On the Ides of March, a friend sent me an image of a knife in a bottle of Caesar salad dressing. By coincidence, I also heard that the Senate took a knife to partisan bickering, science denial, and clock-switching in one fell swoop. A bill that would establish permanent Daylight Saving Time (DST) passed unanimously and without debate.The bill polls well. Its sponsors insist they are on the side of "strong science," claiming the time change leads to higher rates of "heart attacks, car accidents and pedestrian accidents." Americans groggy from switching their clocks -- myself included -- cheered the impending end of this hated ritual. What’s not to like? All it needs is passage by the House and the President’s signature. Even better -- and unlike the time Speaker Nancy Pelosi said we should “pass the bill [to] find out what's in it” -- history can help us avoid buyer’s remorse. My own historical study began with a speed rivaling the Senate’s voice vote. Jet-lagged and perhaps delirious -- I told my wife the news. "I don't care where the clock lands, so long as it stays there," I concluded. She and our other impromptu study group member, Siri, quickly rebutted: America experimented with permanent DST in the ‘70s as a response to the Arab Oil Embargo. Children had to walk to school in the dark and everyone else became exhausted. Permanent DST was popular -- at first. But within three months support dropped from 79% to 42% and the experiment soon ended. "Oh," I replied, feeling wiser already. Wasn't this Benjamin Franklin's idea? Proponents credit our sagacious Founder for proposing early summer hours to the French, even reckoning the candles they'd save. He did, "Muster[ing] up what little arithmetic I was master of." But he also suggested waking "the sluggards" with cannons and church bells. He was joking. Let that sink in: Clock switching was a joke to the man who proposed it. "But the science --" you might say, as did I. Here, the Senate is only half-right. Switching does cause heart attacks, workplace injuries, and traffic fatalities. But, according to a peer-reviewed 2020 position paper by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, permanent Standard Time is where we should land, because it's closer to our biological clocks. Over time, a mismatch can contribute to problems like obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and depression. The first serious proponents of DST, a century after Franklin's joke, were a golfer and a bug collector who wanted more daylight for their hobbies. If you are wondering why they didn’t just change their own schedules, you aren't alone. President Warren Harding regarded DST as a "deception." With "War Time" DST recently repealed over Wilson's veto, he ordered his bureaucrats to work earlier summer hours, but left everyone else alone. New transportation and communication networks of the 1800s made local noon obsolete for setting clocks and set the stage for clock-switching and time zones. Congress has dabbled in both almost from the beginning, justifying their interference on the weights and measures power in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. (We set aside the issue of whether Congress should have that power.) Absent government control of timekeeping, the need for coordination would result in a standards body or business association creating some way to account for local noon and -- at least for latitudes where it makes sense -- seasonal changes in the length of a day. Such a body would -- like the private Underwriters Laboratories or National Fire Protection Association -- take into account what is best for everyone and emphatically include all the evidence, not just what might sound popular or intimidate one side. Given that Congress can force us to keep time a certain way, it has a responsibility, at minimum, to consult relevant experts and hold an open, well-publicized debate on the merits of the proposed changes. The Senate has not done this, and risks making the whole country repeat an exhausting exercise that will be hard to end because it will be the law. It's too late to reach your senator to protect your sleep and sanity, but you can still ask your representative to vote against "Sunlight Protection" (read: Sleep Deprivation). And take any claim that a politician is following "the scienceTM" as skeptically as you would any other snake-oil salesman making a claim. Debate in Congress, no matter how acrimonious, beats haste in support of folly any day.
With Permanent Daylight Savings Time, Careful What You Wish For
April 13, 2022