Fox News Just Asking: Does Metric System Make Planes Fall From Sky?
An AirAsia flight carrying 162 people disappeared from radar Sunday, and before the crash site has even been found, Fox News rushed to try to equal CNN in the field of dumb speculation on possible causes of the disaster. On Fox & Friends Sunday, host Anna Kooiman introduced an interview with former FAA official Scott Brenner about how "the different way other countries train their pilots may be the real reason" for the crash, asking Brenner whether the metric system might be at fault:
Even when we think about temperature, it’s Fahrenheit or Celsius, it’s kilometers or miles. You know, everything about their training could be similar, but different, right?
Brenner didn't have much time for that line of thinking, emphasizing instead that, in an attempt to reduce chances for pilot error, many international carriers want their pilots to rely on autopilot:
And a lot of that… is just because a lot of crashes are due to pilot error. So if you try and eliminate any potential risk, you try and eliminate the pilot’s ability to make incorrect inputs into the aircraft.
Kooiman was not going to let go of her pet theory that the metric system was somehow to blame, maybe:
So it’s not just differences in the way that we measure things? It's a difference in the way our pilots are actually trained? Is it not as safe in that part of the world? Because our viewers may be thinking, "International travel, is it safe? Is it not safe?"
(This, by the way, is our favorite part of any Fox segment, when hosts explain what their audience might be thinking -- "We're not endorsing this stupid idea, we're just guessing our audience is that dumb" -- which then becomes exactly what the audienceisthinking. Imagine that!)
It's not immediately clear why Kooiman would think an Indonesian pilot in an Indonesian plane taking off from an airport in Indonesia would have somehow been so confused by the metric system (which is used by Indonesia) that he drove his airplane into the sea during a storm, but the conversation soon moved on to other ways in which foreigners are very different from Americans. Co-host Charles Payne asked if "cultural aspects" like "respects for procedure" or an unwillingness to take the initiative in addressing an inflight emergency might be at fault: "Not the cowboy attitude, 'I'm not gonna wait for someone to tell me to move out of the way.' Could that play a role also?"
Brenner agreed that Asian copilots may be less likely to question an airliner's captain, citing the Asiana Flight 214 crash in 2011, where the copilot was "almost afraid to ask the senior pilot if he was on course or not."
Brenner's convenient stereotype -- Asian flight crews may be too deferential to authority -- has been around for a while; Malcolm Gladwell floated it in 2008, for instance. Even back then, it was bullshit. The problem of flight crews being unwilling to question a captain's judgment has been a factor in American airline crashes as well, as a Wall Street Journal columnist pointed out.
In short, don't worry too much about the metric system, but wow, foreigners sure are foreign! Maybe that's dangerous.