This weekend provides an unfortunate reminder of our collective innumeracy

An Asiana Airlines 777 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport today, leaving two passengers dead and more than 100 wounded. That is terrible news all around, even considering how many of the 307 people on board seem to have walked away from a hull-loss accident, and upsetting in particular to this frequent SFO flyer.

OS X calculatorBut the really awful news about travel this weekend most likely happened Thursday–when, if recent trends continued, more people died on American roads than any other day of the year. That comparative statistic, or maybe just the average daily toll of 89 people, will get some mention as useful context in every story about the SFO crash, right?

Of course not. News coverage, political debates and popular consciousness tilts overwhelmingly toward the big and unusual disaster and away from smaller-scale but vastly more frequent calamities.

This mismatch is obvious in transportation policy–would that driving had a culture of safety close to what’s made commercial aviation the safest form of travel in America–but the effects may be worse in national-security issues.

Unreasoning fear of terrorism can lead to all kinds of silly rules, like the National Football League’s prohibiting fans from bringing all but the smallest non-transparent bags to games. (I had to observe that the statistics to date show that its own players represent a bigger threat than terrorist acts at NFL stadiums; that was unfair on my part, considering how many people drive to games and what state they might be in afterwards.)

But it can also lead us to accept the slow, silent erosion of our rights.

How else can you explain how politicians and pundits in or aligned with both parties keep defending the National Security Agency’s minimally-accountable surveillance of domestic communications–sometimes with a waving away of even the public’s need to know? Because 9/11, that’s why! Because we choose to view a hateful, contemptible and exceedingly rare crime as the existential threat it is not.

I don’t mean to get into a rant here, so I’ll close with what I hope is an uncontestable recommendation: Drive safely, please.

(Updated 9/7 with correct numbers about the SFO crash, another number about road safety and a few rephrased sentences.)

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One thought on “This weekend provides an unfortunate reminder of our collective innumeracy

  1. CNN’s coverage made me want to vomit. And CNN was probably better than the other news networks.

    I finally turned off the shit when Wolf Blitzer kept speculating — with zero evidence or official sources — that people were sucked out of the back of the plane.

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