The Cobra Effect: law of unintended consequences, squared

In British-ruled, cobra-infested India, a bounty was offered for cobra-skins, so enterprising folks started breeding cobras, leading to the program's cancellation, whereupon all those farmed cobras were released into the wild, a net increase in cobra population. That's not the only example, either.

(Image: Cobra, Kamalnv/Wikipedia, CC-BY)

Moral dilemma: rescuing the miners, rescuing the babies:


On Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns presents a tough moral calculus: if you can save 50% of a group of trapped miners with 100% certainty, knowing the remainder will die; or you can try to rescue all the miners, with a 50% chance that they'll all die, which would you choose (And then: what if they were babies, not miners?)

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New FAA rules class toy UAVs as illegal drones


The latest FAA rules on UAVs are so broad that they class adorable toy quadcopters as drones and require special permits to operate them. Meanwhile, hot air balloons and unpiloted model aircraft are fair game for unlicensed play. The drone hobbyists are pissed:

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How GM silenced its whistleblowers

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The cover of Bloomberg Businessweek this week riffs on a classic Vietnam-era Esquire cover. Sometimes, words speak louder than pictures.

Possibly the most genius don't-text-and-drive PSA ever

Volkswagen and ad agency Ogilvy Beijing created this powerful and sneaky PSA for moviegoers in China, to warn of the dangers of being distracted by your smartphone while driving. We don't know that the footage is genuine, but even it not--it's a powerful concept. More at Ads of the World.

Kickstarting safety badges made with engineering-grade reflective film

Tonky (previously) has created a line of "Rydesafe" arty safety buttons made from an engineering-grade reflective film that he's Kickstarting. $5 gets you a button, $14 gets you a kit of four. I'm guessing they'll also dazzle flash-happy paparazzi!

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Graphic, violent old public safety posters from Holland

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Man, these vintage Dutch safety posters from the early through late 20th century are scary and beautiful as hell. If you're squeamish, maybe don't click. The messages are also blunt, with no attempt at making people feel good about bad things that befall others.

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Kids are mostly sexually solicited online by classmates, peers, teens

The respected Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that one in seven children is sexually exploited online. This figure is both credible and alarming. But the context is vital: as danah boyd writes, the average predator isn't a twisted older man trawling for kids; rather, "most children are sexually solicited by their classmates, peers, or young adults just a few years older than they are."

Now, it's absolutely possible for a child to sexually exploit another child, so this isn't to minimize the potential harm to kids. But for so long as we model the threat to kids as being weird, strange grownups, rather than the young people they know and see every day, we will fail to prepare them to comport themselves wisely and safely.

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Murder machines: why cars will kill 30,000 Americans this year

Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says, "We just published a piece about how streets came to be the exclusive domain of automobiles (spoiler alert: they didn't start out that way). Among other sources, we interviewed Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic, and Ben Fried, the New York editor of Streetsblog."

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Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!


Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.

The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were.

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Bike helmets and safety: a case study in difficult epidemiology


Ben Goldacre and David Spiegelhalter have published a paper in the British Medical Journal called " Bicycle helmets and the law", exploring the complex epidemiological conundrum presented by research on safety and bike helmets. As Goldacre pointed out, this is a perfect teaching case about the difficulty of evaluating risk and its relationship to law and the behavior. The paper is short and very clearly written, and makes a great companion to Goldacre's excellent books, Bad Science and Bad Pharma.

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Carjackers doomed to die in petty theft gone horribly wrong

Two days ago, a truck carrying a container of radioactive cobalt-60 (enough to make a dirty bomb) was stolen by carjackers off a highway near Tijuana. Today, authorities found the truck. The thieves probably aren't terrorists, just some guys who wanted a truck with a crane attached to it. But, at some point, they opened the container of cobalt-60 and will now almost certainly die from radiation exposure.

The laissez faire world of dietary supplements

Every year, more than 2000 Americans experience a serious negative effect (either death or illness) from taking over-the-counter dietary supplements. Since 1994, it's been legal to sell supplements without prior safety testing. Even when someone gets sick, the burden of proof is on the FDA to prove the supplement caused it, rather than on the supplement company to prove it didn't. The Dallas Morning News reports on the lack of oversight and what it costs us.

A strange school bus safety film from 1963, and a review of said film

Below is GE_Pretzel's review of the 1963 film "Special Delivery," from Safety Enterprises Corporation. The film stars John Butler, then-police chief of Mansfield, Ohio, as the bus driver.

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Public Resource kickstarting free, open publication of the world's safety standards

We've written often about Carl Malamud, the rogue archivist who has devoted his life to making the world's laws, standards, and publicly owned information into free, accessible, beautiful online documents. Now, I'm pleased to help him launch an ambitious, vital Kickstarter project aimed at raising at least $100,000 to turn the world's public safety codes into thoroughly linked, high-quality HTML documents (presently, many of the 28,040 public safety codes that Carl and public.resource.org have put online exist as scanned bitmaps that can't be searched or linked). The project involves a careful re-typing of all that scanned material and re-tracing of images and formatting them as vector-based SVG files.

Carl and his colleagues have fought in the courts for their right to publish the law that we, the people, are expected to follow. They have passed on lucrative careers in the private sector to devote themselves to public interest, public spirited work that makes the sourcecode for the world's governments available at our fingertips. The work they are doing unlocks untold billions in value -- from being able to ensure that your weekend DIY rewiring project meets code and won't burn down your house, all the way up to giving workers in deadly factories in Bangladesh access to the laws that are supposed to be honored in their workplaces.

$115 gets you a copy of their giant, amazing book of global safety standards, but there are interesting and awesome premiums at price-ranges from $10 (public acknowledgement on the Wall of Safety) to $475 (the Big Box of Propaganda!). I've put in my $115 -- not for the book, but as a way to thank Carl and co for the amazing work they do, and as a means of funding more of it. I hope you'll give, too.

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