Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On Miracles ...

Patrick Smith, an international pilot for a major airline who writes the "Ask the Pilot" column and blog in Salon.com, has been writing about a bĂȘte noire of his, the way the media rush to gush that anyone who survives an airplane accident is the beneficiary of a "miracle."

He's singing my tune, or hymn. As someone who survived a horrible airplane crash -- but while 154 others did not -- I was amazed immediately afterward by the piety I encountered in some media that went on about me being the lucky guy who was awarded a "miracle."

Under the circumstances at the time, it would have been inappropriate to point out, in TV and print interviews, what I was really thinking. Which is, if unworthy I, wretched sinner that I am, had this miracle handed me from some divine providence, how do we describe what the 154 innocent men, women and children who perished in the same accident received? How come the Divine Benefactor gets credit for my miracle, but no blame for the hideous carnage that was concurrently wrought? (And please, do not go all Jesuit on me. Been there.)

Anyway, Patrick says it better and with more grace, and makes the added point about training, skill and excellent engineering behind these occasional "miracles" in the aviation realm. Essentially, media who toss around this "miracle" word that way infantalize the public discourse and do a disservice to the scientific disciplines of safety and training. Not to mention the very respectable concept of dumb luck.

See Patrick's Salon piece here and, as he followed up today (and kindly quoted me) another Salon piece here.


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