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Free Minds & Free Markets

Relax—You’ll Probably Survive Until Tomorrow

Americans have a poor sense of risk, and media panics don’t help.

AfraidRatz Attila / Dreamstime.com"Area Man Will Be Lucky to Live Until Tomorrow" sounds like a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion. But plenty of Area Men (and Area Women) could be forgiven for thinking just that. Americans often have a poor idea of the risks they face, and plenty of people seem to delight in keeping the public scared.

Earlier this month The New York Times published an opinion column on "The Formaldehyde in Your E-Cigs." It noted that "in public health circles, people now tend to call [electronic cigarettes] by what they do: deliver nicotine. ... Thus, the term Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, ENDS for short, has come into vogue."

But the author, an assistant professor of public health at Harvard, confesses that "I have a problem with that name. Nicotine isn't the only thing e-cigs deliver; they also deliver formaldehyde, a carcinogen. It seems equally fair to call them Electronic Formaldehyde Delivery Systems."

This sounds bad. Awful, in fact. But while the piece notes that manufacturers are not intentionally putting formaldehyde in electronic cigarettes—the chemical forms as a process of heating the liquid in them—it never says just how much formaldehyde an e-cig delivers. The closest it comes is: "sometimes, a lot of it." But how much is a lot?

Well, one of the studies the column cites found that formaldehyde in 10-puff aerosols generated from newer e-cigarettes ranged from 8.2 micrograms to 40.4 micrograms. Another study found up to 626 micrograms of formaldehyde per cubic meter of e-cig vapor.

Fair enough. But formaldehyde is not exactly rare elsewhere. It shows up in significant amounts in vaccines: up to 100 micrograms in the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine given to children, for example. The FDA says formaldehyde has "a long history of safe use" in vaccines, and that formaldehyde "is also produced naturally in the human body as a part of normal functions." (It also says the cancer risk is highest "when formaldehyde is inhaled." Then again, "highest" is not the same as "high.")

Formaldehyde shows up in foods as well. The American Council on Science and Health cites European research showing that apples contain as much as 6.8 milligrams per kilogram (one milligram equals 1,000 micrograms). Potatoes contain as much as 19.5 milligrams per kilogram. Should we then refer to vaccines and potatoes as "Formaldehyde Delivery Devices"?

Before conservative opponents of regulating e-cigarettes start feeling superior, though, they should ask their friends on the right why they made Kate Steinle into a household name. Steinle was killed in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been deported several times, and she was turned into a martyr by opponents of sanctuary cities, of which San Francisco is one.

Thing is, cases such as Steinle's are exceedingly rare. In fact, undocumented immigrants commit crime less than half as often as native-born Americans—and the homicide conviction rate for undocumented immigrants is 25 percent below that of native-born Americans. The homicide rate for legal immigrants is 87 percent lower. This suggests that one way (albeit a flippant one) to reduce violent crime in America might be to deport two American citizens for every immigrant, legal or illegal, who enters the country.

Or take terrorism—reaction to which has given us the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, waterboarding, the TSA, police militarization, and domestic surveillance that makes Facebook's data harvesting look like the magic X-ray glasses they advertise in comic books.

Yet how big is the terrorist threat to the average American? Vanishingly small: For the four-decade period from 1975 through 2015, the odds of an American dying in a terrorist attack carried out by a foreigner on U.S. soil have been 1 in 3.6 million. If that foreign terrorist is a refugee, the odds drop to 1 in 3.64 billion. And if that foreign terrorist is an illegal immigrant, the odds fall to 1 in 10.9 billion.

By contrast, the odds of being killed by a wild animal are about 1 in 30,000. In 2014, terrorists killed 17 Americans in the U.S. That same year, lightning killed 25 U.S. residents, dogs killed 36, and animals other than dogs killed 83.

On Friday, thousands of people here in Richmond, Virginia, will march against school gun violence—a commendable cause to be sure. But how many of them realize schools have been getting more safe, rather than less? From 1995 to 2015, the percentage of students who report being victimized at school has fallen by two-thirds. School shootings take 10 lives a year, on average. Roughly 100 students die each year riding their bicycles to or from school. Fifty million students attend public school in the U.S.

That doesn't make the murder of innocent schoolchildren by crazed gunmen any less heinous or horrible. But it does suggest that—as in so many other cases—the level of risk and the level of fear have little to do with each other.

Photo Credit: Ratz Attila / Dreamstime.com

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  • John||

    No, they do not have a poor sense of risk. They are just risk-averse. By strict mathematical calculations, having home insurance doesn't make sense. If it did, the insurance companies wouldn't make any money. By definition, a profitable seller of home insurance is charging their customers more than the actual risk justifies. He has to or he wouldn't make any money. Yet, people still buy home insurance and would even if it wasn't required by their mortgage companies. Why? Because there is more to life than money. Things like security and peace of mind have value too. So what someone is willing to pay to have the security of knowing they won't be bankrupt and homeless should their home burn down is significantly higher than the strict monetary value of the police (i.e. value times the actual probability of the risk being insured against).

  • ||

    By definition, a profitable seller of home insurance is charging their customers more than the actual risk justifies.

    So? They're charging you for the service of providing coverage relate to the risk. That doesn't imply that one is paying too much. One is paying for the risk + the premium of having someone cover that risk.

    The odds of using insurance coverage are not as low as you are making them out to be. They're certainly not so low that buying insurance is a fool's errand.

  • John||

    By a strict accounting of the risk, I am being ripped off. I am paying more than the economic value of the risk. Why would people do that? The answer is that they value the security of having the insurance. And that makes the insurance more valuable than a strict accounting of the risk would justify. And that is my point. More goes into decision making than a strict accounting of risk.

  • DarrenM||

    You are also paying for not having to save that money yourself. It's not much different than borrowing money and paying interest on it. There just happens to be an additional element of risk added.

  • Ben of Houston||

    Quite simple. You have the right answer, but your question is wrong. Doing the straight mathematics is a fool's task because humans do not live in the average case.

    I carry insurance because I am not able to undertake the costs of rebuilding my home from scratch. While on average, it is worse for me, should I experience the tail end of the curve, I will not be homeless. This is a very large swing with extremely large personal consequences.

    The insurance brings your costs to slightly above the average case. However, you do not have the risk associated with the very high swing of the tail, which will likely pass you by, but might strike you.

  • Wolf Larsen||

    "By strict mathematical calculations, having home insurance doesn't make sense."

    Why doesn't it make sense to insure against a crippling financial loss (e.g. total loss of a house) by paying premiums that include overhead (operating expenses and profit) paid to the party that agrees to cover in the event of a loss?

    I don't pay for riders on my automobile insurance because, as you mention, the insuring party has to make a profit and out-of-pocket towing is something I can cover without issue. Catastrophic loss is another issue entirely.

  • John||

    Why doesn't it make sense to insure against a crippling financial loss (e.g. total loss of a house) by paying premiums that include overhead (operating expenses and profit) paid to the party that agrees to cover in the event of a loss?

    It does. But it only makes sense to the extent of the risk of loss times the probability of it occurring. Any amount you pay more than that is for the peace of mind of knowing you are no longer at risk. That is a totally rational way of thinking. But, by a strict accounting of the risk, it is irrational. And that is my point.

  • ||

    But it only makes sense to the extent of the risk of loss times the probability of it occurring.

    Plus the cost of providing the service that covers the risk.

    It's not irrational to pay someone to provide the risk coverage.

  • John||

    The cost of providing the service just sets the minimum cost of getting the service. It doesn't affect how much I am willing to pay for the service. You are right, if I want the service, I have to pay for the risk plus the cost of providing it. Why am I willing to do that if I don't have to? I am paying for more than the risk I am insuring against? I am willing to because the peace of mind and security of not having the risk is valuable as well and makes the insurance more valuable to me than just the actual risk I am avoiding.

  • DJK||

    Plus profit margin. I don't know why you'd be okay with profits built into other products, but not insurance.

  • John||

    Where did I say I wasn't okay with profits margins? You are not understanding my point. The need for a profit sets the minimum amount that must be paid for a product. But that doesn't affect the amount I am willing to pay. If the minimum amount necessary to make it profitable to make a product is more than I am willing to pay, I just won't buy the product. By a strict economic accounting of the risk, home insurance should be more than I am willing to pay. But it is not. Why is that? It is because there is more to how I value the insurance than just the math. The security is worth something too. And that is why we have insurance markets. The security they provide makes people willing to pay more than just the strict economic value of the risk being insured.

  • Ska||

    You're also paying for leverage as an alternative to setting aside current assets for self-insurance.

  • DJK||

    It's not just the peace of mind. It's also that, on the off-chance that you do need insurance, it insulates you against an extreme downside.

    Expectation value is a horrible way to determine how one should act with regard to insurance. I think it's a pretty horrible way to try to cast or explain human behavior in general and the main thing that the behavioral psychologists get wrong, but that's another topic entirely.

  • John||

    It's not just the peace of mind. It's also that, on the off-chance that you do need insurance, it insulates you against an extreme downside.

    Which is just another way of saying security. If you have the money to absorb the loss without much hardship, then you likely are not going to ensure for it. Take car insurance. If you have an old car that isn't worth much and you can afford to replace if you have to, you likely are not going to carry full coverage insurance. The reason for that is that insurance necessarily costs more than the risk and since you can afford to replace the car, insuring it doesn't really provide you with any security.

  • Wolf Larsen||

    My auto insurance includes at least $100,000 in medical liability. I'm not that liquid.

    Car replacement cost, to me, isn't the overriding reason I would maintain auto insurance, even were it optional.

  • John||

    Good for you Wolf. But that just proves my point. You buy the insurance because it insures for a risk you can't afford to take.

  • DJK||

    Which makes it rational.

  • Wolf Larsen||

    You've used the term irrational.

    Would you mind clarifying what you mean by it, because the actions taken to guard against catastrophic loss are, to my mind, neither irrational nor are they based strictly on 'peace of mind'?

    Of course all of our actions are driven at some point by emotion (self-preservation, financial and physical, carries an unavoidable emotional component). But if that is the point then we are arguing over a tautology.

  • John||

    Wolf,

    I think your decision is entirely rational. You missing my point.

  • Wolf Larsen||

    "By a strict economic accounting of the risk, home insurance should be more than I am willing to pay."

    You still haven't provided convincing support for this. Service cost for insurance can be mathematically, statistically and financially justified by considering the goal of wealth retention and decisions which optimize for it when considering the risk of loss.

    I agree that things like paying for AAA when you can easily cover the cost of a tow include a pure convenience factor.

    Catastrophic insurance need not include that to justify it.

  • John||

    Wolf,

    You seem to not understand that the costs necessary to provide a service and the amount I am willing to pay for it are two different things. Yes, there are lots of valid reasons why insurance costs more than the risks. But that says nothing about whether I am willing to pay that cost. What I am doing is explaining why I am willing to do so.

  • Wolf Larsen||

    "By a strict economic accounting of the risk, home insurance should be more than I am willing to pay."

    Your claim involves the phrase *should be more than I am willing to pay*. I've tried to explain why that claim is unsupported (not false, mind you).

    If you're trying to show that the premiums involve a service cost, I believe we can both leave happy. If you're trying to claim that insurance cannot be justified financially without resorting to the using the emotional state of the buyer as a parameter to your equation, your claim remains unsupported (at least to me).

  • markm23||

    Expectation value calculations ignore one critical thing: the utility of $1 is highly variable. The last dollar you earn is worth much less to you than the first dollar. The dollar that is spent to meet your basic needs is worth much more to you than the dollar that buys yet another luxury good. For example, suppose you have $100 for food for the next 4 days. You could eat at diners and McDonalds and get 12 meals, or you could get one meal at a fancy restaurant and starve for three days. Not many people would choose the single meal. The $100 meal is not worth 12.5 times the $8 McDonalds meal.

    Fire insurance is a relatively small payment to ensure that an unlikely event, a fire that destroys your house, does not make you homeless. For most people, this payment comes out of their luxury goods, and is using dollars of less utility than the dollars that paid for the house. If you are poor enough that paying your insurance means you go hungry, you will let the insurance lapse...

  • Wolf Larsen||

    Bankruptcy comes with its own costs, outside of those related to 'peace of mind'.

    In evaluating the cost/benefit scenario, I need to judge the overhead paid (i'm subtracting that part of the premium below the break even point) to the insuring company against the cost of financial disruption caused by a catastrophic loss. This isn't the emotional cost, but the cost in time and money in terms of dealing with the insolvency along with the lingering issues of higher interest rates for a period of years following the issue.

    As long as my calculations are grounded in a legitimate statistical foundation, if I determine that the cost of dealing with a catastrophic loss outweighs the service cost paid to the insuring company, I have good reason to pay the insurance premium without regard to any emotional baggage.

    Perhaps you have cites regarding how insurance companies have already baked in these costs and the models tell us that the service costs can't but include an 'emotional cost' -- that no reasonable model of bankruptcy/disruption cost could justify the premiums we pay. I haven't seen any.

  • John||

    As long as my calculations are grounded in a legitimate statistical foundation, if I determine that the cost of dealing with a catastrophic loss outweighs the service cost paid to the insuring company, I have good reason to pay the insurance premium without regard to any emotional baggage.

    Yes, there are second-order costs associated with a large loss. But that is just saying that there are more accurate ways of calculating the true cost of a disaster. And yes, insurance companies do take into account for these things. That is because they want to sell you insurance for those costs. Your home owners insurance doesn't just rebuild your house. It also can pay for you to have a place to live while you are waiting for it to be rebuilt and help you with all kinds of other second-order costs of losing your home.

    None of that has anything to do with my point. If you realize those costs exist, you are going to want to insure against them. Your desire to insure against them is more than just the money. It is the security of not having to take the risk. And that is not emotional baggage. Since when is wanting to avoid risk necessarily irrational.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yes they do have a poor sense of risk, if only confusing (and conflating) the severity of an event and the probability of an event. Statistics and (un)common sense should tell us that events with minor impacts are much more common, but people (with media collusion) seem to equate severity with likelihood.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Or maybe the cost of the loss is greater than just the price of the house.

  • John||

    Thing is, cases such as Steinle's are exceedingly rare. In fact, undocumented immigrants commit crime less than half as often as native-born Americans

    That is a lie that has been refuted many times on here. It is comparing the crime rates of immigrants legal and illegal to the native population. Yet, reason still repeats it.

    The bottom line here is that people are not risk ignorant. It is that they have values that affect their decisions beyond the strict economic calculation. Terrorism, for example, offends people's sense of security and sense of justice. Just because it isn't likely to happen to them doesn't mean people are irrational for being concerned about it, because people being murdered by terrorists offends people's sense of justice and fairness enough that they want something done to stop it for reasons other than just their personal risk. Your chances of being lynched in the South were very small. That doesn't in any way mean that lynchings were not a huge problem or black people ignorant of risk when they demand it be stopped.

  • EscherEnigma||

    ... have you talked an average person? Most can't accurately estimate how many people are in America, nevertheless how many die from any given cause. Most are easily fooled by saying things like "hundreds of people die from X every year!" because that sounds like a lot (but given our population, isn't). Most people are incapable of grokking that one-in-a-million coincidences happen every day because there's just so many of us.

    People, as a group, don't understand probability or statistics, are pretty uninformed in actual incidence rates, and take their cues from their peers and "authoritive" sources (news, media, people identified as experts, etc.).

    Take the Monty Haul problem† or Birthday Question‡. Most folk don't understand those answers. Look at how many people say "the poll only included a thousand people? How accurate could it be?" or "I've never been polled".

    People, as a group, just don't get numbers. Either in understanding them or remembering them.
    ________
    †A gameshow host presents three doors to you, with a prize behind one door. After you chose a door to open, the gameshow host then reveals that nothing is behind one of the other doors. You are then given a chance to change your selection or keep your original selection. Should you? (Yes, you should)
    ‡(Not sure if this one actually has a formal name) How many people do you need in a room before the odds favor that at least two people in the room share a birthday? (23)

  • John||

    I have talked to the average person. And you completely misunderstand what is going on. You are just incapable of accepting that people have values beyond money and concerns beyond the strict mathematical risk.

    These sorts of claims never seem to die. Some people seem incapable of understanding how people think.

  • EscherEnigma||

    You are just incapable of accepting that people have values beyond money and concerns beyond the strict mathematical risk.


    Nah, I get that just fine. It's just irrelevant to my point, which is that even before you talk about how people feel about the risks, they have wildly inaccurate ideas of the risks themselves.

    People are shit at numbers.

  • John||

    No. They just seem inaccurate to you because you don't grasp that people put different values on things than you do. See my explanation of the Monty Hall problem below.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Dude, no.

    "Different values" explains why two people, faced with the same scenario, will chose different courses of action.

    It has jack-shit to do with people being bad at math in the first place.

  • John||

    The problem is that you are assuming people are bad at math because they make a decision you can't understand.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Seeing as this isn't going anywhere, I guess I'll poke the unrelated (but repeated) claim.

    What makes you think I don't understand people's decisions? I don't have to like or agree with them to understand them.

  • John||

    What makes me think that is that you are assuming they must be bad at math.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Interesting.

    You jumped from me saying "people are bad at math" to "you must not understand their decisions, so you're (incorrectly) explaining their bad decisions by saying they're bad at math."

    Not in evidence are any examples of me actually not understanding people's decisions.

    That's a very bold, and very unsupported, leap.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    To be fair, Monty Hall is famously unintuitive, to the point that many mathematicians refused to believe it's conclusion for many years. The birthday problem is also sometimes called the birthday paradox due to the counter intuitive results.

    I think basic probability (you have a 1/100 chance of X happening) is a little more understandable to people than chain probability. People also, famously, have a very hard time estimating bayesian probability.

  • John||

    Your decision about the 1/100 chance depends upon your situation and values. If I am poor and really need the sure money, then I am going to take the for sure $20 instead of the 1/100 chance at $5,000 even though the math says I shouldn't. If I don't need the $20, I am probably going to take the chance at the $5,000

    What economists who are puzzled by the results of that do not understand is that the value of a given amount of money is different to different people. So, you can't just assume that one decision is rational in every case.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My comment says nothing about the values people put on that 1/100 chance. Just that a 1/100 chance, or a 1/2 chance, or whatever simple ratio you make up is easily understandable by most people, while other forms of probability are less so.

  • John||

    So what? The reason why people make decisions that seem irrational to you or to the economists is that they value the sure thing differently. It is not a paradox or an example of irrational behavior. it is an example of how rationality is a product of the individual's values not some objective standard of value.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm not making any comments on people making rational decision making, or even what people do with the information.

    Escher talked about how people do not understand math and gave two examples. I said those examples are famously obtuse to many people, including mathematicians. I said that more simple examples of probability people tend to have an easier time understanding. My comment has everything to do with math understanding in the population at large and nothing to do with what people choose to do with that understanding. I'm literally only talking about math literacy against Escher's comment that people don't understand probability.

  • RabbitHead||

    Exactly. It is irrational to risk the $20 if you need it to put gas in the car so you can make it to work and not lose the job that supports you.

    Even though the Mathematics indicates that it is a "good" risk. The downside is too high.

    I had a buddy who bought cars at auction, Not much pre-purchase inspection available and sometimes they came in in lots of a few cars . He said that if he bought ten, 1 was total junk and he walked away from it . 1 was marginal and might break even after putting some money in it and the rest he could do a little work to, and turn enough profit on to more than make up for the other two.

    It sounds like auction cars are a good deal. 80% of them are "worth more" than what you pay, right? But unless you are going to buy enough to make sure the numbers will come out on your side, and set your self up as wholesale buyer so you don't pay sales tax, the risk of getting one of the stinkers is too scary for most people.

    Doesn't make them idiots or anything. it just means that part of the decision to buy the "safer" car at a dealer is based on emotion, risk avoidance, or just using that marginal cost to make life easier. That's what money beyond fillings needs ifsfor , right?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Even though the Mathematics indicates that it is a "good" risk.

    Mathematics doesn't make any value judgement about whether the risk is good or bad, it is purely descriptive.

    And really, I think everyone is making a lot of assumptions about what I actually meant, when what I actually meant is people aren't as bad at everyday math as many think.

  • EscherEnigma||

    And really, I think everyone is making a lot of assumptions about what I actually meant, when what I actually meant is people aren't as bad at everyday math as many think.


    Which might have been a point worth responding to, except that John and others jumped on "people are bad at math" to "YOU JUST DONT UNDERSTAND US". It was really quite weird.

  • RabbitHead||

    I agree with you. I was trying to say that there's times when I, for one, can run the numbers and then still say "I don't care, I'll pay more for convenience."

  • Rhywun||

    A lot of people (esp. *cough* libertarians) seem to not want to believe that people just aren't rational most of the time.

    Also... I feel I've seen this article about once a month for the last few years. Why this is an issue they have to hit so often is a mystery to me. It's not some hot-button topic like the other ones they constantly flog like immigration.

  • John||

    Libertarians often have this bizarre idea that rationality is objective. It is not. Logic is objective. But whether something is rational or not depends upon the values that you reason from. And there is nothing objective about values. If my values are different than yours, what seems perfectly rational to you looks irrational to me.

  • DJK||

    Ummm... this is the basic insight of the Austrian school of economics. Most libertarians are at least somewhat familiar with such ideas. Many embrace them wholeheartedly.

  • ||

    Why this is an issue they have to hit so often is a mystery to me.

    Because keeping people in a state of near-panic about things unlikely to actually happen is Authoritarianism 101.

    I find a huge part of pragmatic libertarianism is gently reminding people that there aren't hidden dangers lurking around every corner that only government can save them from.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Loss aversion is pretty well documented.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Indeed, Monty Hall is a terrible example.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Sure, but it was on my mind 'cause I saw a clip compilation of a show, I think Brooklyn 99 or something, that talked about it.

  • DJK||

    Hinkle, the article he references, and the Cato study specifically differentiate between legal and undocumented immigrants. The numbers are different for the two groups. To our best ability to measure, legal immigrants "commit crime" at lower rates than undocumented immigrants. Both "commit crimes" at lower rates than native born Americans. I use scare quotes because we're using conviction rates as a proxy for commission of crimes. I suppose it's entirely possible that undocumented immigrants get away with crime at a higher rate than legal immigrants or native born Americans. However, I've seen no evidence to support that claim.

  • John||

    o our best ability to measure, legal immigrants "commit crime" at lower rates than undocumented immigrants.

    That is true and just proves that our legal immigration system is doing a good job at letting the right people in. It does not mean, as CATO forever tries to imply that letting more people in will have the same results.

    Both "commit crimes" at lower rates than native born Americans.

    There is no way to calculate that without knowing exactly how many illegal immigrants there are, which CATO doesn't. Beyond that, even if it were true, it doesn't mean what CATO claims. So what if they are less criminal? That doesn't mean we are obligated to let them in. Moreover, that absolutely doesn't mean that that would remain true if we had open borders. Perhaps our border enforcement causes people who would commit crimes not to come here but who would if we had an open border? CATO never considers that possibility. They are just lying assholes on this subject.

  • DJK||

    "There is no way to calculate that without knowing exactly how many illegal immigrants there are".

    I've admitted that this is a weakness of the study. However, conviction rates are a pretty good proxy for this, unless illegal immigrants happen to get away with crimes at a rate higher than legal immigrants or native born citizens. Can you tell me why that would be the case? If anything, I'd think that they get away with crimes at a lower rate, given that many work for low wages and would have difficulty paying for competent legal representation.

  • DJK||

    You're right. We're not obligated to let them in. I'm happy to have the immigration argument on those terms. But the MAGA crowd tries to have the argument on the premise that illegal immigrants commit a shitload of crimes. There is no evidence to back this up. Which is Hinkle's point.

  • Chipper Jones||

    It's not that they get away with crimes more often, it's that they get deported when they do commit crimes. Plenty come back of course but it creates an additional hurdle for recidivism that native-born folks don't have.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    The data are far more mixed than CATO or Hinkle would like to admit.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think the number killed by dogs is 95% pits. The rest is dachshund

  • Ron||

    the odds of dying by terrorist....

    so i guess we should just ignore them you know for a fact if we did nothing they would do more hence the reason some have actually been caught.

    the odds of being killed by lightning are small but you'd be stupid to not put up a lightning rod.

    some things must be done even when the odds are small. do you really think Japan would have stopped with the bombing of Hawaii, no since they were already steaming to the Phillipines. some actions require actions especially when not made by choice such as responses to outside forces

  • John||

    The other fallacy of this nonsense is that it assumes future risks can always be judged by past risks. If I am an 18 to 30-year-old male living in France in 1913, based on the past 25 years, my chances of dying a violent death are very small. It didn't exactly turn out that way, did it?

    The whole thing is just an elaborate way of making the very mundane and stupid point of "nothing bad has happened yet, so why worry?"

  • DJK||

    Whereas it seems that you'd have us take the epistemically untenable position of forecasting what is going to happen in the future based on... what, exactly?

  • DJK||

    The only thing that we have access to is what has happened in the past. It is the only thing that we can use to make attempts to predict the future. You've hit on a basic epistemic limitation. Fine. Can you propose a good way of divining the future without looking to the past?

  • John||

    It is not that it is impossible. It is that the past is not always a representation of the future. The fact that it can be doesn't make the problem any less hard. These sorts of assessments of future risks are correct except when they are not. And trying to figure out when they are not is the entire question. And pointing to past risks just begs that question.

  • ||

    the odds of being killed by lightning are small but you'd be stupid to not put up a lightning rod.

    Yes, but it would be stupid to, say, hire public employees for full-time visual monitoring of your property to warn you just in case lightning might strike.

    That's what the discussion is about - proportional response to risk based on magnitude of the risk.

  • John||

    But it wouldn't be stupid to avoid walking on beaches during thunderstorms. The reason why so few people are struck by lightning is that people take reasonable measures to avoid the risk. The low risk of being struck by lightning is an example of how some risks can effectively be minimized. It is not an example of how a risk being low means there is no reason to avoid it, which is what is being claimed.

    The same reasoning applies to terrorism. Why are your chances of being killed by a terrorist low? Because we don't have many terrorists. We don't have many terrorists because we take measures to catch them and deter them. But just because our efforts to do that have kept the risk low in the past doesn't mean it will do so in the future. Things change. Maybe there are more terrorists or the terrorists are smarter and get around our efforts. We don't know. But one indication that things have perhaps changed is the occurrence of a terror attack. That isn't conclusive but it is certainly evidence that things have perhaps changed. Whether things have or not is the entire debate. And saying "hey what are your chances?" says nothing sensible regarding that debate. It just begs the question and assumes that a risk is small because it is small and not because we are taking measures to mitigate it and that a risk once small will remain small forever.

  • ||

    I usually think John has a pretty decent grasp of the issue, but you are commiting to a fallacy by oversimplifying.

    You have latched on to "the odds of being killed by lightning are small but you'd be stupid to not put up a lightning rod." But it IS stupud to put up a lightning rod that costs more than the building it is protecting.

    Afganistan busted the Soviet Union. The War On Terror has the potential to bust the US and actually inspires terrorists,

  • John||

    You have latched on to "the odds of being killed by lightning are small but you'd be stupid to not put up a lightning rod." But it IS stupud to put up a lightning rod that costs more than the building it is protecting.

    Sure. And that is the entire question. Is the mitigation worth it. And the answer to that is that it depends. But whatever the answer is, the fact that the current risk is small doesn't mean the mitigation is not worth it. You can't just point to a small risk in the past and claim therefore any efforts to avoid that risk are foolish.

  • DarrenM||

    Yes, but it would be stupid to, say, hire public employees for full-time visual monitoring of your property to warn you just in case lightning might strike.

    This is what we have illegals here for, but then I live in California.

  • Jima||

    The commenters above reveal the origins of the Nanny state reside in many otherwise normal sounding people...

  • John||

    No. Your comment reveals you don't understand much about rational decision making.

  • ||

    I value my freedom and economic proseperity more than I fear terrorists. I dont want the government to spend a trillion dollars to protect me from Eurasia, Eastasia, or whoever it is they ate protecting us from today.

    Besides, Homeland Security is just the red areas subsidizing the blue areas where all the hard targets are. And its probably racist too. No terrorist is getting outta Compton after a shooting.

  • John||

    Sure. But that doesn't say anything about relative risk.

  • Jima||

    My point is that "you" are free to insure yourself from whatever risk you feel is relevant. When you conscript "my" earnings to help pay for the lessening or your perceived risk which I do not perceive equally, I view it as theft from me. If you think you need fire insurance for your swimming pool, go buy it. If you think everyone should agree and force them all to buy it, you've lost me. If you think everyone should agree to expand school budgets by 30% to offset some perceived risk from mass shooters and you use the state's force to extract those funds from us, I think you've stolen money that could be spent better otherwise. Like Square=Circle above said - "That's what the discussion is about - proportional response to risk based on magnitude of the risk." But when you are talking about other people's money, suddenly all sorts of preventative measures seem like great ideas - to too many people.

  • Joe_JP||

    "Americans often have a poor idea of the risks they face"

    The inability of an average American to judge the wide range of information necessary to make a certain decision in the best way is duly noted though it does help justify various regulations and policies that a libertarian might oppose.

    Anyway, this is also a matter of degree. The danger of "x" might be small, but peace of mind and preventing the actual harm it does to a few people can make a limit/label/etc. worth it. And, though any one thing might not be a concern, adding everything up, it might be. So, it's hard to pinprick this by citing such and such item as stupid.

    It's a fun parlor game for all sides though.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Even one school shooting is too many. We need common sense gun safety legislation, and I stand with David Hogg and his new campaign: #BoycottVanguard #BoycottBlackrock

    I didn't know what Vanguard Group or BlackRock were until Hogg told me, but if they invest in gun companies they have blood on their hands.

  • RabbitHead||

    If he can get people to divest for emotional reasons, then it is a buy opportunity

  • Don't look at me.||

    I have had great success investing by following the advice of those who don't. Particularly young people's advice.

  • ||

    "Even one... is too many"

    So, you have discovered my trigger phrase...

    BTW, What is the opposite of a snowflake? Ashcloud? Ash particle is too wordy, but then again, ashcloud is too close to assclown. I like diamondchip, but it sounds pretentious.

    Anyway, I am like that thing that never melts. I am tired of getting milked to pay for the surveilence state to protect little Timmy from the boogey man. I dont worry about my kids coming home from school. And yet they make it every day. Please dont propose locking them in a "safe space" with a freaking resource officer, which is apparently code for "cop who cant be trusted to deal with people capable of adult reasoning".

    How about the KIDS fight back like Jake Ryker did to Kip Kinkle? After being shot in the chest, he tackled Kinkle and jammed his hand into the hammer of Kinkle's pistol as the rest of the wrestling team piled on. Yet very few people know that story.

    I counsel my kids not to worry, but if something goes down they have to fight. Throw anything handy and keep moving. Columbine, VA Tech, Parkland; kids hiding under desks or freezing when told got executed. Thurston, Umpqua, Clackamas, guys moving on the shooter still got shot, but lived.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I didn't know what Vanguard Group or BlackRock were until Hogg told me"

    And Hogg didn't know what they were either until one of his liberal activist handlers put those words in his mouth.

  • mtrueman||

    "the level of risk and the level of fear have little to do with each other."

    That depends on what risk you are talking about. The risk of getting killed in a school shooting is low. The risk of losing some of your gun rights in the aftermath of such a shooting are much higher. That whole 9/11 thing resulted in the deaths of a relative handful of people, but at the same time it plunged the nation into at least two unwinable, interminable wars. Death in a school shooting or terror action is not the only thing we should fear, because other consequences are broader and much more likely to affect all of us.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Reason writers always make the same mistake with these articles.

    Yes, you are more likely to suffer an accident or animal attack than you are to be attacked by a terrorist or an illegal alien(who commit crime at a 100% rate so the endless repetition of the lie that they commit crime at less than anything is pointless. The illegal being here is a crime, the identity theft needed to work here if they stay is a crime. Stop. Please).

    But you're missing a very important point. The lightning isn't trying to hit you. The soap isn't moving to be right under your foot. You can try to avoid accidents, but you can't really stop them from occurring.

    You can stop terrorists and illegal aliens. Because they're people, acting on their own. They can be reasoned with. We can help--or we can forcibly stop them. We can't stop lightening. We can't stop ice from being slippery.

    That is why they're scarier--AND why we try to pass legislation to fix the problem.

    What is most interesting about these articles is that Reason writers do the thing they chide the vape banners for. They use misapplied, misleading statistics to cobble together a rickety 'point' and then proceed to treat that unstable tower of misinformation as if it is revealed truth that only a fool would not live by.

  • John||

    All great points. These sorts of articles are so stupid and so unconvincing. I am really left to wonder why people keep writing them.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think it is very important to put things in perspective to people. You see a lot of people who are truly, truly afraid of terrorists or something. This in turn leads to many things, maybe you think some of the legislation is good, I personally think we have seen a tremendous erosion of our civil liberties with little likely results.

    Calming people down, and putting things into perspective is important though. As well is important for hopefully improving the ability of people to make rational decisions, specifically in regards to legislation. Perhaps if people have a better sense of scale then they are less willing to allow the many things that have come directly from the 9/11 attacks.

    Another example would be school shootings. People don't think rationally, and at least one reason is that people seem convinced this is an epidemic and that they should legitimately fear sending their kids to school. Getting some sense of scale can help bring some sense back to this discussion.

  • Don't look at me.||

    If we could even possibly maybe save the life of one child, it wouldn't matter how many rights we trample on or other lives we destroy.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "GUN CONTROL NOW! WE'RE NOT SAFE!"

    vs

    "From 1995 to 2015, the percentage of students who report being victimized at school has fallen by two-thirds. School shootings take 10 lives a year, on average. Roughly 100 students die each year riding their bicycles to or from school. Fifty million students attend public school in the U.S."

    Not entirely pointless.

  • ||

    "That is why they're scarier--AND why we try to pass legislation to fix the problem."

    Fuck you. Conflate the actual risk with emotional rhetoric and train children to fear the most unlikely of events? Then actually create a MORE dangerous situation through legislation? Is this the legacy of constitutional democracy? Protecting idiots from themselves?

    Since our kids are actually much more likely to have a bad interaction with police and state agents than a terrorist, why dont we legislate for less police and smaller government? For the safety of the kids. And while we are at it, fewer military interventions that set our kids up to be targeted in revenge killings? For the safety of the kids. Huh? Think of the fucking kids, you statist douchebag hatemonger!

    Keep it up, Reason. We need less protection from irrational fear, not more.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Children?

    Did anyone mention children?

  • See.More||

    From the linked article:

    The study found that unauthorized immigrants had a criminal conviction rate 56 percent below that of the native-born people, said Alex Nowrasteh, a Cato immigration analyst and the study's author.[emphasis mine]

    Criminal conviction rates are not a proxy for criminal activity rates.


    Anyone that claims to know how much criminal activity is attributable to any particular demographic -- Trump, Nowrasteh, Hinkle . . . -- is just blowing smoke up your ass.


    * How many crimes committed by anyone against illegal aliens / gang members / prostitutes / etc. go unreported b/c the victim(s) are afraid to go to the police for obvious reasons?


    * Hell, just in general, how many crimes, and I don't mean victimless/harmless crimes, go unreported? [I personally, have not bothered to report at least 3 occassions of trespass and petty larceny.]


    * How many reported crimes committed by any demographic go unsolved?

    * How many guilty people of any demographic are acquitted due to lack of evidence?

    * How many innocent people of any demographic are wrongfully convicted?

    * How many innocent people of any demographic cop to a plea deal?

    * How many innocent people of any demographic take the fall for a guilty buddy?

  • DJK||

    That's a principled, consistent, and correct position to take.

    Hinkle raises this information because conviction rate is the only proxy we have (and probably are likely to have, unless we wish to become a full-on police state) to criminal activity rate. The number is evidence that the MAGA crowd's claim that illegal aliens commit crimes at a high rate is not backed by any data.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Not quite true.

  • DJK||

    These numbers are all contradictory. Is there a decent meta-analysis out there?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Nope, but I'd say let the fact that the government doesn't even collect the necessary statistics inform your skepticism. After all, what would Reason's position be on officer related shootings if the data were poor? Nevermind.

  • See.More||

    Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans.

    And how much of that is due to bias / more aggressive prosecution? And how many of those fall into the category of innocent but convicted anyway?


    The fact that they are more likely to be convicted of a crime does not necessarily mean they are more likely to commit a crime [aside from illegal entrance/residence].

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    It's so much easier to just scream "racist" and run away. How do we know that they aren't given more than the benefit of the doubt?

  • See.More||

    It's so much easier to just scream "racist" and run away.

    It's so much easier to make an ad hominem than argue in good faith. A quick review of my posts will clearly show that I have not alleged racism in any form.


    How do we know that they aren't given more than the benefit of the doubt?

    We don't any more than we know they are assumed to be guilty until they can prove otherwise. And that uncertainty, coupled with how fucked up our system is, is exactly why conviction rates are worthless as evidence of a propensity for a particular demographic to commit crimes.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    No, all you've done is wave your hands. And even though the system has an error rate (everything does), it's incumbent on you to show that somehow that error rate disproportionately affects these populations, which is essentially the whole "racist" argument. If you want to call that ad hominem, well, it's clear you don't understand that meaning just like you don't understand the meaning of the word "proxy."

  • DJK||

    I think we're disagreeing on the exact definition of the word "proxy". You seem to be defining it in the precise statistical sense. I'm using it as it seems to be used frequently in the social sciences. The difference isn't all that meaningful. You understand the spirit of my point.

  • See.More||

    Hinkle raises this information because conviction rate is the only proxy we have...

    Except that it is not a proxy, so saying it is and using it as evidence, one way or the other, with regard to propensity for criminal activity, is simply wrong.


    The number is evidence that the MAGA crowd's claim that illegal aliens commit crimes at a high rate is not backed by any data.

    The allegations may not be backed up by data, but the criminal conviction rate [by demographic] are absolutely not evidence of that b/c it is not a proxy for criminal activity [by demographic].

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    And why isn't it a proxy? Beyond your feelings, of course.

  • See.More||

    And why isn't it a proxy?

    Reading. It's hard, ain't it?

    Beyond your feelings, of course.

    Ah, more ad hominem. /clap/ /clap/

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Reading and cogently arguing are even harder. You have failed to do either.

    And again you fail to understand the meaning of ad hominem. Just because criminal convictions are not 100% accurate does not mean they are meaningless. Yet somehow you think they are. Those are personal opinions, i.e. feelings. The rest of yoir arguments basically devolve into solipsism and ontology. It makes for an entertaining philosophy 101 class and not much more.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Speaking of unrealistic risk assessments, how's the global warming hysteria coming along, Hinkle? New York ready to permanently vanish beneath the waves entombed with the bones of all the dead polar bears?

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    ROFLMAO. Even Bailey finally gave up the ghost this year because the weather just wouldn't cooperate.

    Note that Reason is also subtly pushing the authoritarian viewpoint that individuals should eventually be barred from operating their own vehicles if it will help reduce traffic fatalities a little.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Did he? I don't recall that.

    And I'm a big proponent of self-driving cars too. I just think that reality is somewhere well between Bailey's geekout and John's terror.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Note that Reason is also subtly pushing the authoritarian viewpoint that individuals should eventually be barred from operating their own vehicles if it will help reduce traffic fatalities a little.

    If they're pushing any view, I think it's more that the development of self driving cars should be encouraged and the government should encourage that development by taking a hands off approach. I don't recall seeing any posts pushing for the idea that people should be prohibited by force of government from driving themselves.

  • John||

    Ron Bailey has claimed that human driving should be banned once self driving cars are perfected. He claimed it to me. In addition, Reason claims self driving cars are a great technology and brush aside the civil rights and privacy concerns with them in the name of reducing traffic fatalities. With regard to self driving cars, they buy into the faulty reasoning that safety is an adequate justification for risking people's privacy and civil rights.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    For the media, promoting fear generates page views and gets eyeballs on screens.

    For the politicians, promoting fear and then suggesting that they, and only they, have a solution gets votes.

  • DarrenM||

    People can only sustain fear and panic so long, then they get bored.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    And before libertarians start feeling superior, they need to ask themselves what are your odds of being shot by a cop?

    Presumably we don't need any more articles on that given the exceedingly low probability.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Translation: us Republican sockpuppets do not appreciate the stink y'all raise over our First Responders™ making dead examples of a few leaf-using Sand People now and then.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Translation: us libertarians don't like it when our own logical inconsistencies are pointed out.

  • DarrenM||

    And don't forget dihydrogen monoxide.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "From 1995 to 2015, the percentage of students who report being victimized at school has fallen by two-thirds. School shootings take 10 lives a year, on average. Roughly 100 students die each year riding their bicycles to or from school. Fifty million students attend public school in the U.S."

    Seems quite clear that this writer hates children.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I wasn't worried until I saw the explanation suggesting there was anyone who did not instantly know how many micrograms are in a milligram, then was greatly relieved the source was the looter media, not Reason staff.

  • Tony||

    Speak for yourself. I plan to get mauled by an ostrich tomorrow.

  • BR-549||

    I swear coming by the comments section on a post like this really does make you think you're watching the guys on Silicon Valley debate the math behind the "middle out" algorithm.

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