Friday, January 02, 2015
Yeah, I harp on this
The headline on every news site today is still the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 on Sunday. Yep, for 5 whole days that's been the most important event on the planet. It's even more important than the 92 people who die in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every day, which means that the deaths of 162 people are infinitely more important than the deaths of, we can surmise, about 460 people in the same 5 days, and those are even Murricans, since CNN isn't reporting on them at all.
Al Qaeda just had to somehow or other bomb airplanes in flight, hence the shoe bomber and the undie bomber, even though it's much easier to put a suitcase bomb in the security line at the airport. But that just wouldn't be as satisfying, it seems.
And there isn't even any policy rationale for this asymmetrical attention. The rate of motor vehicle fatalities per capita has been declining in the U.S. since 1972, but it's still much safer to fly in a commercial airliner than it is to ride in a car.
There is a whole academic industry devoted to the psychology of risk perception, but it can only partly explain this. A catastrophic event, in which a large number of people are killed, gets our attention much more than a large number of smaller events, even if they add up to a worse total. But the news media go bananas over a private plane crash in which one or two people are killed, or a runway mishap in which a few people or even nobody is killed. Furthermore, a train crash in which 162 people were killed wouldn't get nearly as much coverage. And airplanes are no longer novel, though they are somewhat less a routine part of most people's lives than a Ford Focus.
You explain it to me.