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The Titanic, Rivets, and . . . the Public Sphere?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

It may seem like a bit of a reach to connect the recent book about faulty rivets on the Titanic with the public sphere, but bear with me. I've long wondered about whether and how public safety issues connect up to larger issues of a free press, oversight, corruption, and the public sphere. In the book, the authors allege that, due to time and cost pressures, weaker rivets were used by the shipbuilding company that built the Titanic, and that those contributed to the fault lines that ultimately led to the Titanic's sinking. The company that built the Titanic has disputed these allegations.

Now, no one is alleging corruption here on the part of those long ago decisionmakers. However, it does beg the question: what if someone had done a series of investigative articles into the possible effects of weaker rivets? What if those articles had led to a public outcry, and the ship had never sailed? Those are plenty of what if questions, but we needn't keep them grounded in the theoretical realm or in long-past history. Everyday, all over the world but particularly in developing countries, public health and safety decisions are made outside the view of government regulators and outside the realm of public oversight. I'm sure someone, somewhere has done a study on the impact of corruption on public safety . . . now let's connect the dots to the issue of a free press, one that can highlight when cost-cutting or other measures lead to public health or safety issues. It would be truly fascinating to triangulate between public health/safety, a free press, and corruption indices, and see if anything interesting falls out of the mix. Or perhaps this study already exists. . . if so, please alert us.

Photo Credit:Flickr user Images of History