Unlike the case with neonatal jaundice and kernicterus, we have excellent data about the risks of plane crashes. However, as was the case with jaundice, the stories are more powerful than the statistics. In this case, Jan Brown Lohr, chief flight attendant on United flight 232, told a particularly compelling story in testimony before Congress:
It was a golden July day when disaster struck. The number two engine exploded, severing all hydraulic lines and leaving the pilots with only the number one and number three wing engines to manoeuver the airplane. I have never known such terror...
As we waited for the brace signal from the cockpit, I mentally reviewed if everything had been covered and remembered that we had several lap children. I picked up the microphone again and instructed those parents to place their children on the floor, which would give some advance time to brace themselves, as well as their children...
What followed has been viewed countless times—an unbelievable impact that mere words could never adequately describe—the plane breaking into three sections, being engulfed in a flash fire, and my section finally stopping upside down in a corn field.
I was finally forced to leave the wreckage due to prohibitive and deadly smoke. The first person I encountered was a mother of a 22 month old boy—the same mother I had comforted and reassured right after the engine exploded. She was trying to return to the burning wreckage to find him, and I blocked her path, telling her she could not return. And when she insisted, I told her that helpers would find him.
Sylvia Tsao then looked up at me and said, “You told me to put my baby on the floor, and I did, and he's gone.16
When I read this testimony on the internet I was close to tears. I began to wonder whether to continue writing my scientific paper on the costs and benefits of the proposed regulation. And I understood how rational people could favour the regulation—no flight attendant and no family should have to go through what was described in the testimony.
I did complete and submit the article about infant safety seats on aeroplanes,16
just as I had left the baby at home on phototherapy. But I was impressed enough with the power of stories in both of these areas that I decided to look into the area further.