Monday, October 02, 2006

John Derbyshire from National Review, whom I generally like except when he's calling for a race war, approvingly reproduced a letter to the Economist perpetuating two urban legends.

LETTER OF THE MONTH ...This particular one was to the editor of The Economist, and appeared in the “Letters” columns of the September 23rd issue.

An earlier issue of The Economist (Sept. 9th) had run a spoof piece titled “Welcome Aboard,” pretending to be the in-flight announcement of something called Veritas Airways, “the airline that tells it like it is.” Sample: “Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero…”

Well, the letter-writer in the Sept. 23rd issue had the following to say:

"Sir — The bright yellow life-jackets are not intended to act as flotation devices. They are there to make it easier for the recovery services to spot the bodies strewn across rough terrain. (I was once asked to put on a life-jacket over central Germany, some 300 miles from the sea.) And the advice to adopt a head-down fetal position in the event of a crash landing does nothing to preserve life, given that the stall speed of a modern airliner means it will connect with the ground at terminal velocity. However, the position does tend to preserve dental data, useful for identifying dilapidated corpses."

News you can use.

The life-jackets legend is debunked at Yahoo Answers, and Snopes debunks the brace-position legend.

The embarrassing part for Derbyshire is that, in the very same column, in the middle of a discussion on IQ in which he advances the theory that people do not communicate well when there is more than a 15-point IQ difference between them, he says,

Highly intelligent people are good at weighing evidence and making inferences, yet are still, as that Poul Anderson character implied, capable of believing nutty things, those nutty things being walled off in “zones of commitment” where evidence counts for nothing and logic is suspended. Contrariwise, even very dim people, who live mostly in a fog of superstition and false inference, manage to cross the street safely, do basic arithmetic, and anticipate the sunrise.

And, despite living in a fog of superstition and false inference, so foggy that they fall for decade-old urban legends that could be checked out by any moron with an Internet connection, they manage to write the occasional column for NR as well. Either that or their own personal zone of commitment has something to do with race and intelligence.

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