Sunday, February 20, 2011

A pledge for science

There is one action that any airline can take that will ensure my loyalty for years. Not just mine, but I'm sure lots of other customers too. In fact, I pledge to buy airline tickets (for any price difference up to $100 in excess of an equivalent fare) exclusively from the first airline that allows electronic devices to be used throughout flight, including takeoff and landing.

The rule against them is the most ludicrous superstition ever. It's just staggering how the advanced technology that puts a plane in the sky can persist with the cargo cult lunacy that thinks that an ipod can cause a plane to crash.

Can anyone, honestly, give me a halfway plausible hypothesis as to how a non-transmitting device is supposed to interfere with a plane's navigation systems? The closest I've ever heard is 'something about electrical fields and magnets'. But that's absurd - it's not like it's an industrial strength magnet being waved near the cockpit, it's PSP being used 30m away for crying out loud. Even the arguments about transmitting devices like phones are weak to the point of being pathetic. With non-transmitting devices, they're not even trying to make a coherent case.

Proponents claim that there's anecdotal evidence that phones can interfere with navigation systems. You know what else has 'anecdotal evidence'? Astrology. Teleportation. Alien spaceships giving people anal probes. In fact, I'd wager the anecdotal evidence for the last one is several hundred times more voluminous than that in favour of electronic devices interfering with planes.

Honestly, if this is the standard to ban something, how can you establish any scientific proposition ever? You're only allowed to use things that nobody has ever told a story claiming that it happened? Anecdotally, people praying to God has fixed faulty planes. Should we mandate that too?

Consider the following examples that demonstrate the lunacy of the current rule:

-Electronic wristwatches use circuits too, but apparently these aren't able to crash the plane. Don't ask me why. They're too small, but apparently the tiny noise-cancelling device in my Bose headphones isn't. Skeptics might claim this has something to do with the impossibility of getting people to not wear watches or to remove the batteries from their watch. What would they know!

-Very few computers are shut down when people travel, they're mostly in sleep mode, a low power state in which the computer remains on. But mysteriously, this is okay too.

-TVs in the back of seats contain electronic circuits, and often remain on during takeoff. I guess they're sprinkled with magic non-interfering pixie dust.

-Pacemakers contain circuits too. Better turn that thing off, Beryl! It's for the good of everybody on the plane, you understand.

not to mention my personal favorite:

-The average plane has, what, 100 passengers? Maybe 200? Assume that 95% of them have phones. Now, what are the chances that among them, not a single one of those passengers managed to:
a) forget to turn off their phone
b) leave their iphone on, having not figured out that pushing the top button on the iphone doesn't actually turn it off
c) leave it on intentionally as an act of defiance

The chances, in short, are basically zero. Which leads us to the conclusion that virtually every single flight probably has at least one phone on during takeoff and landing, and miraculously they're not all crashing.

It's time to strike a blow for science. Take the pledge to buy from science-friendly airlines, and in the mean time, leave your ipod on as an act of defiance.

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