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The Manipulation of Stats in Sobriety: A Sobering Lesson in Deception and Evidence of a Larger Problem

It is routinely said that only 3% of people who walk through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous will stay sober.

To the best of my knowledge this is true though I’ve seen numbers as high as 6%.  This is irrelevant to the discussion though.  Those who have something, anything, against AA use this figure as evidence to discredit its efficacy.  After all, if only three measly percent of people who attend a meeting achieve success, they must be doing something wrong!  Can I get an Amen?!

Allow me to enlighten.  In the early days of “the program” AA’s enjoyed an estimated (non-scientific) 75% success rate.  Of the remaining 25%, an estimated half came back to find sobriety after another bout or two with King Alcohol.

Here’s where today’s numbers get watered down.  Today, studies show that of those 3% who make it to one year, 85% make it to five years sober.  Now that’s more like it, right?  I’ve made it 23 years without so much as a Near-beer, puff of pot or a muscle relaxer (though I did have two occasions, an injury and a surgery, where something with a little kick was required – 22 years ago and 20 years ago).  Zero mood or mind-altering substances.  I even turned down prescribed narcotic pain medication after my car was rear-ended on the expressway by a kid who failed to see the three miles of brake lights due to a construction backup about five years ago.

I got my back and neck cracked by my DO instead.  And took an Aleve.  Just one.

So is my success in abstinence a fluke, only to be enjoyed by the lucky few?  Hold on to your butts, this is gonna get bumpy.

In the opening of the Fifth Chapter of AA’s Big Book it says

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our pathThose who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Now, of those who walk through the front door, of all those who are sentenced to attend (either by the court or because of a quart), how many do you think thoroughly follow the path?  Put simply, I’ve never seen someone fail who thoroughly followed the path.  Not one (and the path isn’t rocket science.  It’s quite simple, it just isn’t easy.)

My guess, because nobody believes in perfection, would be about 3.00125%, using the initial 3% who make it, actually follow the path. Of those, again, a full 85% make it to five years.  The interesting thing would be to see how many make it to 10 or 20 (my best guess is north of 80% for 10 then another 75% of those for 20).

In other words, the Courts and Lawyers dilute the pool from which we draw the numbers from with those who simply show up to get out of trouble and have no desire to admit they’re alcoholic let alone give a sober life a half-hearted attempt.

Let’s take sobriety out of the equation entirely for a second.  What if the prerequisite for pleading a DUI down to an impaired was enrolling in college and completing six weeks worth of classes.

College attendance in the 101 courses would swell beyond belief but how many of those who started would stick around to get a degree after they successfully avoided trouble?  My guess is a lot less than 3%… after all, our meetings are entirely free of charge.  College only costs you an arm, a leg and your pinky toe off the other foot.

Ladies and gentlemen, choosing to forsake alcohol is hard.  I gave up the one thing that, even though I allowed it to destroy me, made me feel good.  Also, as a reminder in this ever-politicized world, remember this the next time someone throws out a ridiculous figure that makes no sense to make an argument that makes even less (like you’re safer if you can’t protect yourself)…  The numbers can (and usually are) fixed all of the time to get the gullible to believe that which isn’t true.

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So Sayeth the Body Mechanic: Trade in your clipless pedals for platforms?! Let’s find out how many different ways I can disagree.

I have an online subscription to Bike Radar and one of their recent emails caught my eye with this Header:  The Body Mechanic: Stop Pulling Up on Your Pedals

Allow me to get right to the meat of the article as their main reason one of the Body Mechanic’s customers finished a few mountain bike rides over the course of three seasons with the same time…

… Not because of the fact that Duncan is well on the wrong side of 40. Nor because it was achieved despite the significant degenerative changes in his lower back, or his 18-month history of chronic hamstring issues.

The reason this is worth mentioning is that three months ago Duncan ditched clip-in pedals and cleats in favour of flat pedals for all eight of his bikes. Not only have his hamstring and lower back symptoms improved significantly while riding, but, Duncan notes, “I actually climb better without cleats, probably because I am not knackered when I get to the bottom of the climb!

Well the fact that Duncan isn’t knackered at the beginning of a climb with platform pedals but he was with clipless pedals makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and they certainly don’t attempt to answer the question in the article (because you can’t).  Interestingly, they point to a study from 1997 that they say showed there was no difference between platform pedals and pedals with toe-clips but that doesn’t get into clipless pedals at all, which are much better that either the platform or toe-clip pedals.

clipless pedal

clipless pedal

The idea is, of course, that if you don’t pull up with toe-clips you won’t pull up with clipless pedals.  Reality is a little different though.  Anyone who has used clipless pedals knows it’s much easier to pedal in circles when compared to the old toe-clips.  The toe-clips (except the really high-end models) were more to keep you foot over the axle than to give you a means to pull up on the pedal.  With one’s feet firmly locked to the pedal as it is with clipless pedals, pulling on the back stroke is a breeze.  The point is, this is what they did:  “We compared apples and oranges and came to the conclusion that bananas are yummy”.

Pedal with Toe-Clips

Pedal with Toe-Clips

Now, getting back to reality on the great pedal debate, I can sometimes see where using platform pedals would be beneficial on a mountain bike.  Of course, I can think of just as many where clipless pedals are better.  For instance, going over roots and rocks (both uphill and downhill) you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals.  Second, well does there even need to be a second?  Actually there does.  When I’m climbing ultra-steep hills, I’m talking north of 30%, and still trying to pick a line between the roots and rocks, I can’t even imagine trying to do that without having my feet anchored to the pedals… maybe I should try it some time, just for giggles.

Finally, and this is important – especially to road cycling, it’s too hard to keep your feet properly planted over the pedal axles with platform pedals.  I tried this one time because I forgot my cycling shoes at home and I didn’t realize it till I showed up to the club ride.  Fortunately one of my friends (who is a mechanic) had a spare pair of platforms in his car…  I made it 13 miles with the group before getting fed up with my feet slipping all over the pedals.  I will never bother trying that lunacy again.  The benefits of being clipped into my road bike while trying to push between a 90 and 110 cadence are beyond reproach.

Platform Pedals

Platform Pedals

Now, I have no doubt that I could get used to riding with platforms if I absolutely had to.  I could, but I would never bother unless something (chronic hamstring issues maybe) forced me to.  Now, does it make sense to stop pulling up on the pedals?  Hey, you say tomato…

However, switching to platform pedals, in my estimation, is bat-shit crazy.  I’d sooner buy a beach cruiser and try to ride that on Tuesday nights.  With the Cat 3 racers on their $8,000 carbon fiber race bikes.  In high heels.  And a skirt.  And a pair of lace panties over my cycling helmet.

There is certainly nothing wrong with platform pedals and when people have mechanical deficiencies in their body (bad knees, bad ankles etc.) they can even make sense, but I’d never trade in my clipless pedals because one other cyclist in an off-season article has back problems.

While we’re on the problems associated with clipless pedals, let’s look at the biggest, and possibly the one, that would prompt someone to write an article that recommends against the single greatest invention to cycling since they put two wheels, a handlebar, a crank, and pedals on a steel frame… Clipless pedals are not a one size, one setting fits all thing. If you’re going to put a lot of hard, fast miles in on a bike, you must have the angles of the cleats dialed in or risk serious injury or deterioration of joints. Mine took about 45 minutes, a laser plumb line and special contraption that shows heel wobble, and a trained professional (expert in the case of the fella who did mine). The idea is not to line the feet up but find the angle that the feet require for the ankles and legs to line up when pedaling. So, a note of caution. If you end a 40 mile ride with sore dogs, you might want to have your cleat angles looked at.

Ed. I should note that in the linked article, the author advised changing the pedals of at least one bike in the stable to platforms… he just went on to rave about one guy who changed all eight of his bikes. I could possibly see one bike of my five, but don’t hold your breath.  I love me my clipless pedals.