Posted tagged ‘Risk’

The Dead Horse Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

January 4, 2013

I know that the general human failure to assess risks appropriately  is one of those things we dweebs kvetch about all the time (and certain kinds of insurance purveyors profit from), but what the hell.  Might as well blather on about it again.

Here’s a graphic disinterred from Newsweek’s gravefrom way back in 2010.

I’m really posting this as an addendum to Doug J’s take on the lead/crime story.  He noted that Americans don’t actually realize how much crime rates have dropped over the last couple of decades; the graphic below widens the net of things Americans (and people in general) have trouble accepting in our inevitable encounters with risk. I’m sure pointing this old story out once again will do as much good to the how-great-it-is-to-be-armed as young Kevin Bacon achieved in this scene.  Still, one must but try, so here it is:


Just as a hint to where some posting thoughts are going — I was struck in reading both Kevin Drum’s lead story and looking over the juxtapositions above by the number of times the appropriate response to the data comes from the world of public health.  That’s hardly the glamour end of medicine or social policy, but considering the returns we’ve already got from things like clean water and childhood vaccination, public health becomes one way to thin k about essential medicine, social policy — even justice, and economic returns.

The dicey bit, of course, is that if you accept for the moment Drum’s argument that lead in the environment drives all kinds of consequences over decades-long timescales, it becomes brutally obvious that the GOP approach is hopeless.  There’s no government-free market solution to the problem.  Which means that there is no solution to be had from our current Republican party.  Which, I suppose, is why it’s important to repeat what’s been said so often before — the GOP has a fundamentally failed conception of government and society, and hence it’s time as a political force must come to an end.  More to come on this theme.

And with that, it’s the cocktail hour.*

*Satan’s Whiskers? Really? Did folks drink that and live?¹

¹Which prompts the hideous and blasphemous pun: if Jesus were an organ donor would he have said “surely my liver redeemeth?”  OK.  I’m sorry.  I’ll shut up now.

Yet Further To McCain’s Gambling Problem

September 29, 2008

We’ve seen today what can happen when you go all in on a risky bet.

What McCain can now do, after having inserted himself into the bailout, urged his caucus to support it, and seen the dice roll hard against both his stated views and his claim to lead his own party, much less the nation, I have no idea — and neither, apparently, does he.

So I can’t say I’ve seen anything over the last few days to make me revise my impression that McCain’s likely behaviour as President would be any different from that of any other craps player betting against the house.

But I’ve turned up some new resources to help put McCain and what we know of his gambling habits in context.

Here’s the invaluable Jen-Luc Picard, learning calculus from craps.

And here, via David Munger, is a nice piece from the Times two years ago on research into impulsive behavior.

And here’s David’s own take on trying to assess the personalities of the candidates, using a classic psychological experiment to measure tolerance for risk.

Image:  Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Update and pointer on the ongoing carbon fest/Postrel roast.

May 2, 2008

I just want to call attention to Eric Roston’s latest post on the news of a research paper on ocean circulation and possible northern hemisphere cooling for the next decade or so.

Eric makes one key point — that those who would either seize on or deny this result because of a preconceived commitment to a policy prescription miss the real nature of science: that it is an ongoing, self-destroying, self-renewing enterprise. (He also makes the point that the mass media, and especially advocates, have a terrible time figuring out what each new iteration of scientific understanding actually means, especially in as complicated a subject as climate.)

Read Eric. To what he said I’d add just one point, something that Steven Postrel failed to grasp in the provocation that got this whole exchange of posts going.

That is: the central issue in the uncontrolled experiment we are doing by injecting carbon pollution into the atmosphere is not the precise change in global average temperature that will result, nor specific predictions about the fate of this locality or that.

Rather, it is about the ever increasing uncertainty about weather and climate that accumulates as wholesale changes in the bulk chemical composition of the atmosphere work their way through the physics, chemistry and biology of climate.

As I discussed below at too great length, the problem with climate change now, whether natural or anthropogenic, is that human beings have built an enormous, complex, and in many ways very vulnerable material infrastructure on certain assumptions about the stability of climate.

Current carbon profligacy casts those assumptions into doubt. We thus face both the daily costs of weather and more persistant patterns that do not conform to our expectation (Katrina; prolonged droughts; etc), and the costs of insuring ourselves against less and less accurately quantifiable risks of future climate events.

That uncertainty ultimately becomes something else: the fact of a climate regime different from the one within which we have built our cities and planned our farms. The Dust Bowl, or the collapse of the Sahel provide recent examples of the kinds of consequences we may expect from such an effect: not just suffering, but movement — the migration of peoples that traditionally produce stress at least, and armed conflict at worse.

The imperative both to understand climate dynamics and to avoid turbocharging whatever transformation is going on, derives from a healthy caution in the face of confounding the fundamental human belief that the world will behave tomorrow pretty much as it does today.

Update: Eric Roston’s name spelled correctly, again with apologies.

Image: Dallas, South Dakota, May 13, 1936. Source: Wikimedia Commons.