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Researchers have analysed data that reveals which plane crashes the public is interested in and why. They show the biases in the coverage of such events, even in open systems like Wikipedia.

Wreckage of the malaysia airlines mh17 flight in 2014 near rossipne donetsk region Denis Kornilov /

Image: Denis Kornilov /

The team from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) counted the number of page views and edits of Wikipedia articles about 1,500 plane crashes around the world to discover that a death toll of around 50 is the minimum threshold for predicting significant levels of public interest. They also show that the amount of interest in the relevant articles accelerates in line with the numbers who died. When a plane crash left fewer than 50 dead,  it was very difficult to predict interest, says the study. The amount of media coverage the events attracted immediately after the event and the location of the operating airline were other relevant factors driving up the number of page views and edits.

The Wikipedia articles included in the study were about aircraft incidents and accidents dating from 1897 to 2016. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science, finds that the location of an airline company’s headquarters trumps interest in death tolls if they are North American airlines in the English edition of Wikipedia or Latin American airlines in the Spanish edition of Wikipedia.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)