More Statistics

Marc A. Thiessen, writing in National Review Online, is apparently shocked. Shocked:

The current uproar could happen only in a country that has begun to forget the horror of 9/11. Indeed, it appears many in the country have forgotten. A new Washington Post–ABC News poll found that 66 percent of Americans say that “the risk of terrorism on airplanes is not that great.” Sixty-six percent.

What does “not that great” mean? Here (PollingReport.com) is the polling question to which 66% responded “not that great”:

“Are you personally worried about traveling by commercial airplane because of the risk of terrorism, or do you think the risk is not that great?”

So “not that great” means “not so great that I am personally worried about traveling by commercial airplane,” which, given the minimal danger of boarding a commercial aircraft even in 2001, is a perfectly rational position to take. Even in 2001, the risk of terrorism was not so great that it would have made sense to drive a hundred miles or more instead of flying.

TSA apologists like to point to the failed plots that TSA didn’t stop as evidence of the need for TSA: TSA failed to stop the underwear bomber / shoe bomber / whatever, so we need to give the TSA more power. Thiessen uses the example of the 2006 Al Qaeda plot to blow up

seven transatlantic flights departing London’s Heathrow Airport — with more than 1,500 passengers on board — headed for New York, Washington, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and San Francisco.

Never mind that Heathrow is outside TSA’s bailiwick. Let’s run the numbers supposing that Al Qaeda had succeeded in 2006 in killing 1,500 people on flights leaving US airports. There were 50 other commercial air travel fatalities in 2006 (the Lexington Comair crash), so a successful Al Qaeda domestic-travel megaplot would have raised the number of fatalities to 1,550. There were 724,733,000 passenger emplanements in 2006. So if such a plot had succeeded the risk of getting on a plane in 2006 would have been 2.13 in a million. The same year there were 1.42 fatalities per million highway passenger miles, so getting on a plane in 2006 (if the imaginary domestic plot had succeeded) would have been about as dangerous as driving 150 miles.

Even in that nightmare scenario, for trips longer than 150 miles, it would have made more sense to fly than to drive. As much as Thiessen and the rest of those who are willing to give up freedom and dignity for a little more safety hate it, the risk of terrorism is not that great. That sixty-six percent of Americans polled recognize such gives me hope.

(Mike at Crime and Federalism has something to say about Thiessen’s article as well.)

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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