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What do Pirate Costumes, Chowder, and Traffic Safety Have in Common?

Leonard Evans, 2008-07-01


An advertising jingle that a large fraction of the public has enjoyed starts with a good-looking guy in a pirate outfit singing to a catchy tune:

They say a man should always dress for the job he wants
So why am I dressed up like a pirate in this restaurant.
It’s all because some hacker stole my identity.
Now I’m in here every evening serving chowder and iced tea.
Should have gone to

The ubiquity of these ads illustrates the monumental failure of public education to plant a modicum of curiosity or logic in the public mind.  Why does the public not ask “How much money does it cost to repeatedly expose a large fraction of the public to an advertisement?”  How can the advertised item show a profit unless zillions of customers sign on, with each of them paying lots?  The advertisement itself provides more than enough information to prove that any claim that what it is selling is “free” is fraudulent.

This is confirmed immediately by Googling and fraud (or scam).  There are hundreds of hits giving personal stories of how people were swindled, and of lawsuits by states alleging illegal business practices. 

Those who respond to the ad are required to provide information, including a credit card number, in order to get a week’s “free” service of information that is, by law, public and easily available without fuss.  They will then be billed $12.95 per month until hell freezes over if they do not have the knowledge, time, and tenacity to work their way through the labyrinth required to cancel.

What an easy story for any media reporter to put together.  Just about everyone would be interested.  So why do you not hear a word on TV, radio, or print?  The answer is simple.  The media receives massive revenues from advertising  They are not about to shoot, or even wound, the goose that is laying such valuable eggs.

What has this to do with traffic safety?  The answer is everything.  The main reasons why 42,000 Americans are killed every year have little to do with what the media keeps telling you.  The central factors that science identifies (see my book Traffic Safety) are how you drive, and how all the other drivers drive.  How drivers drive is influenced by many powerful institutions, including government, the automobile industry, the auto insurance industry, the alcoholic beverage industry, the movie-making industry, and many special interest advocacy groups.  When these institutions claim in their advertising that they are pursuing safety, the media takes them at their word.  This is quite understandable when you consider the advertising revenues involved.  It is not in their interests to reporting that science concludes that nearly all the claims about safety have little to do with saving lives.  In addition the media has its own powerful interest in portraying driving that increases the risk of killing people as exciting entertainment. 

It is not just commercial media that has little motivation to tell you the truth.  The non-profit National Public Radio is every bit as bad.  Its main goals appear to be to advance its own political agenda and the interests of the lawyer classes with which it has so much affinity and from which it receives so much financial support.  For example, it was running a long series on the families who tragically lost a service person in Iraq.  I sent many letters pointing out that on a typical day 16 teenagers were lost on our own roads – and that they also had families.  My two sentence letter was never included in their program devoted to reading listeners’ letters.  I did not waste further time attempting to inform them that since the beginning of the Iraq war, 230,000 Americans have been killed on our roads, and over 50,000 of these deaths are due to government policies known by scientists to be foolish.

The big message is that what the media tells us is what advances their interests, not ours.  One should not complain too much about this – it is natural, and arguably quite proper.  There is a sense in which all human beings act in pursuit of their own interests.  However, it would be nice if a central goal of education was to make sure that every citizen understood this.