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The Anecdotal and the statistical – elopement and drowning December 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, science, statistics.

For example, the death of an acquaintance in a motorcycle accident would be more likely to deter you from riding a motorcycle than would a dispassionate, and undoubtedly far more representative, statistical analysis of motorcycles’ dangers. You might avoid Central Park on the basis of a single comment at a cocktail party, rather than bothering to read the freely available crime statistics that provide a more realistic view of the odds that you will be victimized.

Thats from here.

Yeah, reminds me of several years ago when the anxiety in my family was higher than average when a family friend died in a drowning accident during a school excursion. And later when a distant cousin eloped with a boy from another religion.

Ofcourse I concede that the second of the above though quite funny is not in the category as the first, the argument being that impressionable youths like me might be impressed with – pick your adjectives – my distant cousin’s enterprise/stupidity, courage/audacity and liberal-mindedness/naivete !

However, its inconceivable to imagine that the probability of my dying in a drowning accident increases if I am informed of an unrelated drowning accident in the extended family 3 months ago. Infact, its quite the other way – I ( and my irrational self) might be counted upon to be more careful in such an event. I am not recommending that that kids must be encouraged to go on excursions if and only if there is a drowning accident among kith and kin ( Long live everyone’s kith and kin, atleast dont flame the comments section :)). Nor am I saying is that if I could mathematically formulate my point using conditional probabilities and Bayes Theorem and make a case, scientifically tempered and statistically indulgent parents are likely to be more convinced. So what I am I saying ?

Nothing. Lets move on.

Then he says :

The truth is that neither human beings nor modern societies are wired to respond rationally to terrorism. Vigilance is easy to muster immediately after an event, but it tends to wane quickly, as the attack vanishes from public discourse. We err twice, first by overreacting right after the disaster, while we are still in shock, and later by under-reacting, when the memory fades and we become so relaxed as to be vulnerable to further attacks.

Going by the above, the forgotten electrical engineer in me likens the curve of human vigilance versus in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy to a damped sine wave – the current through the RLC circuit when a DC voltage V is applied. Deepak, Electrical engineering topper at KREC – am I bull-shitting or atleast approximately correct.

[ Mechanical Engineers might compare this to a Mass-spring system ; I am sure doctors can do something to the patient to simulate such this ( or any other 😉 ) behavior – I remember you guys have a hard rubber kinda thing that they hit on the patient’s knees to see if there is a sensation or some such thing ]



1. tpraja - December 6, 2006

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