Sunday, 14 March 2010

Good Sense

from Hit & Run by Katherine Mangu-Ward... just talked to my stats kids about this a couple of days ago....
A great post from Robert Wright at the New York Times about why the disproportionate attention paid to Toyota recalls is worrisome and innumerate:

if you drive one of the Toyotas recalled for acceleration problems and don’t bother to comply with the recall, your chances of being involved in a fatal accident over the next two years because of the unfixed problem are a bit worse than one in a million—2.8 in a million, to be more exact. Meanwhile, your chances of being killed in a car accident during the next two years just by virtue of being an American are one in 5,244.

So driving one of these suspect Toyotas raises your chances of dying in a car crash over the next two years from .01907 percent (that’s 19 one-thousandths of 1 percent, when rounded off) to .01935 percent (also 19 one-thousandths of one percent). I can live with those odds....

But it worries me that this Toyota thing worries us so much. We live in a world where responding irrationally to risk (say, the risk of a terrorist attack) can lead us to make mistakes (say, invading Iraq). So the Toyota story is a kind of test of our terrorism-fighting capacity—our ability to keep our wits about us when things seem spooky.

Passing the test depends on lots of things. It depends on politicians resisting the temptation to score cheap points via the exploitation of irrational fear. It depends on journalists doing the same. And it depends on Americans in general keeping cool, notwithstanding the likely failure of many politicians and journalists to do their part.

If you're curious about how he did the math, go here and scroll down. If you want to see a bunch of commenters miss the point, keep scrolling on that same page.
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