I wonder how many times I’ve complained in a column about research that makes headlines by proving what my old hero, Basil Fawlty, used to describe as “the bleeding obvious”. A recent example to stir my (easily-stirred) spleen concerned a British Airways jetliner whose engine caught fire in Las Vegas on 8th September. All 172 passengers and crew were obliged to escape down emergency slides as (according to the papers) “smoke and flames engulfed the aircraft”.
British pilot Chris Henkey (dubbed a “hero”, as always in such situations) called on his 42 years’ flying experience when he noticed smoke pouring from the engine as he was accelerating down the runway. At the last possible minute he slammed the brakes on and stopped the plane, instructing the cabin crew to evacuate the plane.
Passengers said that, when the emergency exits were opened the cabin started to fill with smoke, and panic broke out. Evacuation was successful, but hampered by some passengers ignoring instructions and insisting on retrieving their luggage, thus obstructing the aisles and escape-slides.
I must own to a sneaking sympathy for those passengers. I suffered a heartrending loss this week when my MacBook was hit by water pouring through the ceiling from the flat above us (my travails in that context will surely form the basis of a future column). I’m still trying to dry the damned thing out to see how much of The Collected Works of Bernard Trafford I can retrieve. So I can understand the passengers desire to grab their luggage, though it goes against all training and common sense.
What made me laugh, though, was one newspaper’s sage comment that “psychologists say that in panic situations people frequently fail to act rationally”. Oh really? It happens all the time. If you follow my fellow-blogger Keith Hann on Twitter (@keithhann), you’ll find him frequently reacting to blindingly obvious media stories with references to the Pope’s religion or what bears do in the woods. He’s right.
One might hope for better in the world of education, where I spend my life and where you’d expect to find research, er, properly researched! Much is, but far too much falls into the category of policy-based evidence, rather than evidence-based policy: in other words, politicians and Whitehall mandarins cherry-pick bits of research that match their preconceptions, rather than reading all the research and then forming a judgement.
Nonetheless I was cheered by one particularly obvious conclusion chronicled in the Guardian this week. A recent report by the Inter-Generational Foundation says it’s time graduates stopped heading to London for work. The capital’s streets are not paved with gold (as Dick Whittington found, much to his chagrin): even the best-qualified graduates spend years paying exorbitant rents to live in a shoebox. By contrast, though jobs are scarcer in the North, the cost of living is incomparably lower, and the quality of life higher.
There go those bears again! I hope the Pope’s keeping an eye out. A single blog cannot hope to list all the advantages of Northern living: it’s less crowded than London: traffic-jams are negligible (yes, even on the A1!) compared to the Midlands or M25 (trust me, I know); and people are much readier to give you the time of day, a smile and a bit of a chat – even to call you “pet”. As for the countryside…
Moving North makes economic sense. Recent graduates interviewed by the Guardian were hoping to be homeowners by the age of 30. The average salary is about £20K, but first time buyers need an income of only £26K to get their foot on the property ladder. Comparable figures in London are an average salary of £28K but a whacking £77K needed to buy a home.
Still, as Mrs Trafford always says, “Don’t keep telling people, or they’ll all want to come here!” Maybe she’s right. Some secrets are best kept, well, secret.