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Of Cars and Conspiracies PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dragonrock   

Jeff Wagg’s article about the extreme lack of casualties on board the AIRES 737 in Columbia brought to mind a similar story from 2009.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was instituted in 1959 to test and promote auto safety.  To celebrate their 50th anniversary they decided to throw a big bash, or rather, a big crash.  They slammed two cars together, which is what they do fairly often.  What made this crash different was that they weren’t testing crash worthyness.  While Mythbusters has shown us that breaking things is fun, that wasn’t the purpose either.  In this case they were doing it to show off.

In an effort to demonstrate the improvements brought about by 50 years of engineering knowledge, they crashed a 1959 Chevy Bel Air into a 2009 Chevy Malibu.  It was a 40mph head on offset driver side crash; which was probably chosen because it allowed the cars to go head to head and see who came out standing.  The cars were both 4-door sedans of roughly the same weight so it wasn’t a David vs. Goliath at least where momentum was concerned. The video to the right shows the crash from several angles, including from inside the cabin.  Watch it, then we’ll continue talking.

Pretty cool huh?  Even cooler are the still images found here of the two cars before and after.  Looking at just the crash test dummies we see the Malibu driver sitting in a generally intact cabin while the Bel Air driver is folded in a way that I suspect even yoga masters would avoid.

However, this isn’t the point of my story.  You see, this is old news.  It happened last year after all.  The point is the discussions that appeared after the video was made public.  I went to view the video on Youtube and saw the different copies have hundreds of comments claiming everything from the Bel Air had the engine removed to the frame of the older car was rusted and simply broke.  Others say that something was done to the Malibu because the new plastic car wouldn’t have a chance against one made of sheet metal.

These conspiracies spread because of what “everyone knows.”  The list of things everyone knows is long and includes things like: Toilets swirl one way in the northern hemisphere and the other way in the southern; Silencers turn the loudest gunshot into a quiet “fffffttt”; that Bogey said “Play it again, Sam”; and, of course, older cars are stronger than newer ones.  But, in all these cases, what “everyone knows” is actually wrong.

The sources of these legends are varied, Hollywood encourages the silencer myth, and some text books mention the toilet swirl.  But the idea that older cars are stronger is one that people can experience first hand.  A gentle press on the side of most modern cars will cause the panel to bend while a good kick to the side of a classic car often leads to little more than a broken toe.  The problem in the case of the cars is the often counter-intuitive nature of engineering.  The fact that the newer car bends more easily is actually what makes it safer.  Lighter cars have less kinetic energy and stop more easily while having the metal bend where the people aren’t makes it less likely to bend where the people are.

I suspect that this conspiracy will fade rather quickly while the JFK, moon hoax, 9/11 truthers will be around for a while.  But the root of all of them is the same and that’s a lack of critical thinking.  I’m of the opinion that the hard core conspiracy theorists are a lost cause, but educating children, not on conspiracies, but on basic critical thinking will cause belief in these stories to die a slow death.  It’s hard to fix our world, but maybe we can keep our children from screwing up theirs quite as badly.

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ffft
written by Caller X, August 25, 2010
Silencers, more properly called suppressors, do work pretty well, given subsonic ammunition. Some pistols have a slide lock because the noise of the slide moving is louder than the shot itself. People use them for a reason.
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written by Matt_D, August 25, 2010
I believe the biggest source of the 'toilets swirl one way in the northern hemisphere' myth is actually The Simpsons and the episode Bart vs. Australia.
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written by AZAtheist, August 25, 2010
Good article Dragonrockx. When I'm in my '66 Nova, I know that behind the steering wheel is a solid shaft about 7/8" in diameter attached to the steering box under the engine. If I crash, that bar is going through my chest. No air bags and only a lap belt to keep me from going through the windshield.

But more to the point of your article, critical thinking is the key.
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written by kenhamer, August 26, 2010
I read most of the comments, and I disagree that this is a bunch of conspiracy theorists. I think rather they a combination of people who have a vested interest in saving face because of their affection for old cars and and an inate belief that they *must* be better, stronger, heavier etc.... and, well, downright stupidity.

It would be fun to round up another 2 similar cars, and all the people making the non-sensical (the old car must be better/safer) claims. Let everyone inspect both cars, then repeat the test. I think most would come on-side, though it might take a few minutes or even hours of contemplation to come to terms with their new world view. There'd likely still be a few morons, but then there always are.

Science -- you gotta love the "repeatability." You couldn't repeat Obama's birth or the NYC attacks. But you could certainly repeat this event.
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written by polomint38, August 26, 2010
@kenhamer

People with a vested interest,affection and innate belief along with stupid people.
This actually describes conspiracy theorists. They will find a loophole to all tests and evidence.
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Fascinating Side Point, Lowly rated comment [Show]
@Michael Dawson
written by Kuroyume, August 26, 2010
Yeah, the more rational approach is to go back to horse and buggy. Er, like the Amish! Yeah, that's it. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by FrankH, August 26, 2010
I’m of the opinion that the hard core conspiracy theorists are a lost cause, but educating children, not on conspiracies, but on basic critical thinking will cause belief in these stories to die a slow death. It’s hard to fix our world, but maybe we can keep our children from screwing up theirs quite as badly.

That might* keep your kids and mine from becoming conspiracy theorists, but don't forget that conspiracy theorists have kids as well. The only** hope they have is that they turn out brighter than their parents.


*"might" because children are almost duty bound to rebel against their parents' teachings.
** Unless they also rebel, of course. smilies/smiley.gif
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@ Mike Dawson
written by Zoroaster, August 26, 2010
I don't follow your logic. Does every article about cars need to include an examination of whether or not they are the best choice for dominant means of transportation? Even if they weren't the dominant means of transportation wouldn't it still be worth examining how their safety standards have been improved? And since the article is really about how people choose to accept or reject evidence based on their personal biases and car safety is just a peripheral example, is the environmental impact of cars really relevant to the article at all?

All of the questions you ask are legitimate. I would be surprised if they have not been thoroughly examined in articles, books, blogs and other media. If not, feel free to write the book yourself but it isn't up to anybody else, just because they are a critical thinker, to write the particular article you want to read.
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written by Willy K, August 26, 2010
It's not always lack of "education" that leads people to erroneous conclusions about forces and strengths.

I was talking with a co-worker who has a PHD in Physics. I said that people who drive at high speed and bumper to bumper are putting themselves and others at great risk. He said "It's NO problem going 80 MPH and driving close together, if the guy in front of me slams on his brakes he'll only slow down a little to maybe 70 MPH, how much damage can be done when it's only a 10 MPH difference?"

I was shocked that he didn't consider that basic physics equation F=MA. Even I know it!

I should have asked him "How fast is the tree at the side of the road going? The one you're going to hit?" smilies/cry.gif
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@ Willy K
written by tmac57, August 26, 2010
I totally agree.I have heard the same argument. It seems like high-speed tailgaters think that only their motion relative to one another is of concern.They can't seem to grasp the big picture.Not to mention their overestimation of their reaction times in high speed events.
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written by Squid, August 26, 2010
Regarding the high speed rear end impact example given above:
The people who are thinking "How much damage can it do?" are both correct and incorrect. To my understanding, the initial impact damage will be light, so, in that case, they are correct. However, they are not considering the post impact events, namely possible loss of control. There are too many variables to exactly say what would happen in the example... (what's the road surface? What type of tires are they using? Is it raining? Is there more traffic?) for anyone to give a concrete answer, but in general the post impact events would be much more damaging that the impact itself.
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written by MadScientist, August 26, 2010
@Willy K: Yep, just ask google about "pile-ups"; there was another horrible one just about a week ago (though I can't remember which country) - journalists seem to like to use the number "50", even though everyone knows the answer is always 42. Over the years I've driven past many tailgaters and just shook my head thinking "what morons" - the attitude seems to be "it can't happen to me". I always keep a safe distance even though I know my own limits and my car's limits and I can bring my car to a stop pretty quick (on a good road in good conditions) knowing full well that the idiot behind me hasn't got a chance of moving quick enough to avoid hitting me unless perhaps he's (or she's) a race car driver. The other thing that annoys the hell out of me is people who believe that speeding actually saves them significant time on a trip - except for long trips on long roads which hardly have any stops, it's just not true.
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@Squid
written by tmac57, August 26, 2010
but in general the post impact events would be much more damaging that the impact itself.

Yeah, I think that's what Willy K and I were alluding to.All you have to do to realize that,is watch what happens in a Nascar race when a couple of cars collide at relative speeds,and then all hell breaks loose.It doesn't happen every time,but then again those are professional drivers who know how to react.Most drivers would panic in that situation,and even if they didn't,the driver next to them might,and cause a chain reaction.
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@Willy K
written by Caller X, August 26, 2010
I was shocked that he didn't consider that basic physics equation F=MA. Even I know it!


I am shocked that you didn't realized that that was EXACTLY what he was considering. Your larger point about other possible damage stands, but your knowledge of physics was apparently driven into the lake by its mother.
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@tmac
written by Caller X, August 26, 2010
Yeah, I think that's what Willy K and I were alluding to.All you have to do to realize that,is watch what happens in a Nascar race when a couple of cars collide at relative speeds,and then all hell breaks loose.


Yeah, Nascar. That's the auto race that's ENTIRELY based on turning left. Not a reasonable analogy. Look at the vectors.
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I believe that it was true but has changed.
written by Able, August 26, 2010
My perception of older cars being safer than newer cars started in the early seventies. Manufactures started pushing out cars like the Pinto, Vega, Cricket etc. If you were driving a 59 Chevy and got into even a fairly slow accident, the newer lighter cars would lose (and sometimes blow up).
The larger new cars they started pushing out in the late seventies and very early eighties often had a lot of plastic replacing metal but without much concern for crumple zones and other safety features. There were exceptions but up until that point you still could not convince me that the newer cars could “take on” an older car.
What I know has changed:
Today, I am a firm believer that the safety of the newer cars is far better than the old beasts despite the older vehicles weighing more. And that video proves it.
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written by hamradioguy, August 27, 2010
A quote from TAM8 presenter Simon Singh (in the Sept. issue of "Wired" magazine) comes to mind:

"Science has nothing to do with common sense. Common sense is a set of prejudices. That's what we're fighting against."
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Abotu the silencer myth...
written by Wrathernaut, August 28, 2010
Subsonic ammunition + silecner = ffffttt
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...e=related
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Silencer link fixed.
written by Wrathernaut, August 28, 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...re=related
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written by Steel Rat, August 28, 2010
Those dummies really shouldn't have been allowed behind the wheel of a car.
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Emotional Reaction
written by laursaurus, August 29, 2010
This crash test makes a powerful statement about the incredible safety improvements accomplished over the past 50 years. But am I the only one who feels a little sad about sacrificing a classic American muscle car in apparently mint condition? smilies/sad.gif

OTOH, I am very impressed and grateful for the technological strides we've accomplished. smilies/smiley.gif
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Car Conspiracy
written by markbellis, August 29, 2010
Given that bumpers started out as inexpensive bolt-on accessories in the 20s and became easily damaged chromium pieces by the 50s, I'd speculate that car manufacturers had made cars such that owners would be inclined to buy new models after minor collisions rather than repair them.
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@Caller X
written by philosaur, August 30, 2010
I am shocked that you didn't realized that that was EXACTLY what he was considering. Your larger point about other possible damage stands, but your knowledge of physics was apparently driven into the lake by its mother.


I'm shocked you didn't realize that the larger point is the larger point. Way to be a obnoxious pedant.

Yeah, Nascar. That's the auto race that's ENTIRELY based on turning left. Not a reasonable analogy.


I'm shocked you don't see that the analogy is about how minor rear-end collisions can cause devastating effects at high speeds--both in Nascar and normal highway driving.

Look at the vectors.


Look at the pretense of intelligence.
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Well, as much as I can agree with the first part, few lines at the bottom of the article show your true colors
written by EternalQuest, August 31, 2010
The ability to inject certain words, like conspiracy theory, which puts a closure to any kind of thinking about something, that also is a tremendous right wing victory. We're after over 30 years of ideological war over words and right wing is winning this war, because they undetstand much better that ideaology and words count. Words control ideas, and ideas control people.
Now – putting David Ray Griffin, Steven E. Jones, Richard Gage and others into the same 'conspiracy theory' group, trying to equalize Moon Hoax, JFK and 9/11 Truth Movement is a really great victory for ideologists from the right wing. You fail to understand that at the same token they label some people with 'conspiracy' label, they themselves are the greatest conspiracy at work, and in the same breath they disregard some scientific data and simple logic in one thing (9/11, Global Warming – the theory for some reason they support), they'll back it in the other (non-existent HIV/Aids cause-effect theory). The subtle network of media channels, commentators and think-tanks build by right wing, repeating the same agenda, injecting same ideas, is so widespread that borderline unmovable. Basically what you're saying is this: whatever governmens says is right, is right, because it's official and not labelled with 'conspiracy theory'. Well.....
As much as I'm pro uncovering some idiotisms and misconceptions in our perception, I'm all for it. Go and analyze, than say. But the purpose of what you're doing, you're real agenda is in these few lines at the bottom. I got here from TED and thought you'll be more in depth, and not another system agenda.
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written by littlejohn, September 03, 2010
A couple of posters here have defended silencers. Technically, you're right. Subsonic ammo can be effectively silenced.
But I think the point was that Hollywood gets it all wrong. Think of the last movie where you saw a silencer. The silencer was about the size of a roll of Life Savers candy. That would never work.
Real silencers are the size of large tomato juice cans - often bigger than the pistol itself. It takes a lot of steel wool stuffing to silence muzzle blast.
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@littlejohn
written by Caller X, September 03, 2010
Where are you finding these oddly shaped cans of tomato juice? And what kind of movies are you watching? The movies I watch pretty much get it right.

Here's a top of the line suppressor (the proper name). Its dimensions are 7.5" by 1.375".


http://www.knightarmco.com/mk_23_suppressor.html
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@littlejohn
written by Caller X, September 03, 2010
Also, no steel wool involved. Baffles only.
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