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  1. #1
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Debunking Forester

    So, thanks to someone on this list, I got a link to John Forester's web site. I would like to debunk what he says but I find it difficult to do without launching into the kind of dry dull lecturing he tends to do. My apologies up front.

    I'd like to debunk his cyclist inferiority phobia page, especially since he touts the power of science over emotion wherever he can. That's this page: http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Social/cycinf.htm

    JF wants people to believe he doesn't engage in the kind of fake science based on emotion that other people do but this article is all about that. What else could it be but an appeal to emotion to equate participation in bicycle advocacy organizations with an anxiety response, a clear misunderstanding and misuse of the term.

    His first fault is to believe that all people who wish to see better conditions for cyclists have a fear of being hit from behind. Then he decides to call these people with a fear of being hit behind "victims", setting up his whole silly exercise.

    He claims these so-called "victims" suffer from all the criteria to qualify for a psychological diagnosis of a phobia except for one, but he clearly doesn't understand the psychologicial definitions he uses. By twisting definitions to suit his argument he engages in the very kind of fake science he likes to disparage. Because he doesn't use the words' true meaning he really has no basis to claim that cyclists meet any of the criteria.

    But more than twisting the diagnositc criteria to suit his claims, and clearly misunderstanding what anxiety is (which must be disproportionate and interfere with normal daily functioning), the meta problem is that using a loaded and perjorative term like "phobia" and misusing the DSM to suggest people who disagree with your position are sick is a perfect example of resorting to an emotional appeal and emotional tactics to make your claim.

    That one can break that emotional appeal into neat little blocks of "logical" reasoning is immaterial when he doesn't adhere to the true meaning of the words. That he can boil down the entire cycling population into victims of a phobia of being hit from behind (as if people weaving and waving their arms in the center of the lane wouldn't qualify just as well) is as phony as any classic infomercial spiel.

    I hope that my post doesn't get deleted. I think that it is important to discuss John Forester because his words carry a lot of weight in the cycling community. If we don't take an honest look at his words and actions, we as bicycle advocates do ourselves a disservice. At the same time, his words clearly bear the all the marks of a crackpot so I'm not even sure it's worth our tiime.
    ~Diane
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  2. #2
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I wonder how much vehicular cycling mr forester does anymore, versus scowling while driving past transportational bicyclists on wal mart bikes in blue jeans?
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  3. #3
    Infamous Member chipcom's Avatar
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    Here's the thing, Diane - Mr. Forester does not carry a lot of weight with decision & policy makers - because he doesn't carry as much weight in the cycling community as you think or as his supporters in A&S would have you believe. Indeed, much of his site rails on about how all these poor, misguided policy makers have ignored his recommendations and how he has only prevented them from being stupider than they could have been. While his supporters take his word as gospel, there are also people who don't and pretty effectively counter his claims...as evidenced by decisions made in the public policy arena that are not lock-step with Forester's theories and claims. JF has an overinflated sense of his own importance to cycling-related policy decisions and pretty much writes off anyone who does not take his word as gospel, including all those poor misguided policy makers, as ignorant or paid off.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I don't think so, chip, there are serious anti-facilities forces at work to remove bike specific infrastructure all over the country, and foresters' allegiance with the american dream coalition is backed by much bigger "Guns" than transportational cyclist advocacy groups.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes
    That he can boil down the entire cycling population into victims of a phobia of being hit from behind (as if people weaving and waving their arms in the center of the lane wouldn't qualify just as well) is as phony as any classic infomercial spiel.
    I know we've been through this before but hits from behind are far from the number 1 reason for using a dynamic lane position, as opposed to static bike lane guided position. Just wanted to clear that up.

  6. #6
    No one carries the DogBoy
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    Forrester is a zealot, but there is a ring of truth to what he says. He advocates for one type of cycling...transportational. To that end, he desires no cycling specific infrastructure, and it makes sense. If I ride along at 15-20 mph, I better not be doing it on a bike path, but a road is just fine. But, if I want to go out for a nice recreational ride with my 3 year old daughter, a bike path(or even a ... gasp ... sidewalk) is a heck of a lot nicer place to do it.

    Rather than trying to debunk him (I think this is a waste of time), I think your efforts would be better served to point out the need for cycling facilities for different type of cyclists and cycling activities. Essentially you are falling into the trap of trying to discredit the man rather than to promote your own ideas. Continue on that path and you will be seen as someone who just dislikes the man, and your arguments will be lost.

  7. #7
    genec genec's Avatar
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    The reason for the whole phobia is due to our under training as youth. As we first encounter the bicycle as young children, we have poor motor skills and poor balance... our instructors (parents) see this and suggest that we should ride on sidewalks and "watch out for cars." This instills in us a sense that we should be paranoid of cars when we are out playing with our "toys."

    Most adults do not progress beyond that "watch out for cars" training and the basic training on their bicycle "toys."

    Wiser youth later understand the need for exercise and see the efficiency of the bicycle as a grand and wonderful thing, those same wiser youth also learn through trial and error that all traffic has a place on the road and that co-operation is key to any and all traffic situations.

    There are also those few youth who are less wise who later feel that the motor car is their new "toy," and that they can play "road racer" on the streets. Often these drivers are eliminated in a Darwinian manner as they push their motor cars beyond the operating envelope in dangerous maneuvers such as speeding, drinking and driving, road racing etc. Some of those less wiser persons survive into adult hood and continue to drive in a reckless manner, not in co-operation with other traffic. Those motorists should be avoided.

    The majority of motorists however never progress beyond the toy view of the bicycle, and thus retain their fear of the motor car, and cannot envision bicycles as traffic... Nor are they trained in any other manner along the way. While they may be taught traffic basics in some six week class called drivers' ed., they hardly have time to build proper motor skills, much less gain all the finer skills of traffic handling... much less be indoctrinated in the facts regarding their once beloved bicycles, as traffic. Thus the average adult driver, once taught to keep out of the way of cars while on a bicycle, retains that knowledge as a phobia.

  8. #8
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    my biggest objection is foresters' insistence that only 'serious' cyclists have any business riding a bike.

    what an elitist predication! I'm envisioning him scowling as he drives past helemtless, bluejean wearing, wal-mart bike riding transportational cyclists on their way to work.

    biking is a populist activity, and more butts on bikes IS a good thing, for individuals health, for the good of the planet, for the good of a community.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  9. #9
    Banned. Helmet Head's Avatar
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    I think that it is important to discuss John Forester because his words carry a lot of weight in the cycling community. If we don't take an honest look at his words and actions, we as bicycle advocates do ourselves a disservice. At the same time, his words clearly bear the all the marks of a crackpot so I'm not even sure it's worth our tiime.
    Whatever your impressions of what he stands for, let's remember that John Forester is a living human being with a computer at home.

    Diane, have you ever met John Forester in person?

    And if you're going to "debunk" him (or anyone else), it's only fair to cite what he has actually said, rather than give one's impression of what he has said, and debunk that.

  10. #10
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    are you john forester, mr head, or just one of the cronies? is he a 'lurker?'
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  11. #11
    Sumanitu taka owaci LittleBigMan's Avatar
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    I never liked Forester's style of insulting people with whom he disagreed.

    But I'm not afraid to say that he was the main person to encourage me to gradually master my current 30 mile round-trip commute route where there were only about 2 miles of bicycle facilities available.

    Not everything (or everyone) is black-and-white. (Now if only we can get Forester to see that... )
    No worries

  12. #12
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chipcom
    Here's the thing, Diane - Mr. Forester does not carry a lot of weight with decision & policy makers - because he doesn't carry as much weight in the cycling community as you think or as his supporters in A&S would have you believe. Indeed, much of his site rails on about how all these poor, misguided policy makers have ignored his recommendations and how he has only prevented them from being stupider than they could have been. While his supporters take his word as gospel, there are also people who don't and pretty effectively counter his claims...as evidenced by decisions made in the public policy arena that are not lock-step with Forester's theories and claims. JF has an overinflated sense of his own importance to cycling-related policy decisions and pretty much writes off anyone who does not take his word as gospel, including all those poor misguided policy makers, as ignorant or paid off.
    Thanks, Chip. You are probably right. I kinda get the feeling that in our local advocacy group, John Forester is a taboo subject.
    ~Diane
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  13. #13
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist
    my biggest objection is foresters' insistence that only 'serious' cyclists have any business riding a bike.
    Does he actually say this?

    I am about 2/3s through a first pass at Effective Cycling. I read a handful of his other articles. Although I agree that his writing style is not to be admired, (he and I can form a club!) roughly speaking, I understand his beliefs to be that anyone could be taught how to ride safely in a relatively short time.

    Well ... before I misinterpret you, what do you mean by serious?

    Like others, he is headstrong in his writing. And I can see how people describe his writing as condescending; but with regards to his description of who can cycle and what it takes to ride safely, I don't think that the ideas nor the material content is elitist.

    I have not read the article that SBHIKES (Diane) references. So it is hard for me to understand and critique her post. And I am too far behind in my queue to read yet another article. But with that in mind, could you connect the dots to the following paragraph which I found surprising?

    Quote Originally Posted by SBHIKES
    His first fault is to believe that all people who wish to see better conditions for cyclists have a fear of being hit from behind. Then he decides to call these people with a fear of being hit behind "victims", setting up his whole silly exercise.

  14. #14
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Oh ... I can handle economics and statistics ... so don't be afraid of a dry and dull response. I have lots of practice.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Brian Ratliff's Avatar
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    invisiblehand: Most of the stuff in Forester's book represents a good guide to traffic cycling. To get into his more extremist views, read the last chapter of the book (kind of like an editorial section) and the articles on sociology and psycology on his website.
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  16. #16
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Oh brother, am I going to have to now read Forester in order to particpate in BF discussions? This is like the third or fourth thread about him.

    As to the fear of being hit from behind - most every cyclist I've ridden with has it

    Al

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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    Oh brother, am I going to have to now read Forester in order to particpate in BF discussions? This is like the third or fourth thread about him.

    As to the fear of being hit from behind - most every cyclist I've ridden with has it

    Al
    Just treat his writings as any other outdated book of fiction that people hold as gospel, I'm sure we can all name a few.
    I find all the stuff people go on about humerous, especially this effective cycling book. It's just a bunch of theories from one_person written before the roads I ride on even exist, so how can I take it seriously?

  18. #18
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand
    I understand his beliefs to be that anyone could be taught how to ride safely in a relatively short time.
    To be more precise, Forester claims that anyone can be taught what he is teaching. Period. There is no known relationship between being taught and tested on Forester's selected material, and any effect, safety or otherwise, short term or long term for the "successful" students.

  19. #19
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
    invisiblehand: Most of the stuff in Forester's book represents a good guide to traffic cycling. To get into his more extremist views, read the last chapter of the book (kind of like an editorial section) and the articles on sociology and psycology on his website.
    OK. Although I still need more time to grind through these sections. Thanks for the pointer.

  20. #20
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam
    Oh brother, am I going to have to now read Forester in order to particpate in BF discussions? This is like the third or fourth thread about him.

    As to the fear of being hit from behind - most every cyclist I've ridden with has it

    Al
    Read the Web Site.There is nothing new in the Forester World. It's all there, all the sophistry a logical person can stand and more.

    You can start with his comparing the alleged safety record of 8 year olds with the alleged safety record of middle aged experienced cyclists to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of his training program. Or try his cock-eyed risk analysis of cycling "crashes" and "falls" and "accidents" as identical issues with no consideration of exposure, probability or severity consequences; another Forester 10 bagger of Sophistry.

  21. #21
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CrosseyedCrickt
    It's just a bunch of theories from one_person written before the roads I ride on even exist, so how can I take it seriously?
    I agree that one should not take the opinion of one person too seriously without corresponding evidence. But he does appear to present evidence--note that I did not write proof--supporting some of his claims.

    That everyone seems to get so fired-up about him motivated me to read his book and a handful of articles. I started reading his stuff with the expectation that he will have some good ideas, some bad, and perhaps present interesting evidence along the way.

  22. #22
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    I disagree with Forester's characterization of cyclists' worry about operating in the same space as motor vehicles as "phobia" or "superstition". These terms assign ignorance to the people who share this worry without providing acknowledgement to the social factors affecting them.

    I prefer to call this worry a "taboo." Taboos are fearful beliefs for self-preservation based on some reality-based experience but are oversimplified and do not fully recognize the real cause and effect relationships. Most importantly, taboos are actively promoted by society. Even if one desires to reject the taboo, one must deal with the social stigma associated with doing so, in some cases, even retribution for upsetting the normal social order. I believe society actively teaches the taboo about cycling on ordinary roadways in the vehicular manner in order to protect young children who are too young to understand the rules of the road, and in order to promote motorists' convenience. To some extent people who truly believe the taboo may promote it in an effort to protect others, and some people who don't believe the taboo themselves may attempt to accommodate people who believe it by not challenging it, even when not challenging it ends up needlessly reinforcing it.

    In summary, a smart person can be affected by a taboo, and should not be ashamed of (or insulted for) this unfortunate situation. Meanwhile, dispelling the taboo creates a tricky social situation, because there are many who believe that the taboo, while oversimplified, provides some desirable end, be it protection of the ignorant, or preservation of a desired social order.

    Forester insults those who worry about traffic. This is not an effective way to address a taboo, in my opinion.

    -Steve Goodridge

  23. #23
    Been Around Awhile I-Like-To-Bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand
    I agree that one should not take the opinion of one person too seriously without corresponding evidence. But he does appear to present evidence--note that I did not write proof--supporting some of his claims.
    Take careful note of the evidence presented. Most often it is his own or a handful of carefully parse studies that never drew the conclusions that he does from the gathered data. Often Forester fabricates the missing data for those studies to fill in for the immense gaps in the data.

    For instance his assumption about cycling populations that he claims have "good" safety records actually practice undefined Vehicular Cycling techniques in some significant manner, and it is those undefined /unmeasuredVC techniques that are the sole explanation for the alleged superior safety record. He pulls that stunt often, most obscenely when comparing grossly different populations such as 8 year olds with adults, that no one measured for Vehicular Cycling practices.

  24. #24
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike
    You can start with his comparing the alleged safety record of 8 year olds with the alleged safety record of middle aged experienced cyclists to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of his training program. Or try his cock-eyed risk analysis of cycling "crashes" and "falls" and "accidents" as identical issues with no consideration of exposure, probability or severity consequences; another Forester 10 bagger of Sophistry.
    Well, from what I can tell, he repeats the analysis that others present as evidence. Or sometimes uses the same techniques that others use as evidence. Or simply works with the limitations of the data.

    I recall reading the example you reference (vaguely) ... this is on his website, right? But I don't recall him over-stating the evidence nor obfuscating the problems with the data. Could you explain your point in more detail?

    More generally, I think that there are important differences when somebody writes "this proves X" versus "this is evidence for X" versus "this is suggestive of X" versus "this does not conflict with X" and so on.

    In the past, I wrote that I found it hard to support many strong statements about cycling safety because the data is generally bad. But it also means that if you reverse the null hypothesis, it will be difficult to disprove many statements. Like other fields, my anecdotal experience is that this leads to theory being the basis of many actions without enough consideration to the opposing view.

    Hmmmm, I think that we are getting a bit far from Diane's original post. So I will stop here until I read her response.

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    Quote Originally Posted by invisiblehand
    I agree that one should not take the opinion of one person too seriously without corresponding evidence. But he does appear to present evidence--note that I did not write proof--supporting some of his claims.

    That everyone seems to get so fired-up about him motivated me to read his book and a handful of articles. I started reading his stuff with the expectation that he will have some good ideas, some bad, and perhaps present interesting evidence along the way.
    I started reading it, but it bored me about as much as watching a chicken roast. Good thing I never purchased it but rather found a PDF of it.
    Here is what I think. In 1970, on the roads in California (or wherever he was), maybe this was the best style to ride and methods and wot-not. But that was 30 years ago. Operating a motor vehicle in 1970 was considered more of a privilage than what it is now. The speed limits were lower, the traffic was lower, and people recognized cycling as trasportation. Nowadays is a completely different world. I wouldn't read a book on using a 30 year old calculator and pretend to know how to program a 2007 computer.

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