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Psychologist stands by his statement
5.09.09 by Buffalo Bill

Given that the original Telegraph report described Professor Ayton as a ‘psychiatrist’ when, in fact, he is a psychologist, I wondered whether he had been misquoted as well, and hadn’t said that bicycles were responsible for more deaths than terrorism. So I emailed him to ask him. This was his reply:

I don’t have a verbatim record of that conversation but I certainly stand by the argument that, in London, over the past ten (and indeed more) years, cycling has been a greater hazard than terrorism and is responsible for far more deaths.

Not only a psychologist but a mentalist as well. He also sent me a PDF of the whole study (not just the press release) which you can download here. I really can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, as the conclusion, as I said before, is so wrong. I know that is very lazy, and very poor form, and this is probably exactly the kind of behaviour that is killing proper journalism.

Some comments off Twitter on this story:

Haribo sweets have probably killed more people than terrorism in London in the past 10 years.

Yeah, and peanuts are more dangerous than tsunamis… or something.

  1. The paper isn’t as bad as the article, but I’d need to sit down with the numbers to see whether it is in fact bollocks or not. A big issue is that the author shows his own prejudices, and assumes an increase in cycle injuries is correlated with an increase in traffic, when there may be other causes -such as the beginning of the olympic building. He is confusing correlation with causation. Worse still, he doesn’t consider any long-term health benefits from increased cycling, so assumes that an increased # of people on a bike is bad, whereas it is in fact better for the health of those people than sitting in a tube. But that message “the number of extra years of heart-attack freed lives from the 7/7 bombings” is harder to measure and doesn’t make for telegraph-friendly articles.

    Worth forwarding to the Bad Science site; its a classic piece of tier-2 journalism.

    SteveL    5 September 2009, 14:04    #
  2. Blimey. If he’d said ‘more people have been killed cycling than killed by terrorism’ that might have been a bit more understandable. But saying that cycling is ‘responsible’ for the deaths… Oh my word…

    Anthony Robson    5 September 2009, 14:59    #
  3. More satire here

    — Bill    7 September 2009, 08:22    #
  4. “this is probably exactly the kind of behaviour that is killing proper journalism.”


    — horatio    7 September 2009, 16:44    #
  5. I have just read the study that the article was reporting on (it’s only 16 pages), it is an entirely reasoned and balanced study, meeting all normal scientific criteria with clear explanation of methodology, figures used and references.

    The silly knee-jerk reactions are just that, Moving Target/Buffalo Bill’s reading of the article is just silly – an entirely misguided emotional response to a pretty interesting study. That Moving Target could put two articles up – which come to little more than name calling – and then admit to not having bothered reading the study is frankly embarrassing !

    — tynan    7 September 2009, 21:08    #
  6. Seems that the good doctor is applying some psychology to newspaper sub-editors and their readers to get attention to his report. He is correct in that more people have died in cycling accidents in the last 10 years than in terrorist events but these figures are not linked. Why not say the last 20 years or really more people have died from cycling accidents than from luftwafe bombs since 1945 – it is equally true. His study concerns actually a very narrow period following the July 7th bombings and comes to the not too startling discovery that there were less people travelling by tube and more people by bicycle in the immediate aftermath of the bombs – he then associates the longer period for this change to reverse ( in comparison to train travellers in Spain) and people to go back to commuting on the tube with something called the ‘dread’ effect. It may be true but then my recollection of that summer was that it was particularly dry and warm, unlike many of the previous summers and I expect that this has a significant part in this story. I
    doubt that the ‘dread’ effect lasted for many of those newbie commuters once the nights drew in and the mornings were wet and windy, as that requires a different kind of cycling psychology.

    — Trackal    7 September 2009, 21:43    #
  7. The 7/7 bombings killed 52 people and injured more than 770, many of the ‘walking wounded’ injuries were not recorded. Prof Ayrton’s numbers suggest that 241 extra cyclist injuries occured, all but about 30 would have been slight injures. A large proportion of this ‘effect’ happened when crucial sections of the tube system were closed down.
    The truly offensive quote is that over 10 years bicycles killed more people than terrorism in London. What he doesn’t say is that almost all these people were killed by motor vehicles, and that motor vehicles killed about 12 times as many ‘non cyclists’. There is no arithmetical or moral compass to his remarks.

    Charlie Lloyd    7 September 2009, 22:09    #
  8. @ Trackai . . . . . . .

    “He is correct in that more people have died in cycling accidents in the last 10 years than in terrorist events but these figures are not linked.”

    They’re unambiguously linked in the study, the study looks at people’s perception of risk – and how the these terrorist events drive people away from public transport / air travel and towards demonstrably more dangerous forms of travel.

    — tynan    7 September 2009, 23:33    #
  9. yeah moving target is silly,very very silly and naughty too.very naughty.

    — overdrive    8 September 2009, 09:49    #
  10. @tynan. “name calling”. Oh here we go again

    — pornomike    8 September 2009, 23:23    #
  11. 1. The author doesn’t look at the extra health benefits of the people cycling vs getting the tube/bus, all he sees is a short term blip, doesn’t take weather into account. The studies on the health benefit of cycling are known -but you’d need to know the number of cyclists and the time they exercised to determine long term health benefits.

    2. We in Bristol Traffic resent the accusation that we are satire. We strive to be more balanced and better informed on transport topics than the mainstream media sources. Please refer to us as “the pro-car press” in future.

    SteveL    9 September 2009, 12:32    #
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