Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jeff Goldstein: Moral Arithmatic

Have you heard this argument? "You have more chance being hit by lightning, dying in a car crash or being run over crossing the street than dying by a terrorist bomb even if the U.S. lost 3,000 people in an attack every single day."

Morally repugnant on an instinctual level, right? Jeff Goldstein elucidates why that is so.

As an aside, if we were to lose those people, the buildings they were working in, the bridges they were crossing over, the housings they were living in, how long would the economy support dangerous activities like working in buildings, crossing over bridges and living in houses? And what toll would that take--on everyone not just the dead people?

Moral morons.

1 comment:

David said...

It's not only morally repugnant; it's an incorrect use of probability and statistics.

Suppose 2 cars out of 2 million encounter a particular steering failure. It would be easy to assume that there is only one chance in a million of encountering this failure--but that would be wrong if the failures were due to metal fatigue and occurred only after the car had lots of miles on it. In that case, the "one in a million" number would might be masking a coming problem of disastrous proportions.

Similarly, at the early stages of an epidemic, one might conclude that a person's chance of catching the disease was very low. Not true, for a communicable disease whose spread could be exponential.

I did a post on this fallacy more than 3 years ago.