After years of too little attention, the subject of head injuries in sports, and how to prevent them, is now what Twitter would call a "trending topic."
First came the turnaround in attitudes toward NFL player head injuries, and the helmet-to-helmet tackles and hits that increase the risk of those injuries. Then came the discussion about skier Lindsey Vonn's continued participation in the World Cup last week, despite clear indications and admissions on her part that she was still skiing behind the course and "in a fog" after suffering a concussion in a training accident. And now, there's the U.S. lacrosse league debating whether or not the girls -- who now only have to wear protective eye gear—should be required to wear helmets as well.
Girls' lacrosse has dramatically different rules than the boys' game: body checks are illegal, as are certain stick checks, and there is a regulated safety zone around each girl's head. Nevertheless, research quoted in a New York Timesarticle today concluded that when it comes to concussions, lacrosse ranks third in female sports (behind basketball and soccer). In addition, despite the less-aggressive nature and rules of the girls' game, girls' lacrosse has an in-game concussion rate only 15 percent lower than the boys.
So if concussions are an issue in girls' lacrosse, the argument goes, we should require girls to wear more protective headgear. After all, the boys' helmets, intended to reduce skull fracture and intracranial bleeding, are thought to reduce the number of concussions, as well.
But does the addition of extra safety gear actually reduce the risk of the injuries it is designed to prevent? Well, yes ... and no. Which is what fuels the debate on the issue.
Taken by itself, it's easy enough to prove that wearing a helmet, like wearing a seat belt, decreases the chance or severity of injury in an impact. But humans are far more complex creatures than crash test dummies. And so the true impact of safety equipment becomes far more complex, as well.
In his 1995 book Risk, British researcher John Adams spelled out several reasons why safety equipment does not always increase safety the way its designers or legislators think it will. The first is a phenomenon called "risk compensation," in which humans respond to additional safety equipment by taking greater risks than they did when they felt less protected. For example, Adams said, while seat belts unquestionably gave a person better protection if they were in a collision, the chances of being in a collision went up in places with seat belt laws, because seat-belted drivers took more risks in how they drove.
For all the time and discussion space we devote to the goal of eliminating accidents or injuries, Adams suggests that people have "risk thermostats," and that we all adjust our behavior to maintain the level of risk in our lives that we find acceptable. We all compensate for the extra margin provided by safety equipment to some degree, and some of us will push the new boundaries further than others. All of which means that safety equipment often doesn't make as much of a difference as its proponents believe it will.
Indeed, there are many who argue that mandatory helmets, and increasingly strong helmets, have actually exacerbated the problem of head injury in sports ranging from boys' lacrosse and ice hockey to professional football. So perhaps helmets for female lacrosse players really are a bad idea, as U.S. Lacrosse (the sport's governing body) argues.
So what's the solution? In many cases, improving safety has had more to do with changing a group's culture and attitudes about high-risk activities than it does any specific technological advance -- especially in individual sports or hobbies.
A prominent example is the Cirrus Design company (a company profiled by James Fallows in his Atlanticarticle and subsequent bookFree Flight). In an effort to build a safer aircraft, Cirrus included a full-airplane parachute and vastly improved "glass" cockpit displays in its Cirrus airplane. But when the airplane was first introduced, it actually had a significantly higher-than-average fatality rate, because pilots -- comforted by the extra technology and safety systems -- "compensated" by pushing the aircraft into weather they wouldn't otherwise have undertaken. In the end, the company was able to bring its accident rates down by requiring additional training and working to change the culture of its buyers—at least to some degree.
The field of SCUBA diving also vastly reduced its accident rate over several decades by changing its group attitudes toward risk. Once upon a time, diving was a macho sport where the toughest regularly pushed the limits. Today, attitudes about pushing the limits have changed. Dive without a buddy, push your depth or time limits, and a diver today is likely to be seen as stupid, not brave.
Notably, the NFL is now taking a similar approach toward head injuries. Instead of simply improving the cushioning in players' helmets, the NFL is trying to change the league's culture, rules and consequences related to hits to the head, or tackles "leading" with a player's helmet. How well that works remains to be seen, of course. But the popular image and standard for what's "admirable" and "acceptable" in tackling technique has already changed dramatically, even in the breathtakingly short span of a single season.
But girls' lacrosse already has a restrictive set of rules regarding contact. And most of the concussions its players suffer come from accidental contact and falls, not intentionally aggressive maneuvering. So is it a different case? Could helmets actually make it safer?
"I think helmets encourage you to push the limits of whatever the rules are," one high school athlete responded, when I asked the question. "If you're only allowed one kind of hit, you'll hit as hard as you can in that one way. But given that girls' lacrosse has so many rules restricting contact, [helmets] might actually help."
Of course, given the complexities of how humans assess and respond to risk, and the fact that lacrosse players are unlikely to be timid or risk-adverse by nature, it's also a fair bet that whatever safety margin helmets provide would—at best—be narrowed by some amount by compensating behavior on the part of the players. Which means at some point in the future, U.S. Lacrosse, like Cirrus and the NFL, may find itself compensating for that compensation through more complex solutions than the seemingly-simple answer of a helmet.
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—has brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.
The Onion had a problem: It fell behind the times. The mock newspaper hadn’t printed an issue on actual paper since 2013, and in the period since, it never redesigned its website. As the media world changed—as the New York Times and the Washington Post adapted the ways they published stories online—The Onion lost a key satirical weapon. Visually, it no longer looked like many of the publications it parodied. And so, like it had done many times before, The Onion tagged along.
Last year, as part vanity project, part science experiment, I decided to adopt a new skin-care routine, something that an aging celebrity might use on a daily basis. My goal was to determine whether, in fact, a high-tech routine can make a difference. Are beauty products worth it?
A dermatologist friend introduced me to Marie, who ran a “skin science” clinic next to his office in Calgary, Canada. This was not a medical office, but a clinic that provided cosmetic services and products aimed at helping people enhance the look and condition of their skin. “I am, really, a skin coach,” Marie told me as she showed me around the office. She had a degree in microbiology, was infectiously good-natured, and had absolutely flawless skin.
Sullivan: Now we’re getting somewhere. And I’m not just referring to all of the potential wars that so many of our Game of Thrones characters are trying to either stave off or set aflame. We’ll get to those in a moment. No, I’m talking about the long-simmering question that should be on every fan’s mind, the one that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to answer before George R. R. Martin would hand over his series so they could bring it to television
The man from Hope is back. Nope, not that one—the one whose wife is leading the Democratic field. The one who succeeded him as governor of Arkansas: Republican Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee is announcing Tuesday that he's a candidate for president with a kickoff in the hometown he shares with Bill Clinton. After a strong run in 2008 and a decision to take the 2012 cycle off, Huckabee is testing whether he still has the same pull he once did.
He's the third Republican candidate to announce this week alone, and the fourth in 10 days. On Monday, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and tech executive Carly Fiorina both announced campaigns, and last week Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination.
Texas has the rare distinction among U.S. states of having been, for a decade in the 19th century, its own nation. That history of independence, that lingering pride of sovereignty, has never really left the state, and every so often it arouses a certain suspicion of outside forces—be it Mexicans, ISIS fighters, or most frequently, the federal government. So when the U.S. military announced plans to hold an eight-week joint exercise it called Operation Jade Helm 15 in Texas and five other western states this summer, the people of Bastrop County quickly—and with the help of radio host Alex Jones and Infowars.com—saw it for what it really was: a preparation for the military to impose martial law in the Lone Star State.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Unless you’re a baseball historian, Ray Chapman probably isn’t a name that sounds familiar. If you do recognize him, it’s because he has the ignominy of being the last Major League Baseball player to die from being hit by a pitch. The Cleveland shortstop died in 1920 at the age of 29, after the Yankees pitcher Carl Mays accidentally struck Chapman in the head with a ball. That MLB has gone nearly an entire century without another on-field fatality has less to do with improvements in player safety and more to do with dumb luck.
Every season, numerous pitchers are instructed to throw—with intent to injure—at members of the opposite team. Every season, these intentional hits result in bad blood, threats of future violence, and occasionally serious injury to players whose livelihoods depend on their ability to stay fit. And every season, MLB turns a blind eye to the practice. The recent high-profile dust-up between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics is only noteworthy because it so perfectly captures the absurdity of team-sanctioned assault. The hit batsman gets a free base, but pitchers pick their spots—waiting until there are two outs and no one on base, or after the outcome of the game is no longer in doubt. Unlike other sports, which assess a meaningful immediate penalty (lost yardage, free throws, forcing a team to play a man short for a period of time), MLB has no such disincentive and so this behavior happens frequently. Meanwhile, baseball fans roll their eyes and shrug—they’ve seen this all before.
People say they want more bipartisanship. In poll after poll after poll, they decry the polarized atmosphere in Washington and say they want their leaders to work together.
To which the people of New York and New Jersey might reply: seriously?
It's indictment-and-arrest season in the tri-state region. Monday morning, New York State Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, and his son Adam were arrested on federal charges of extortion, fraud, and soliciting bribes. It's been just three months since State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, was himself arrested on federal corruption charges. Meanwhile, across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, two former top allies of Governor Chris Christie, pleaded not guilty to nine counts apiece including wire fraud and conspiracy in the George Washington Bridge Scandal. On Friday, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee, pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in the same scandal.