Mythbusters Takes on the FAA

by on November 2, 2008 · 16 comments

As Adam Thierer has previously commented on this very blog, Mythbusters is “the best science show on TV in years.” Since the show tackles ridiculous beliefs that have entered the popular culture, it would make sense that at some point, they’d expose some dumb government policy. But, generally, the Mythbusters stay away from terribly controversial topics. So, unlike Bill Maher, they don’t debunk religious beliefs. And, unlike Adam, they haven’t shown that concerns over airplane terrorism are overblown.

But maybe Adam and Jamie’s policy is changing. I just watched an episode (which originally premiered in 2006) where they test whether cell phone signals can interfere with airplane avionics. Shockingly, even when they hauled into a real plane a radio transmitter broadcasting all kinds of cell phone signals at hundreds of times their normal power, there was no interference at all! This makes sense; after all, there are lots of radio signals travelling through the air everywhere anyway. Airplanes are built to ensure that these signals don’t affect their navigation equipment. And the EU has allowed cell phone use on planes for years, without incident. Plus, we all know that people have used their phones on planes in the US, just more covertly.

I reported on the US’s absurd ban before over at OpenMarket. And it looks like, in spite of liberalizing moves on the part of the FAA and FCC, the ban isn’t going anywhere, thanks to Congress. I guess you can bust myths with science, but the government won’t listen. If only we could recruit Mythbusters to show that the FDA does more harm than good or that Social Security creates fiscal insecurity.

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