Saturday, June 11, 2011

Headline: “Report: Evidence Mounts that Electronic Interference May Affect Airplane Safety”

Yahoo News via Time Magazine via ABC News is reporting the “evidence” that electronic devices may cause problems with airline navigation and control systems. However, the headline is not even remotely supported by the “evidence.” Here are some excerpts from the article [in italics] with pertinent sections underlined.

In 75 instances between 2003 and 2009, electronic interference was cited as a possible cause of airplane dysfunction, according to a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

But the IATA report, obtained by ABC News, provides some evidence that heeding that last rule [turn off all electronic devices], about electronic devices, would be to everyone's benefit.

According to the confidential study, in a survey spanning six years with respondents from 125 airlines, there were 75 documented incidents in which airline pilots and crew believed that possible electronic interference affected flight controls and navigation systems. A survey* was done. How many people were questioned? There are some 850,000 flights per month in the US alone.The IATA report covers 6 years. That’s 61,200,000 flights. And all they can come up with is 75 instances of possible electronic interference?

The report, according to ABC News, stresses that no direct correlation is being made between electronic interference from personal electronic devices and plane malfunctions.

Finally in the last paragraph: Some experts argue that these anecdotes are not enough to draw conclusions about how electronic devices affect planes.

The amount of misleading information and equivocation in this article makes me wonder if it was written by a radiologist.

The “evidence” is pretty weak. What do you think?

*See my recent blog on surveys.


Obsinguod said...

The evidence is as good as that saying things with wires are bombs. VNS and other neurological work are getting their DOD credentials this way!

Anonymous said...

Seems that the evidence is as strong as most of the data supporting the medications we use. To those who are skeptical, what proof would you need? Surely, turning off our electronic devices is less an inconvenience than an unsafe plane ride.

It's all risk gain ratio, and I for one have no problem turning off my devices.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Thanks to Obsinguod & Anon for the comments.


Your risk-gain analogy does not work for me. I suppose you don't mind that your grandmother has to take off her shoes at airport security either.

I like to read on a plane. If my Kindle or whatever does not really cause any harm, then why must I turn it off? Same with cell phones in the ICU. It has been proven that they don't interfere with monitors etc.

It would be very simple to study the problem of electronic devices and avionics. I'm surprised that no one has done it.

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