Vox about the contradictions between the new report on climate change and the way that Trump acts about climate change. The report came out of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), which is an United States government interagency organization on climate change. The report explicitly says, “this assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” It also shows many charts and graphs that outline the changes overtime, as well as the projected changes.

climate

Both of these charts display concerning data about climate change. Of course, projected data can change, but it should be concerning to a lot of people.

This does not reflect the sentiments about climate change that Trump has reflected in the past. He has called climate change a hoax, proposed a budget that cuts funding for climate research, talked about withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, and the executive branch has removed references to climate change from websites. However, the administration did not interfere with the release of this report, even though it seems to strongly go against Trump and his administration’s sentiments.

What I found interesting about this article is that it seemed to frame it as a negative that the administration didn’t interfere with the publishing of the report. I would prefer to have this information out there than have it censored. I think that this article shows interesting points about how contradictory the report is to the general sentiments of Trump and the administration. The Whitehouse spokesperson also made a statement about the report changing the tone of the report, saying “the climate has changed and is always changing”. He also essentially said that the report also reflected this uncertainty. While I do think that it’s concerning that there’s so much contradiction between the report and these statements, I think it’s overall a positive that this report was released in this way. It’s written in a very accessible way that would be understandable to most people. I wish that the article had spent more time on the content of the report, instead of comparing the sentiments of the two. I think that the general public would benefit more from seeing this report and having it talked about in the news than from seeing these contradictions. I think that it’s wonderful that this was published despite the sentiments of the administration. I also think that it’s important that this information is widely accessible because it’s concerning and needs to be talked about. This report is refreshingly honest and paints a grim picture of the future. I hope that this is an eye opener for some people, despite the apparent blindness of the current administration.

 

The Illusory Truth Effect: What Can We Do to Recognize Misinformation?

I read an article about the illusory truth effect. This is a phenomenon where people are more likely to believe information if they’ve heard it multiple times. This phenomenon is concerning in a world where information can be shared at the click of a button. This article specifically talks about research done by several psychologists at Yale University. They created fake news headlines and showed people real news headlines and asked them to evaluate how accurate they were. They distracted the participants with an unrelated task after this. Then, they incorporated the fake headlines into a longer list of headlines to evaluate. What they found was that people categorized the fake headlines as more accurate after seeing them the second time.

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What’s interesting to me is that according to this graph, when the fake news is new, people are more likely to rate it at about a 1.5 out of 4. When they saw it again, the peak was more around 2.5. However, when it’s familiar there appears to be less of a peak. I do think that this data is fairly compelling. I think that the graph does show a difference when people have seen the fake news again. I think that if we were looking at a smaller scale event, this would not be very compelling. However, there are millions of people on social media. Even a slight difference in accuracy means several million people believing fake news to be more accurate. This is particularly concerning when so many articles get shared multiple times by multiple people. Misinformation can spread very quickly with social media, especially because people can make up anything they want. This study found that even when the information was not very probable, people still believed it more the second time.

A quick note about this article: it hasn’t been peer reviewed yet. They did some things to help make the study objective, but it hasn’t been the process yet. However, there have been other studies in the past that have studied the illusory truth effect and found similar results.

I think that this study has concerning implications about the spread of information. I think that people want to think that they’re good at identifying misinformation, but they may not be as good as they think they are. It’s particularly concerning because people can spread this misinformation incredibly quickly. I also think that people are more likely to believe misinformation if it fits with a personal agenda. Information that affirms our personal beliefs is easier and more personally profitable to believe than information that counters those beliefs.

In order to combat this, we need to be better at recognizing fake news sources, as well as checking out where information came from if we find it suspicious. However, this may be a difficult task for people. The author of the Vox article said that sites like Facebook and Google need to be better about identifying and labeling misinformation. While I agree, I wonder how well this will work. I’ve seen many people believe articles from the Onion to be true, even though it’s relatively well known that the Onion is a fake news site. I wonder if people will ignore labels about the accuracy of a news source if it affirms their beliefs. I don’t think this is inherently a reason to not label misinformation, but it may mean that labeling doesn’t have as great of an impact as we might hope.

Yay!! More Teens are Using Birth Control!

I read an article from Vox about the declining birth rates for teenagers. Over the last decade, teen births have dropped 51 percent, which is huge, especially over such a short period of time. This decline has been attributed to more access to and use of birth control. The likelihood that these women are sexually active has stayed about the same, so we can eliminate that as a potential confounding variable. Not only are more teenagers using birth control, but they’re using more reliable methods, like IUDs or birth control pills, as opposed to only using condoms.

fertility and age

I think that this is great. Sex is often so stigmatized in the United States. Women who have sex before an “appropriate” time (usually dictated as after they’re married) are often labeled as sluts. This stigma doesn’t really prevent most women from having sex, but it may prevent them from seeking out birth control and informing themselves on things like STDs and pregnancy. I see this increase in birth control use as empowering for women. To me, it’s stripping away stigmas about sex. Although, of course, these stigmas still exist, better access to and utilization of birth control gives women more power over their own sexuality and sexual experiences. I also think this is especially beneficial when things like stealthing, which is non-consensual removal of condoms during sex, is becoming more and more popular. By using birth control like IUDs and implants, women have more control over their bodies, which is amazing.

The one thing that this article didn’t have was whether women were getting pregnant intentionally or not. In places like Utah, there may be more women who are between ages 15 and 19, which is the teenage category, who are getting pregnant intentionally. There’s an underlying tone in this article that it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies are going down because all teen pregnancies are accidents. This is not true, and can be potentially damaging to young mothers. Young mothers are stereotyped as bad moms who made a stupid mistake that they’ll have to pay for for the rest of their lives. This does not apply to all women. There are plenty of people who had children as teens and ended up being fantastic parents. On the flip side, there are plenty of people who had children after their teens and were not great parents. Age is not always a factor in ability to parent, because age does not inherently dictate maturity and capability. However, this does not mean that I think that the teen birth rate dropping is a bad thing. I think it’s great! In places like Utah, women may get pregnant intentionally as teenagers, but there may also be other factors like religious beliefs about sex that may encourage or coerce them into getting pregnant earlier. Just because you’re doing it intentionally doesn’t mean that there aren’t other forces that are influencing your choices.

Ultimately, I hope that this trend continues. More access to birth control is great for everyone. Women should have the right to decide what they want with their bodies, and societal stigma and shame can act to influence women’s choices or even make them feel like they have no choice. An increase in teens using birth control to me signifies a cultural change in the direction of more sex positivity and sex education. I think that this is so important. No one should have to live their lives ashamed of sex or afraid of getting pregnant. Women should be given autonomy and rights over their bodies, and I think that this data is a step towards that.

Doctor Assisted Suicide- Who does it benefit and who does it hurt?

I read a series of articles about doctor assisted suicide. Some were in favor of it and some were against it. I wanted to see where I stood on the issues. First, I read about some of the requirements. They included a mandatory waiting period- the patient must request it twice with 15 days in between- and a diagnosis of having six months or less to live. A graphic from the Oregon Public Health Division shows some of the breakdown of some of the identities that people who choose doctor assisted suicide hold.

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Note that it does not mention anything about ability, unless you count cancer as a reflection of ability, which I don’t. Also, there are only seven states where it’s legal. However, this does not prevent people from moving to these states to get these services. After learning about the requirements, I dove into the opinions.

The articles that I read in favor of doctor assisted suicide were primarily focused on emotional appeal, speaking to individual cases where doctor assisted suicide was a better alternative than waiting for death. A man talked about his wife’s experience, saying that “Brittany, and any terminally ill individual in her situation, was not choosing between living and dying. The brain tumor was ending Brittany’s life. The option of living was no longer available to her. She was only choosing between two different methods of dying”. This struck me as important. Not anyone can commit doctor assisted suicide. They must be terminally ill, with six months or less to live. If the choice is between dying on your own terms and dying after having your body destroyed by a tumor or other illness, it seems like many people would want to pick the former. One doctor who advocates for doctor assisted suicide believes that it’s important to have the option available. She says, “it is important to know that most people who request aid-in-dying medication do not use it. Fewer than one in 20 who request it end up ingesting the prescription for compounded medication for aid in dying”. Most of the people who request the process end up following through with it. It would be interesting to know how many of the people who do follow through with it are differently abled. I looked for those statistics, but I couldn’t find much more than mean age and that most of them have cancer. It’s important to note that the articles that I read in favor of doctor assisted suicide did not talk about the concerns that differently abled people would be affected more than other populations.

The article against it also focused on emotional appeal, talking about both the author’s individual experiences and the fears for society as a whole. He reiterates that people have to have less than six months to live, but with his condition, spinal muscular atrophy, he could qualify under these requirements. He also talks about the opposite of the doctor’s appeal that people often seek other methods. He says that doctor assisted suicide encourages patients to die over seeking other treatment. People with disabilities often feel like their whole life is a struggle, and it can be easy to become despondent and feel like death is the best option. His fear is that doctor assisted suicide encourages doctors and patients alike to view death as the best option, under the assumption that the quality of life for differently abled people is inherently worse than that of able bodied people. If doctors consider conditions like his to be terminal, even when they may live happily for longer than six months, I can see how dangerous doctor assisted suicide could be.

It seems to me that advocates for doctor assisted suicide think about the issue on an individual level. They talk about individual cases where a person decided that they would rather die now rather than in a few months when they would be unable to move or function. People who advocate against doctor assisted suicide look at the issue on a more institutional level. They recognize that the inequalities in our society encourage some people to commit doctor assisted suicide without considering other options. Looking at the issue from an institutional lens seems to cover a wider range of experiences and tries to account for the biases in society, including those that the doctors providing the drugs have themselves. However, as we learned from my article on psychic numbing, individual cases may be more compelling and convincing to people, even if a wider institutional lens accounts for the experiences of more people.

Ultimately, I don’t think there is a right answer to this dilemma. We live in a world rife with inequality, where money is so important to survival that people would rather die than put themselves and their families into the debt required to keep living. We also live in a world where differently abled people are treated as less capable, less productive, and in many cases, less than human. This means that for many differently abled people, doctor assisted suicide may be encouraged more, either directly by the people around them, or indirectly by society keeping them out of public spheres and doing everything they can to eradicate difference. Does this mean, though, that people should not be given the option, especially when the alternative is debt and poverty? The real problem with doctor assisted suicide is not the act itself, but the inescapable influence of culture and society that encourages people to believe that some people have more of a right to life than others.

I think that I am pro-choice on this issue. People should have the right to end their lives if living means deteriorating until you die a shell of who you once were. However, the real fear is that you’re not really making the choice for yourself. If society is telling you that your life is not worth living, then it’s not really your choice at all.