Covid-19, the Evil Genius, and How to Think about Societal Risks

Interesting article connecting ideas about how we assess risk, the language we use, and how we interpret data depending on how it is presented to us. This connects well to the conflict between emotion and reason in decision making but also our inability to think probabilistically.

If you ask someone if they would be willing to sacrifice 100K people to avoid this intervention, people will be inclined to say no, “I would never put a price tag on human life, much less 100K human lives.” But let’s say you ask the question differently: “Would you be willing to accept a one in three thousand chance of dying this year to avoid this public health intervention?”… Once you ask the question this way then instead of focusing on the raw number of deaths, we can focus on the tradeoffs,

https://reason.com/2020/03/26/covid-19-the-evil-genius-and-how-to-think-about-societal-risks/#comments

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Here are some additional materials related to how we think about numbers and risk, etc. from my Maths page

Here is the article that accompanies the handout above.

Some different questions that get at the same point.

Coronavirus ‘Hits All the Hot Buttons’ for How We Misjudge Risk

When you encounter a potential risk, your brain does a quick search for past experiences with it. If it can easily pull up multiple alarming memories, then your brain concludes the danger is high. But it often fails to assess whether those memories are truly representative.

A classic example is airplane crashes.

If two happen in quick succession, flying suddenly feels scarier — even if your conscious mind knows that those crashes are a statistical aberration with little bearing on the safety of your next flight.

Art and reality: How accurately does “Euphoria” portray real teens’ lives? Does it matter?

The central point here is that the show Euphoria inaccurately portrays teenagers’ lives which raises the question: Is there a responsibility that comes with creating artwork? Must it be accurate? Who decides?

The claim that the show is inaccurate is backup with statistics raises the question: How can math/statistics help us acquire knowledge? (or understand reality?)

People’s perceptions of teens’ behaviors seems to be generally inaccurate beyond what this show. If presented with this article and appropriate statistics would people change their mind or perceptions of these issues? I’m not sure that it would which leads us to the question: What is the role of intuition in acquiring knowledge? Can mathematical knowledge overcome intuitive beliefs?

This reminded me of an earlier article from the New York Times:

“The Kids Are More Than All Right”

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/the-kids-are-more-than-all-right/

The 12 Most Controversial Facts In Mathematics

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 7.52.49 PM.png“Mathematics has little surprises that are designed to test and push your mental limits The following 12 simple math problems prove outstandingly controversial among students of math, but are nonetheless facts.

“They’re paradoxes and idiosyncrasies of probability. And they’re guaranteed to start an argument or two. If you’re looking for a mathematical way to impress your friends and beguile your enemies, here’s a good place to start.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/the-most-controversial-math-problems-2013-3#-1

Why Do We Count?

“Numbers may feel instinctual. They may seem simple and precise. But Everett synthesizes the latest research from archaeology, anthropology, psychology and linguistics to argue that our counting systems are not just vital to human culture but also were invented by that culture. “Numbers are not concepts that come to people naturally and natively,” he writes. “Numbers are a creation of the human mind.””

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-do-we-count/?ex_cid=538twitter

 

Gamblers, Scientists and the Mysterious Hot Hand

“The opposite of that is the hot-hand fallacy — the belief that winning streaks, whether in basketball or coin tossing, have a tendency to continue, as if propelled by their own momentum. Both misconceptions are reflections of the brain’s wired-in rejection of the power that randomness holds over our lives. Look deep enough, we instinctively believe, and we may uncover a hidden order.”

Planet Money Podcast: Episode 644: How Much Does This Cow Weigh?

An interesting phenomenon that has been proven true many times over but seems so counterintuitive it is hard to believe. When asked to guess the weight of a cow or the number of jelly beans in a jar, often the average of all the guesses is extremely close to the correct answer. Even more accurate than many “experts'” guesses. This is an interesting case in which we can prove something true mathematically but still have a hard time believing. Overall great podcast.

http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/08/07/430372183/episode-644-how-much-does-this-cow-weigh