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Bummer! NPR bites on air rage study.

OK, here’s the story. A couple days ago, regarding the now-notorious PPNAS article, “Physical and situational inequality on airplanes predicts air rage,” I wrote:

NPR will love this paper. It directly targets their demographic of people who are rich enough to fly a lot but not rich enough to fly first class, and who think that inequality is the cause of the world’s ills.

The next day I did a media roundup and found no NPR mentions of air rage, hence I had to write:

I was unfair to NPR.

Commenter Sepp slammed me on it:

Why the dig at NPR? And why the implication that NPR listeners cannot distinguish good scientific articles from bad ones that agree with listeners’ values? On that note, why the implicit indictment of said values (i.e. the desire to reduce inequality, etc.)? I find these statements saddening and confusing.

I replied that I meant no condemnation, implicit or otherwise, of the desire to reduce inequality. But, sure, I shouldn’t blame NPR for a news story they didn’t even run!

But then commenter Diogo reported that the study was mentioned on Wait Wait, and commenter Adam reported:

Vindication! NPR Finally bit!

The (usually) esteemed Planet Money podcast uncritically retweeted the generally uncritical article today:

Feel free to direct criticism to planetmoney (at)

OK, just a tweet. But still.

The Wait Wait thing is no big deal—they could well have mentioned this study only for the purpose of mocking it.

But the other one . . . it’s so frustrating. I post and post and post and only a few thousand people read. Planet Money tweets and reaches 300,000 people. And NPR is so . . . official. Being on NPR, it’s like being on Gladwell or Ted, it’s the ultimate badge of seriousness.

As to . . . I’d not heard of them before (or, at least, not that I remember). Based on this linked article, I’m not impressed. But, who knows, they could have lots of good stuff too. I won’t judge an entire media channel based on N=1.

In all seriousness . . .

I have no problem with NPR. NPR is great. That’s why I’m bummed when it falls for junk science.


  1. Paul Alper says:

    What in the world has the picture of Joseph Blatter, the disgraced former head of FIFA, have to do with the topic of air rage and NPR? Well, he is known as “Sepp” and that is the handle of the person who defended NPR.

  2. Bea says:

    “And why the implication that NPR listeners cannot distinguish good scientific articles from bad ones that agree with listeners’ values?”

    Because the vast majority of people, regardless of the radio station they listen to, cannot distinguish good scientific articles from bad ones that agree with their values?

  3. Joseph Cohen says:

    Are retweets endorsements?

  4. NPHARD says:

    Total Bummer. My wife works for an NPR radio station, and we were cheering for them to pass on this piece of garbage.

  5. Mark says:

    This entire podcast may be of interest to everyone (don’t worry, there are transcripts so you can see where things are going without listening)

    Here’s the most recent mini-episode

    And the paper itself:
    Silent Disco: Dancing in synchrony leads to elevated pain thresholds and social closeness

    N = 94, three groups, you know the drill.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, we’ve encountered this reporter before, and he’s a sucker for these NPR-friendly stories. He’s kinda like a nice-guy version of Gladwell. Too bad, but this is NPR-standard. “Our social science correspondent,” indeed. I’m sure he means well.

      • Rahul says:

        What makes Gladwell not-nice-guy?

        • Andrew says:


          I don’t know Gladwell personally but based on his interactions with various critics such as Chris Chabris, I get the impression that Gladwell’s aim is protecting the brand rather than getting things right (unlike, say, Nate Silver, who, sure, he wants to protect the brand but he wants to do this in a good way, by getting things right). Vedantam seems more like an naif. Maybe if he does this sort of thing for 10,000 hours he’ll be just like Gladwell.

  6. Statistaical Trump says:

    An hilarious look at BS science in the media:

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Scientific Studies (HBO)

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