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Risk assessment, weasel style

touriststoat

Rick Rostrom commented on the last post that Al Gore’s statement about the relationship between reason and fear — while garbled as only Algore can — was based on some real research. Indeed it is.

Specifically, imaging of the brain has recently taught us that the pathways from our emotion gland to our logic lobe are much larger than the pathways leading back the other way. From this (near as I can figure it) Al deduces that it’s easier to frighten people into thinking than it is to think people into being scared.

This is why stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to handle facts (not you Rick — I know you know Al knows nuffink). Analogies about pipelines and highways and streams can only get you so far, and then they drop you over a cliff into a kettle of fish. The “size” of a neurological connection doesn’t necessarily speak to how “easy” it is for information to move. It is likely to have entirely different implications. Say, speed.

Like, I’m a hell of a lot more frightened of getting cancer (logical; there’s a lot of it in my family) than I am being crushed by a grand piano falling from a great height. But if I see a Steinway hurtling toward my head, I’m going to need to jump sideways really, really fast. And then figure out how the fuck a crane got in here, with the low ceilings and all.

I have worked with people who assess risk for engineering projects. They scoff at what they believe is the emotional, irrational way people evaluate personal risk. There’s a sort of math makes it science prejudice about sticking with pure probabilities and leaving sphincter-clenching horror out of the equation. But is that really more sciencier?

Okay, you’re like a willionty-jillion times more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. So why do people sweat flying in a way they don’t sweat driving? Wellll…most of us have personal experience of traffic accidents; they range from the truly fucking awful to the merely annoying. A plane wreck, on the other hand — son, you’re going to die. And before you do, you’re probably going to see it coming. Good and hard. Trapped in a small metal box. With a bunch of screaming strangers. And your pants on fire.

Yeah, I think even Spock would add that into his risk evaluation alongside pure numerical probability.

So, how likely a thing is does have to count the most. But other factors do and should count, as well. How horrible it would be. Whether you could prevent it. How predictable it is. How much warning you’re likely to have.

Have you heard the argument that terrorism should be WAY down in our list of priorities because the death count is so small? That there is some serious stupid masquerading as science. Terrorism adds human malice into the equation: a bunch of somebodies aiming all their brainal capacity at sneaking past every safeguard to do something of maximum horror, pain, visibility and surprise. I want a buttload of resources thrown at that creepy shit no matter how much more likely I am to be hit by lightning.

Emotional considerations are a kind of a logic. Thinking is not the opposite of feeling. They can elbow each other out of the way, but they aren’t two different states of the same element.

And poor old Al Gore, who thinks he can use the one to prop up the other, doesn’t have either on his side.

sock it to me

Comments


Comment from iamfelix
Time: July 9, 2009, 9:10 pm

Terrorism adds human malice into the equation: a bunch of somebodies aiming all their brainal capacity at sneaking past every safeguard to do something of maximum horror, pain, visibility and surprise.

Ezzactly.

 


Comment from Winston
Time: July 9, 2009, 9:59 pm

” Do you remember “, said O’Brien, ” the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams ? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open.

 


Comment from naleta
Time: July 9, 2009, 10:34 pm

Events over which you have no control are always more frightening than those where you have a perception of control. If I am driving my car, I ‘feel’ that I can maybe avoid the idiot behind the wheel of the other car. If I am riding in an airplane, I am at the mercy of the pilot’s skills, and whether or not he is feeling well.

I think that may be why the “Global Warming is caused by Mankind” mantra is so popular. If we cause it, we can control it, but if we don’t…. All I can say is don’t piss off Mother Nature. She can be a real bitch!

 


Comment from naleta
Time: July 9, 2009, 10:36 pm

“Don’t look Weasel! If you can’t see it, it won’t hurt you!”

The Ostrich Theory of Risk Assessment. 😀

 


Comment from scubafreak
Time: July 9, 2009, 10:37 pm

Well, I guess that explains where Keith Olberman and Janine Garofalo got their idea to “Round up any and all Conservatives, lock them away from ‘decent people’ and have a Neurologist experiment on them to determine why their ‘Limbic brains’ are so inferior to those of ‘good, right-minded’ Liberals….”

 


Comment from Wile E. Coyote
Time: July 10, 2009, 12:48 am

Like, I’m a hell of a lot more frightened of getting cancer (logical; there’s a lot of it in my family) than I am being crushed by a grand piano falling from a great height.

That has to be the stupidest, farthest fetched example I have ever seen. Cancer is about the only thing in the universe that won’t touch me. You try ordering from an ACME catalog and see what it does to your risk assessment.

 


Comment from Road Runner
Time: July 10, 2009, 1:28 am

Beep Beep……

 


Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: July 10, 2009, 8:59 am

Unfortunately Acme Inc. was swallowed up by our hard economic times. Inept, redundant, inefficient, expensive and worthless products must now come directly from the government (Obamacorn Inc.). What’s a coyote to do?

 


Comment from apotheosis
Time: July 10, 2009, 9:06 am

Okay, you’re like a willionty-jillion times more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. So why do people sweat flying in a way they don’t sweat driving?

For the same reason I fear tornadoes more than just about any damn thing.

Car crash…yeah, statistically far more likely, but except in the most extreme circumstances (the ones that happen so fast you’re more than likely dead before you notice you’re screwed), fast reflexes and proper reactions might just save you.

Tornadoes? Plane crash? You are in the grip of forces beyond your control, and your survival is completely and utterly at the mercy of pure chance. You can’t run your way out of it, you can’t really think your way out of it, and any skill you might’ve acquired in your soon-to-be truncated life is crap. (Unless that skill is flapping your arms fast enough to hover like a hummingbird, which I guess is conceivably useful in either situation.)

Enforced inaction is the key to the horror. As long as you can act, you can feel like you’re improving your chances. But plane crashes (and tornadoes) pretty much limit your proactive solutions to “assume the crash position”. That leaves a long…LONG time, seconds or even minutes, for a vivid and now unoccupied imagination to conjure up every horrible variant of what’s rolling up to punch your ticket.

I just got a creepy crawly at the nape of my neck writing that. Egads!

 


Comment from Princess Bernie
Time: July 10, 2009, 9:19 am

So if you’ve already been in a horrible car accident and survived, does that mean the probability of you getting into another one has been reduced? Just wondering.

 


Comment from scubafreak
Time: July 10, 2009, 11:07 am

Not to mention Kitteh snatchers! THEY TOOK PIGPEN!!!!! THEY TOOK OUR NUCLEARPUSSY!!!!

lol… 1 down, 4 to go – if they are good fur parents.

 


Comment from Former Lurker
Time: July 10, 2009, 11:08 am

I’ve lived through car accidents, three heart attacks, a coma, and various other life-threatening situations. I’m not scared of flying, and I sure as hell ain’t scared of “global warming.”

Bite me, Algore.

 


Comment from HoundOfDoom
Time: July 10, 2009, 12:36 pm

Weas, gotta admit that as soon as you said Algore, I tuned out. That guy is an assclown, and I don’t need to read any more about him.

But that picture? It had me rolling on the floor. I adore you.

 


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 10, 2009, 1:24 pm

Aw, Scubafreak — Pigpen was your favorite, wasn’t he? (Makes a mental note not to sit next to F’Lurker on the bus. He doesn’t sound…lucky).

And, yeah, that’s it, apotheosis. If there’s something you can do, it lessens the anxiety. Lack of control makes people crazy.

There was a huge shift in my person anxieties when I went from desperately poor to…well, creditworthy, at any rate. At that point, about 70% of the emergencies life might throw at me could be solved with an American Express card.

 


Comment from Dawn
Time: July 10, 2009, 1:40 pm

I just listened to a broadcast on irrational fear.
The person has only to think of fear to feel fear.
The thought then has produced the fear.
The fear brings the thought back.
Now the thought has come back twice and that begins to sound a little more valid and it begins to set up a vicious cycle in the mind going faster and faster and faster.

 


Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: July 10, 2009, 1:53 pm

Remember your Litany Against Fear Dawn:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

 


Comment from francis
Time: July 10, 2009, 2:04 pm

I liked the mortgage example from yesterday’s post. Algore’s statement that you “can’t reason people into fear” comes from someone that obviously has never been on the recieving end of “If you don’t pay us a lot of money you don’t have, we’re going to put you and your family in the street.”

The difference being that Citibank really can and will, with good reason, make their threat a reality. So far, I’ve seen more sensible evidence that I’ll get eaten by a chupacabra than suffer any of the consequences algore is promising, much less for the price that he’s asking.

 


Comment from Mike C.
Time: July 10, 2009, 5:10 pm

“So if you’ve already been in a horrible car accident and survived, does that mean the probability of you getting into another one has been reduced? Just wondering.”

Bernie ! Damn. No, it does not. They’re independent events.

 


Comment from Dawn
Time: July 10, 2009, 5:54 pm

Mike C. do you assess risk for engineering projects?

{weasel said they would scoff}

 


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 10, 2009, 8:23 pm

That’s one of the most brain-hurty things about probabilities, Dawn. Your chances (as a decent driver) of being in several accidents for several days in a row are quite small. But every day you go out, your chances of being in an accident are exactly the same.

I think you have to be a little mad to ‘get’ math.

 


Comment from jwpaine
Time: July 10, 2009, 9:00 pm

The name for that is the Gambler’s Fallacy. The will to believe that something occurring in the past somehow alters the chance of it occurring again appears almost congenital among us homo saps.

Casinos, btw, take advantage of this with those light-poles at roulette tables showing the last ten or so numbers hit.

 


Comment from jwpaine
Time: July 10, 2009, 9:06 pm

Oops, somebody forgot to turn the italics off.

In any case, there is one exception to that: An individual’s death generally reduces greatly the chance of a second death occurring to that same individual.

 


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 10, 2009, 9:22 pm

Not me. …a coward dies a thousand times…

I reckon I’ve died a jillion or so times already. I contend it has to do with a vivid imagination, but I’d make a crap soldier…

 


Comment from Former Lurker
Time: July 11, 2009, 9:55 am

Makes a mental note not to sit next to F’Lurker on the bus. He doesn’t sound…lucky

Ooops. I forgot buses. Now those scare me!

 


Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: July 12, 2009, 2:05 am

It’s Rostrom, dammit!

I can spell Sotomayor and Schwarzenegger and Ahmedinejad and Netanyahu and Berlusconi and Yousefzadeh and Volokh and Hinderaker without looking them up.

Rostrom is a nice simple name: seven letters, no silent consonants or non-anglophone pronunciations. People should be able to spell it correctly. Even weasels!
(Especially weasels who have it typed out for them.)

Yes, I am ranting. This is my sore toe: the one thing I will always complain about when someone steps on it.

Aaahhhrrrggghhh!!

(I note again that Al-goracle’s first quoted paragraph was complete gibberish. What’s up with that anyway?)

 


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 12, 2009, 8:52 am

<quietly fixes the spelling and tries to look casual>

 


Comment from Dawn
Time: July 12, 2009, 1:48 pm

Easy now Rick Rostrom.

{tee hee}

 


Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: July 12, 2009, 7:58 pm

Al Gore 2003: He played upon our FEEAAAAAAAAARRRSS!!!!

Al Gore 2009: We have to play upon their fears.

 


Comment from Allen
Time: July 13, 2009, 4:52 pm

Oooo, a post on the probability of flaming destruction, and I’m late to the game!

Yep, the car crash thing falls under the choice with replacement scenario. Every time you get in a car you get to pick from the bag that contains some marbles that say: exploding car crash! That marble gets put back into the bag for your next pick.

I’ve done a lot of studies on hazard scenarios for explody bits and bobs over the years. Now that will give you some nightmares.

Hey did you hear the one about two overhead crane operators having crane races while they were carrying large rocket motor segments? I shit thee not, damndest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

“If you see me running try to keep up.”

 

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