Nav: Home

Public interest in plane crashes only predicted 'if death toll is 50 or higher'

October 11, 2016

Researchers have analysed data that reveals which plane crashes the public is interested in and why. They counted the number of page views and edits of Wikipedia articles about 1,500 plane crashes around the world to discover that a death toll of around 50 is the minimum threshold for predicting significant levels of public interest. The research team also shows that the amount of interest in the relevant articles accelerates in line with the numbers who died. When a plane crash left fewer than 50 dead, researchers say it was very difficult to predict interest. The amount of media coverage afforded immediately after the event and the location of the operating airline were other factors driving up the number of page views and edits, says the study.

The Wikipedia articles included in the study were about aircraft incidents and accidents dating from 1897 to 2016. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science, finds that the location of an airline company's headquarters trumps interest in death tolls if they are North American airlines in the English edition of Wikipedia or Latin American airlines in the Spanish edition of Wikipedia.

The researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford say a North American event triggers about 50 times more attention among English Wikipedia readers compared with an African event. In Spanish Wikipedia, a Latin American event triggers about 50 times more attention than an African and five times more than a North American event, regardless of the death toll. Crashes involving airlines based in other regions of the world needed to result in death tolls at least three times and five times larger than those connected with North America and Latin America to command similar levels of attention on English and Spanish editions of Wikipedia respectively, says the paper.

Even in cases of large death tolls, the research suggests the public's interest is generally fleeting. In nearly three-quarters of the articles studied, numbers of page views dipped sharply within just a week of the page being created. (Only pages created up to three days after the event were included in the study.)

Another important factor influencing numbers of views and edits of articles was the amount of media coverage given immediately after the crash. Links to previous media coverage are provided on many Wikipedia pages, so Wikipedia pages amplified decisions taken by Western media on which crashes merited the public's attention, says the paper.

OII researcher Dr Taha Yasseri said: 'We see that English Wikipedia continues to be shaped by things that matter to Westerners, with little reference to the rest of the world outside of North America and Europe. It shows even open systems such as Wikipedia are subject to bias. One should be very careful using and relying on the information from the "sum of human knowledge" as it's claimed to be.

'While it could be argued that English Wikipedia is mostly edited and used by North American readers, previous research has shown that only about half of the editorial activity on English Wikipedia originates from North America, and English can be considered the lingua franca of Wikipedia. We would expect similar biases in different language editions of Wikipedia, but numbers of events covered in other languages are not large enough to give us statistically solid results.'

With all the factors combined, an analysis of both English Wikipedia and Spanish Wikipedia shows the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17's crash in Ukraine two years ago, which caused 298 deaths, was the most read article. Also in the top three most read articles on both language versions were the articles about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which had 239 people on board, and Air France Flight 447, which crashed while enroute from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, causing 228 deaths.
-end-
For more information, contact the University of Oxford News Office on +44 (0)1865 280534 or email: news.office@admin.ox.ac.uk

Notes for Editors
  • The paper, 'Dynamics and Biases of Online Attention: The Case for Aircraft Crashes', is published by Royal Society Open Science.
  • It is co-authored by Ruth Garcia-Gavilanes, Milena Tsvetkova and Taha Yasseri, who are all researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. For more information, go to Oxford Internet Institute
  • Previous related OII research: The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis


University of Oxford

Related Attention Articles:

People pay more attention to stimuli they associate with danger
A new analysis of how people prioritize their attention when determining safety and danger in busy settings, such as crossing a road, suggests that a person will pay more attention to something if they learn it is associated with danger.
Do the costs of cancer drugs receive enough attention?
A recent analysis from Canada found that information on health-related quality of life is often not collected for investigational cancer drugs or used to calculate the balance of costs and benefits of these drugs when they are submitted for reimbursement, according to findings published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Discrimination against older people needs attention, study says
Ever cracked a joke about old people? It might seem funny, but in a world where the population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups, ageism is no laughing matter, says a University of Alberta researcher.
Abundance of information narrows our collective attention span
New study in Nature Communications finds increasingly narrow peaks of collective attention over time, supporting a 'social acceleration' occurring across different domains.
Trained musicians perform better -- at paying attention
Musical training produces lasting improvements to a cognitive mechanism that helps individuals be more attentive and less likely to be distracted by irrelevant stimuli while performing demanding tasks.
More Attention News and Attention Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...