When you fly on an airplane, you are directed to turn off electronics for takeoff and landing. Is there any chance whatsoever that an inadvertently-active cell phone (even in airplane mode) could cause any airplane malfunction? Yesterday, I would have said “almost certainly not”. Today, though, my answer is “absolutely not”, thanks to an excellent point made by an NYT blogger:

Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists.

Huh. Yeah, pretty much. So why is the policy still in place? “There was no evidence saying these devices can’t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can.” No one wants to take the bullet and say “we’ve been wrong for years”.

This point is particularly relevant given EconTalk’s recent podcast with Gary Taubes where he talks about how government dietary guidelines are almost certainly wrong, but nobody is willing to step up and say “We’ve been killing people for decades with bad nutrition recommendations” and change them.

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