Tag Archives: think

Should rape victims be able to have abortions? Republicans don’t think so | Jessica Valenti

Just 45 days: if Republicans have their way, that’s how much time a woman in Iowa will have to report being raped if she wants to obtain an abortion.

To put it in perspective, that’s one missed period – assuming a woman’s cycles are regular and that she’s even paying attention, given she was just sexually assaulted a few weeks previous. If a woman who has been raped doesn’t report the attack within that small sliver of time, the state will not allow her end the pregnancy.

Iowa’s new anti-choice bill – which bans abortion if there is a fetal heartbeat, something that happens just five or six weeks into pregnancy – has mostly been covered because the unconstitutional legislation, if passed, would be a direct threat to Roe v Wade. (That’s what the bill’s architects had in mind.)

But what has gone largely under the radar is that the bill’s supposed exceptions for rape and incest are so radically restrictive that they would make it near impossible for sexual assault assault victims to end their pregnancies. Which, of course, is the point.

Republicans know that two out of three rape victims do not report their assault to the police. They also know that incest victims – who have 140 days to report being assaulted under the bill – often don’t disclose their abuse even to family doctors because medical professionals are mandated to report the crime to authorities. (Children are often fearful to tell anyone about incest because of the reasonable fear that they’ll be placed in foster care or that their relative will get in trouble.)

Women’s hesitance to report comes with good reason – even today, police departments and health care professionals frequently mishandle cases, victim-blame, and further traumatize victims. But bills like the one in Iowa are not about protecting women or doing what’s best for them; they’re about forcing girls and women to carry pregnancies whether they want to or not.

There’s also something particularly troubling about forcing women to “prove” their abuse before the state allows them to have a medical procedure. When I first read about the bill, it reminded me of a scene from the dystopian Hulu drama, The Handmaid’s Tale, where June’s husband needs to sign a giving her “permission” to get birth control.

We’re already living in a country where women need to prove their worthiness for medical care via a male institution (the government), and multiple states have tried to pass bills that would mandate women get their husband’s permission before obtaining an abortion. Last year, a bill in Arkansas would have even forced women to notify their rapist before ending the pregnancy.

The Iowa bill’s exception rules operate from much the same place that all anti-choice legislation does: that women are not to be trusted. That we lie about rape and that we can’t make decisions about our own bodies without interference from male politicians. It’s an especially interesting position to take in a moment when women across the country are demanding that their stories of sexual abuse be believed and taken seriously.

So let’s watch the Iowa bill – and other state legislation like it – because of the threat it poses to abortion rights across the board. But let’s also take notice of the incremental ways states are trying, and often succeeding, in eroding women’s rights. It’s all horrific, and it all matters.

  • Jessica Valenti is a Guardian US columnist

Good news at last: the world isn’t as horrific as you think | Hans Rosling

Things are bad, and it feels like they are getting worse, right? War, violence, natural disasters, corruption. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; and we will soon run out of resources unless something drastic is done. That’s the picture most people in the west see in the media and carry around in their heads.

I call it the overdramatic worldview. It’s stressful and misleading. In fact, the vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

The overdramatic worldview draws people to the most negative answers. It is not caused simply by out-of-date knowledge. My experience, over decades of lecturing and testing, has finally brought me to see that the overdramatic worldview comes from the very way our brains work. The brain is a product of millions of years of evolution, and we are hard-wired with instincts that helped our ancestors to survive in small groups of hunters and gatherers. We crave sugar and fat, which used to be life-saving sources of energy when food was scarce. But today these cravings make obesity one of the biggest global health problems. In the same way, we are interested in gossip and dramatic stories, which used to be the only source of news and useful information. This craving for drama causes misconceptions and helps create an overdramatic worldview.

We still need these dramatic instincts to give meaning to our world. If we sifted every input and analysed every decision rationally, a normal life would be impossible. Just as we should not cut out all sugar and fat, we should not ask a surgeon to remove the parts of our brain that deal with emotions. But we need to learn to control our drama intake.

It is absolutely true that there are many bad things in this world. The number of conflict fatalities has been falling since the second world war, but the Syrian war has reversed this trend. Terrorism too is rising. Overfishing and the deterioration of the seas are truly worrisome. The list of endangered species is getting longer. But while it is easy to be aware of all the bad things happening in the world, it’s harder to know about the good things. The silent miracle of human progress is too slow and too fragmented to ever qualify as news. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has almost halved. But in online polls, in most countries, fewer than 10% of people knew this.

chart

Our instinct to notice the bad more than the good is related to three things: the misremembering of the past; selective reporting by journalists and activists; and the feeling that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better. For centuries, older people have romanticised their youths and insisted that things ain’t what they used to be. Well, that’s true. Most things used to be worse. This tendency to misremember is compounded by the never-ending negative news from across the world.

Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear about more disasters than ever before. This improved reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact opposite. At the same time, activists and lobbyists manage to make every dip in an improving trend appear to be the end of the world, scaring us with alarmist exaggerations and prophecies. In the United States, the violent crime rate has been falling since 1990. But each time something horrific or shocking happened – pretty much every year – a crisis was reported. The majority of people believe that violent crime is getting worse.

Vaccination session Mali


A vaccination session at the Baraouéli health centre in Baraouéli, Ségou region, Mali. Photograph: Unicef/UN/Keïta

My guess is you feel that me saying that the world is getting better is like me telling you that everything is fine, and that feels ridiculous. I agree. Everything is not fine. We should still be very concerned. As long as there are plane crashes, preventable child deaths, endangered species, climate change sceptics, male chauvinists, crazy dictators, toxic waste, journalists in prison, and girls not getting an education, we cannot relax. But it is just as ridiculous to look away from the progress that has been made. The consequent loss of hope can be devastating. When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may lose confidence in measures that actually work.


It is just as ridiculous to look away from the progress. The consequent loss of hope can be devastating

How can we help our brains to realise that things are getting better? Think of the world as a very sick premature baby in an incubator. After a week, she is improving, but she has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all not worry? Not at all: it’s both bad and better. That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

Take girls’ education. When women are educated, the workforce becomes diversified and able to make better decisions. Educated mothers have fewer children, and more survive. More energy is invested in each child’s education: a virtuous cycle of change. Ninety per cent of girls of primary school age attend school; for boys, it’s 92%. There are still gender differences when it comes to education in the poorest countries, especially in secondary and higher education, but that’s no reason to deny the progress that has been made.

Remember that the media and activists rely on drama to grab your attention; that negative stories are more dramatic than positive ones; and how simple it is to construct a story of crisis from a temporary dip pulled out of its context of a long-term improvement. When you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking: if there had been a positive improvement, would I have heard about that? Even if there had been hundreds of larger improvements, would I have heard?

This is “factfulness”: understanding as a source of mental peace. Like a healthy diet and regular exercise, it can and should become part of people’s daily lives. Start to practise it, and you will make better decisions, stay alert to real dangers and possibilities, and avoid being constantly stressed about the wrong things.

Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic and statistician, who died in 2017. This is an edited excerpt from his posthumously published book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World (Sceptre)

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.

Virus risk on planes is lower than you might think, study says

Flyers who live in fear of catching bugs on every flight, take heart: the risk of picking up respiratory infections while cruising at 35,000 feet may be slimmer than you think.

Scientists used a computer model to crunch information on how people moved around aircraft on flights lasting three-and-a-half to five hours. They found that passengers sitting one row in front, or one row behind, a person with flu had an 80% risk of catching the bug.

The same level of risk applied to those sitting one or two seats either side of the infectious traveller, but for all other passengers, the risk was less than 3%. An infected cabin crew member infected 4.6 passengers per flight, the model found.

“What we showed is that outside this perimeter there is very little probability of becoming infected on an airplane,” said Vicki Hertzberg, a professor of biostatistics and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University in Atlanta. “You don’t have to worry about the coughing coming from the person five rows behind you.”

Health officials have recorded more than a dozen cases of bugs being spread on planes, ranging from instances of pandemic influenza to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars. But despite the potential for passengers to fall ill, little has been known about the health risks that sickly flyers pose.

To find out more, researchers working with Hertzberg and Boeing in Seattle boarded 10 domestic US flights and took notes on how passengers and crew moved around the aircraft. The flights left Atlanta for San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle or Portland, and all of the planes had two rows of three seats separated by a central aisle.

In total, the movements of 1,540 passengers and 41 cabin crew were plugged into the computer model, which assumed that flu-ridden passengers infected others at the rate of 0.018 per minute of contact. The infection rate, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was chosen to produce something close to a worst-case scenario.

Hertzberg said the computer only modelled the risk from viruses spread by droplets sprayed out in coughs and sneezes, and did not take into account the potential for viruses to float around in the cabin’s air. Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said that while the risk of picking up flu on any one flight was low, larger studies with enough passengers to reveal real infection rates were needed.

Asked if she had tips for flyers who find themselves next to a spluttering passenger, Hertzberg said people should wash their hands well and not touch their faces, because viruses can be picked up through the eyes, nose and mouth. As for requesting another seat, good luck with that. “Flights are so full these days, there would probably be no place to move to,” she said.