Tag Archives: Confirmation Bias

Short-Sighted On American Driving

I might dissect the substance of the article and its insights into the economics of energy, infrastructure and transportation later, but I chuckled at the media analysis found Lucas Davis’ recent post at the Energy Institute Blog ( at the Haas Business School at UC-Berserk-ly, of all places).

Here’s the claim simplified down to a graph:

[Source: Lucas Davis, UC Berkeley, constructed with EIA dataset ‘Motor Gasoline, 4-week averages]

Davis, exercising two-handed charity, noted that the Atlantic as an institution and Mr. Plumer as an individual have changed their tune.

To be fair, many of the same media outlets which initially touted the millennial story have been quick to note the reversal. “Millennials: Not So Cheap, After All,” writes Derek Thompson in the Atlantic. “Why Driving in the U.S. is Making a Big Comeback”, writes Brad Plumer in Vox.  Cheap gasoline since 2014 and an expanding economy and, what do you know, this new generation is jumping into car ownership and driving just like previous generations.

Aside from the sober analysis of economics, two points/questions I’ll briefly stress.

  1. Did any 2012 evolutionary psychologists chuckle at these short-sighted grumps? People are wired to see patterns; when one far-way (but within eyeshot) stretch of land is distinct from the stretch under the berry patch, our caveman forerunners would judge that berries didn’t grow there and they’d probably be right. When trends are far more abstract, how often will panic and hysteria trick you into confusing correlation & causation?
  2. Did anyone take the original pieces seriously enough to change their behavior? I have a naive analysis of my own: proportionally, more public ink-spillers and writing worriers actually divested shares in car companies than the wider reading public. I don’t know if there are any states or locales that used bonds to construct/maintain toll-lanes or open roads, but if there are any, I’d like to know if their own open-market prices dropped in 2012.

Drive On