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The Disaster Syndrome

  1. Jul 11, 2005 #1
    What is it about disasters that make people assign more importance to them than they actually contain?

    Case in point is airliner crashes. Statistically, travelling by airliner is far safer than travelling by car. But when 200 people die in an airline crash, it's huge national news, and airlines must issue statements and put in place better safety procedures. When 200 people die by 1's and 2's in automobile crashes, which happens far more frequently, it's just a bunch of local news items and the car companies usually do not need to do or say anything.

    I think part of it is the "fish in water" mindset. Car crashes happen all the time; we're used to them, it's a fact of life, so people hardly notice them. Airliner crashes happen infrequently and each crash kills more people than a single automobile crash (even though airliners as a whole are much safer than cars). The fish do not see the water, but they do see the splash.

    But who does not know that automobiles are much more dangerous than airliners? It is common knowledge. Why don't people think of that when presented with a story about an airliner crash, and not make such a big deal of it? Perhaps they just don't think. Whatever the reason, there's some strange irrationality going on.
     
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  3. Jul 11, 2005 #2

    FredGarvin

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    IMO, there are two things in play:

    1) The infrequency of airliner crashes. Humans will adapt and get used to anything. Since these don't happen that often, there is always the shock of seeing something that shouldn't be happening.

    2) The nature of an aircraft crash is more horrific than a car crash. Car crashes usually happen in the blink of an eye, where there is a prolonged agony and knowing that one's life will be over in 10-30 seconds. Plus add in EVERYONE'S inbred fear of falling...
     
  4. Jul 11, 2005 #3

    arildno

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    I think you're spot on here.
    Now, I've got the wicked thought about my fellow humans that one of the reasons we get so intensely interested (I'm no better) is that we are secretly delighted at the break in the monotony of our lives that a big disaster provides. Effectively, although we are sincerely shocked by the accident (or horrified at a massacre), the "unusual" prevents us from sliding imperceptibly down into deadening routine-lives.
    We are individually invigorated by the jolts we get; that doesn't at all mean that we think the disaster should have happened.
    Large, unusual, but joyful events affect us, and invigorate us in a "similar" manner (i.e, breaking the grip of monotony).
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2005
  5. Jul 11, 2005 #4

    Moonbear

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    First, you seem to be confusing importance with newsworthiness. As you already said yourself, car crashes happen every day. If we reported every car crash in the national news, we'd all be changing the channel because, well, everyone knows car crashes happen regularly. Airline crashes are rare, thus notable when they occur. Though, most car crashes are driver error. Even when an airline crash is pilot error, which is very rare for large airlines (more common for small planes), one questions the circumstances of an error by someone who is specially trained and licensed and entrusted to the safe transportation of a couple hundred people. When it is not pilot error, and is mechanical failure, which is more common with airline crashes, it needs to be determined if this is something that's a problem in all planes of that type (just as it makes the news when cars start crashing and burning due to a mechanical defect resulting in a large scale recall, even if there are NO deaths or injuries, but potential for deaths and injuries). That is why the airline makes a statement (it is as much in their own best interest to mitigate fears of their customers as it is a demand from the media to make a statement), because they are the ones in the hotseat to ensure their other planes will not meet the same fate if some part they have not been regularly inspecting is failing.

    Also, when people die in an airline crash, often passengers are from many parts of the country, it affects people at the origin airport, at the destination airport, at the place where the plane crashed, and anyplace where passengers call home. If it happens at or near an airport, it may shut down that airport for a while, which then affects people all over the world trying to get to or from that destination.

    But, lack of newsworthiness doesn't mean less important, and that's the part you seem really confused about. Just because the media doesn't report every car crash in the country on every channel doesn't mean nobody is doing anything to make driving safer. We have seatbelt laws and carseat laws that didn't exist when I was a kid, helmet laws for motorcyclists (though, sadly, not everywhere yet), a ton of driving rules and regulations, increasing designation of bike lanes on busy city streets to decrease bicycle vs car crashes, addition of daytime running lights, third brake likes, ABS brakes, reflectors on the lane markings on highways, more designated turn lanes with left turn signals, drunk driving laws, government mandated crash tests, laws to prohibit things that are distractions to drivers, such as cell phones. And that's just a sampling of things that have been added to improve safety on the roads.

    As you said yourself, it's common knowledge "that automobiles are much more dangerous than airliners," so why on earth would the news need to report something everyone already knows? What purpose would it serve to inform them of something they already know? That's not irrational, that's realizing it provides no service, no informative value, and holds no viewer interest to report things people already know. Rare things are news. If it's not new, it's not news. What's so hard to understand about that?
     
  6. Jul 11, 2005 #5
    I'm going to start with the least well-thought-out things you said and work my way down. Your response will determine how far we get.
    Car crashes are at least as disruptive. 200 deaths by car crashes cause many, many traffic jams, far offsetting the occasional shut-down airport (and remember that there are far MORE of those 200 car crash deaths than there are of 200 plane crash deaths), and the deaths from cars certainly affect the families just as much as deaths from airlines do. Furthermore, 200 randomly selected deaths from car crashes have much greater geographic dispersal than 200 deaths on the average airliner. So everything you said in this paragraph applies as much or more to automobile crashes.
     
  7. Jul 11, 2005 #6

    Moonbear

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    Once again, you find a nitpicky point and miss the whole of the argument. As I said already:
    That is the major flaw in your argument; I don't need to look for some minor detail to pick at, there is a glaring flaw in the main premise. There is no point in discussing it any further than that.
     
  8. Jul 11, 2005 #7

    Monique

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    There you have it, end of argument. I tried to point him to that earlier, but he seems to completely miss that point.
     
  9. Jul 11, 2005 #8
    What exactly is your problem with people being fascinated with one thing over another? You can call it irrationality, but so what? I prefer certain types of foods over other types of food. That's essentially irrational too.

    Is it really a big deal if people might be more fascinated by 7 people dying at the hands of a serial killer, for example, as opposed to 100 random people dying in car crashes?
     
  10. Jul 11, 2005 #9
    Well, juvenal it has political consequences if you vote based on what you are concerned about--and what you are concerned about is disasters instead of the problems that really matter. So the wrong problems get too much attention, and the right problems do not get enough.


    "Newsworthiness" is obviously not the whole picture. Otherwise, airlines would not be held to such higher standards of safety than automobiles are. The fact that disasters make news may contribute to their exaggerated importance in the public eye, however. So newsworthiness may be a contributing factor to the disaster syndrome; the fact that disasters are "newsworthy" causes people to think about them more, and therefore to think about more important things less.

    Your failure to concede my earlier point in this case, Moonbear, does not speak well of you. I address the minor yet uncontestable points as a means of testing you; if you are able to concede them, then you prove yourself worthy for more complex discussion. They are important because of your reaction to them. In this case you dismiss it as "minor" (although it did take an entire paragraph in your post) and do not concede.
     
  11. Jul 11, 2005 #10

    Gokul43201

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    BT : What fraction of auto accidents are due to human error and what fraction due to equipment failure ? Same question for plane crashes.
     
  12. Jul 11, 2005 #11
    Gokul, how is that relevant?
     
  13. Jul 11, 2005 #12
  14. Jul 11, 2005 #13

    Gokul43201

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    It is relevant to this point made by you : "Otherwise, airlines would not be held to such higher standards of safety than automobiles are."

    Perhaps automobiles are already pretty darn perfect and can't reasonably be held to higher standards. On the other hand, plane crashes occur predominantly because of equipment malfunction.
     
  15. Jul 11, 2005 #14
    Well, how many cars have the absolute maximum amount of safety features? It's a small minority. I don't have any numbers, but certainly very many lives could be saved by requiring maximum safety features on all cars, most likely, because of the great number of car deaths, more than could be saved by any equipment improvement in an airplane.
     
  16. Jul 11, 2005 #15

    Gokul43201

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    "Maximum amount of safety features" ? What the heck is that ? If you slam your car into a wall, doing 80 mph, you should probably lay off that drink for a bit. Stop complaining that your car doesn't have 15" thick foam padding on all its walls !

    So you don't have any numbers, eh ?
     
  17. Jul 11, 2005 #16
    Well, why not put 15" foam padding on all your car's walls, if it would enable you to survive such a crash? Why not put a governor in your car so that you can't do above 65 MPH? Why not put a breathalyzer in your car so that the engine won't start if your BAC is over the limit?
     
  18. Jul 11, 2005 #17

    Moonbear

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    It's not relevant. My presentation of the main flaw in your argument still stands, whether that paragraph was included or not. It's a minor point. The main point was made in my first sentence, as I repeated for you. It's not worth discussing further, and is unfortunate that you can't concede that your main premise is so flawed that any further discussion is pointless.
     
  19. Jul 11, 2005 #18
    I have long since addressed your "main point," too, Moonbear.
     
  20. Jul 11, 2005 #19

    Gokul43201

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    Why not put a lock on the ignition so you can never actually drive the car ? That would make it safe.
     
  21. Jul 11, 2005 #20
    You mention a device so that you can't do above 65 MPH. Most new cars have at least a rev limiter.

    You also imply car companies have no inspiration for safety. On the contary cars go through rigirous safety tests that are tightening by the day.

    For example airbags, ABS, power steering, crumple zones, side impact bars, tyre compounds, seat belts, head restraints, fuel cutoff valves, roof crush resistance, early warning systmes, traction control, ESC, as well as components materials such as tyre compounds, brake materials and the technology is still going.
     
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