Monday, April 20, 2009

Weird things happen on BeerAdvocate

Before I get started, I'd like to direct your attention to my shameless plea for your cash (for charity!) which I posted earlier today. Please donate a few bucks if you can; the brewing gods will reward you with an incredibly short lag time and a vigorous fermentation.

So, I've been known to frequent BeerAdvocate from time to time, mainly for the homebrewing forum. I don't start threads too often, but today I learned that President Obama has nominated Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Chuck Hurley to head up the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I don't want to get too political here (it's a brewing blog, after all) but I have serious questions about whether many of MADD's policies, including their advocacy of dropping the BAC limit for a per se DUI from .08 to .04, would actually decrease drunk driving fatalities (see this post from The Agitator blog for more on the subject).

Anyway, I started a thread about this topic since I figured the potential lowering of the BAC limit from .08 to .04 would be of interest to many BA members. While many users posted concerns about the efficacy of such a proposal, one user posted the following:

sorry to be the big buzzkill but drinking and driving is wrong and reckless i dont do it so i wouldnt care if the limit was .0000 sorry yall but get on a bike or walk. drinking and driving is lame and does nothing but add to alchohols already bad reputation. im not saying that alot of people cant handle it under the right circumstances and everyone is guilty of doing it at least a few times in their past (myself included) but theres no denying that something needs to be done to reduce the amount of accidents. also if you can drive. you can drive. bac of .999 or bac of .00001 driving reckless is what gets you pulled over in the first place not anything else.

I understand why people would want to reduce drunk driving (I don't want to be killed by a drunk driver either). If somebody can show me that reducing the legal limit to .04 will save a significant amount of lives, I will totally support it. However, the research I've read is mixed at best. So I asked the guy what proof he had that reducing the BAC level would save lives. His response?

i have no proof. who amongst us has proof of what will happen in the future?

At this point, I decided this discussion wasn't looking too good so I responded:

If you don't understand how empirical evidence and statistics can help predict the efficacy of public policies (in other words, how the scientific method works), then there's no use debating you and I'm checking out of this thread.

Maybe a little condescending, but I thought it was fairly restrained overall. His reply:

yeah because scientific method can accurately predict everything 100% of the time. you win. (sarkazm) have a few people you know loose their lives to drunk driving and then get back to me.

Now, I kept my word and didn't post on the thread anymore, but in an attempt to both reach some kind of mutual understanding and try and understand why he seemed so anti-science/statistics, I shot him a beermail (BA's private message system). Here's what I wrote:

Look, man, I think you're missing my point. I don't want to see anybody die at the hands of a drunk driver any more than you do. I have a two-year-old daughter and a two-month-old son and the thought of losing either of them or having either of them grow up without a parent because of drunk driving scares the shit out of me. However, my point is that reducing the BAC limit to .04 or zero tolerance won't actually reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities. Despite your assertion to the contrary, we can indeed look at empirical evidence to determine what effect such laws would have. When several states went from .10 to .08, there was no statistically significant reduction in the number of drunk driving fatalities. If that was the case, why would going from .08 to .04 suddenly make a difference? The reality is that most drunk driving fatalities result from habitual drunk drivers who are well above .10. If you offer me evidence that stricter drunk driving laws will reduce fatalities, I'll support it. But the debate isn't whether drunk driving is good or bad, it's whether certain policies will curb it.

He beermailed me back:

sorry to break it too you man but statistics cant control the future. no matter how philosophical you try to sound while saying it you still sound uninformed

we both agree that alchohol and driving are dangerous when mixed so what logic is there to saying that less alchohol wont equal less alchohol induced wrecks. to me it sounds like youre saying "even if there were half as many guns in the world there would still be the exact same amount of gun related deaths"

statistics are based on information collected in the past and may have some relevance to the future but do not determine it. please dont try to act like you know my future or your own cuz you sound really silly when you do so.

...but i guess you had already used the scientific method to predict everything i was gonna say in this post. so i should probably save my breath as should you

At this point I was really having trouble understanding where this guy was coming from. I mean, I grew up with a biology/math teacher for a mom, my dad was a chemistry major, and I majored in meteorology with a minor in math, so I'm pretty familiar with statistics and scientific inquiry. But I don't think you need to take Differential Equations to understand how scientific studies can be used to determine public policy. So I had to shoot back:

I have to ask, what do you do for a living? I'm not trying to be confrontational here, but I've never met somebody who is so strongly anti-empirical. You realize our entire society is built on statistics and science, right? When somebody builds a bridge, they use formulas based on empirical observations to determine how much weight will cause it to collapse. They don't just build it any way they'd like and wait to see if it collapses. It's not about "predicting" anything unless you consider calculating the path of a rocket "predicting" it or determining the toxicological qualities of a substance based on epidemiological studies "predicting" that people will die if exposed to a certain substance. Scientists do this kind of "predicting" all the time and it makes our lives better. I'm not quite sure why you're so quick to dismiss statistics as some sort of pseudo-science.

Okay, so maybe that one had a bit of a lecturing tone to it, but this guy didn't seem to be listening to me at all. If he really doesn't believe in science at all, I have to say something to defend the value of research, right? Here's what he had to say next:

i have a t.a.b.c. certified retail dealers off premise license and sell beer. what do you do for a living? come up with philosophical nonsense all day? whats the formula for people who get killed by drunk drivers? whats the formula for who or who is not going to die in iraq? if you know could you please tell me and the rest of the world. also maybe you could come up with a formula to predict how bored i will be with each new bullshit letter received from some internet asshole halfway across the u.s.

oh and by the way fuck society i dont care about it. so you and it should probably just piss off together.

At this point I should note that I've had disagreements on BA before, but I've always been able to reach some sort of amicable agree-to-disagree resolution to the debate. Obviously that wasn't going to happen here, so I sent one final note:

Hey, like I said, I'm not trying to be confrontational. I just honestly don't understand your basis for dismissing statistics. Surely a businessman like yourself must use statistical analyses when deciding what to purchase, how to budget, etc. (even if you don't call them "analyses," you look at past trends of what you sell to determine what will sell next month, right?). I was hoping that, though a few beermails, we could at least come to understand each other's point of view even if we don't agree. I'm not sure what I said to be labeled an asshole, but obviously you're not interested in continuing this discussion so I'll call it a day. I hope you understand I was simply trying to express my take on the issue, and best of luck with your business.

He sent one final note back:

i make and sell home brews only i dont have a retail purchase license so i dont worry about what to buy. i make what id like to and so do my friends. the world is unpredictable. as much as youd like to fool yourself into believing that everything can be explained through some stastical analysis it will never be true and honestly i feel sorry for you being so hung up on thinking that everything can and will be explained through some pre-determined equasion. honestly seeing your name in my inbox is starting to annoy me so either come with some positive energy next time or dont even waste your time or mine

So there you have it. I don't know why I decided to post this entire exchange, but for whatever reason I'm both fascinated and confused as to how somebody could feel this way. The whole conversation intrigues me in a train wreck sort of way. I guess some people just aren't meant to understand each other.

In his defense, I probably could have worded things a little better here and there, but I really think I tried to reach some sort of common ground. I'm curious to know if he's a homebrewer, because I truly believe that every brewer is a scientist whether they're conscious of it or not, but I'm not going to bother sending him another beermail. Anyway, I hope you found this interesting too (and if you're still reading the post at this point I guess you did). Hell, maybe this whole post just shows that brewing is how I get my science fix now that I've left the world of meteorology for the world of law. Yeah, that's probably it.


Blogger robert said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:20 PM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger robert said...

I am soon to be 29 years old, and have lived in many different states and met many different people, and to put it plainly, some people would rather argue and be confrontational, than discuss things in objective terms--to let their arguments be based on fact instead of their heated personal opinions about other crap that doesn't have anything to do with the price of tea in China. That's all it is. My experience with people like that has shown that they dont have an answer and they seek to argue about something else instead. It's all really silly and they go on to lead equally silly and misinformed lives and it's sad because these people vote, and even some are in positions of power and the more rational of us can do nothing about it. To that, I say have a beer! Also, I agree that if lowering the BAC for people that are actually CAUGHT driving drunk would lower fatalities, I'm all for it, but of course it wont, and its a glaring signal that the wrong person has been put in charge. I mean is that really all she could come up with? And this is OK with Obama? That for all MADD has done and stood for, the only thing they could think of was lowering the BAC limit? We need solutions to problems, not reactions.

6:23 PM, April 28, 2009  

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