Monday, September 05, 2011

The Airplane Lottery Hospital Crash

This month is just a short rant.

I love probability statistics - not that I'm great at calculating them, but because of the paradoxes that they seem to support.

Example: Air travel is safer than driving.

Is this true? Well... yes, but also no.

It is "safer" than driving if you calculate number of deaths per passenger-mile traveled.

Hm? What's this? What's "passenger mile?"

If a car has two people in it and travels 100 miles, you get two statistics. (1) Vehicle miles (1 vehicle x 100 miles = 100 vMiles). Then there's (2) Passenger miles (2 passengers x 100 miles = 200 pMiles). So compare the car trip to the airplane that travels 1,000 miles and has 100 passengers.

(1) Vehicle miles: 1 vehicle x 1,000 miles = 1,000 vehicle miles.

(2) Passenger miles: 100 passengers x 1,000 miles = 100,000 passenger miles.

BUT, imagine the car tops a hill (at its 100 mile mark) just as the plane flies over (at its 1,000 mile mark) and they collide in a spectacular display of light, color, and noise (i.e., all dead)!

Probability of Death

Yeah, ok, you don't like math. So instead of figuring out what I did in the table, look at it this way: If "safety" is determined by looking at number of deaths per something (miles, accident, whatever), then you can twist the numbers to suit your needs.

Where's the most dangerous place to be in the world? A hospital! Look at how many people die there! I wonder what the statistics are? Hm, calculating the number of deaths per type of building will surely reveal that hospitals are the most deadly. Probably worse than bathrooms, kitchens, and that married person's bedroom when their spouse comes home all combined!

So you might say something like, "Yeah, sure, if you look at it THAT way, then it seems bad, but people who are sick or are more likely to die usually go to a hospital. So it isn't fair to say that it is the most dangerous place to be."

Good, got that out of your system. But you've missed my point. The point is that NO comparison of apples to oranges is "fair" to make.

People don't treat airplane travel the same way as car travel. How much do you feel threatened by an engine failure if you are driving a car? Is it scary enough that you do a complete check of the engine before every trip? What about engine failure on your plane? Don't you think there is a little more attention given to equipment in one scenario compared with the other?

Also, most fatal accidents are due to human error. Where is human error more common? Wherever there are more humans. How many humans are flying planes at any given moment? Compare that to the number of humans driving cars.

So in terms of the above two cases, would you rather be in a car or a plane if there is complete engine failure? (I'm going to go ahead and assume you picked CAR.) I'd bet that there are WAY more fatalities due to engine (equipment) failure in aircraft than in cars.

Then we switch to human error. If you fall asleep driving a car, you don't get to sleep long before you crash. But in most aircraft, there are backup and safety features to decrease the chances that a brief nap will result in death. (Frankly, though, I doubt that the car or plane option seems too good when human error is involved.)

Up to here then, I hope you can see that these sort of things depend on how you look at them, right? So next time someone throws out some little statistical factoid, you should ask, "Compared to what, exactly?"

Which brings me to the smug idiotards who spout off about how the lottery is a "tax on stupid people." Yikes! Are they WAY behind on their lottery tickets, then!

Their "argument" is based on the premise that all a person get's from their $1 (or whatever) outlay is a virtually sure loss of that money. Not much different from rolling down your car window and throwing your cash into the street. In other words, if I may extrapolate the view: Nothing is of value unless it is tangible.

Wow, that seems more materialistic than the people who can't wait to spend the money they hope to win playing the lottery.

Must all transactions result in a tangible exchange? Are these people demanding to take home fragments of the movie screen when they visit the cinema? Should all roller coasters and Ferris wheels be dismantled because they don't provide tangible gains? When these people go on a date, do they insist on taking souvenirs? (Ok, that one sounds good to me, somehow…) Should every sex act result in a baby?! (Please, nooooooooooooooooooo!)

The idea that people who play the lottery are getting absolutely nothing for their $1 seems farfetched to me. They get something similar to what people get when they go to a movie or to an amusement park.

So would it be fair to say that amusement parks are playgrounds designed for stupid people? Or that movies are ways to keep stupid people in one spot for about two hours?

Ok, I've seen the quality of most of the movies lately, so maybe the argument breaks down here...