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Diamond and Samberg on Risk Assessment
January 29, 2013 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Jared Diamond argues that we should be more concerned about low risk events that we encounter with greater frequency. Meanwhile, Lonely Island argues that we should be more concerned about low risk events that we encounter with greater frequency.
posted by dgaicun (48 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
These days, I just feel steady, low-grade dread all of the time - what do they think about that?
posted by ryanshepard at 6:10 PM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cycle commuting safely is all about doing this.
posted by anonymisc at 6:14 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just feel steady, low-grade dread..

"Oh, that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that." - Slartibartfast.
posted by pompomtom at 6:22 PM on January 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Having read the article and watched the video recently, I like the connection made in the post. Nice work.
posted by sweetkid at 6:30 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


White Noise
posted by nathancaswell at 6:33 PM on January 29, 2013


As I drive, I remain alert to my own possible mistakes (especially at night), and to what incautious other drivers might do.

Young motorcyclists that end up being old motorcyclists learn that early on.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:38 PM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Great, so now I'm reasonably paranoid about my daily showers but left with no recourse to take. Just what my anxiety needed. Now, if someone could tell me what to do every time I encounter those signs on the sidewalk that read 'CAUTION: FALLING ICE'..
posted by multiphrenic at 6:49 PM on January 29, 2013


That's it then, no more showers for me. Sorry co-workers.
posted by octothorpe at 6:50 PM on January 29, 2013


Death stalks you at every turn!
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 6:59 PM on January 29, 2013


Now, if someone could tell me what to do every time I encounter those signs on the sidewalk that read 'CAUTION: FALLING ICE'

My favourite are the "WATCH FOR LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT" signs. Okay, thanks sign! Actually I had been planning to fly a kite right here! But I guess it might not be a good location for that!
posted by oulipian at 6:59 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


this one time a guy died just posting on metafi
posted by klangklangston at 7:07 PM on January 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


@multiphrenic, you can buy yourself a non-slip bath mat (like ones found in some hotels).

The CTO of a company I used to work for, slipped in the shower and shattered his elbow. When he returned to work, he emailed out a PSA-like message to the entire company on the dangers of the shower, with the take-away being to get a bath-mat. I did end up following his advice, but it being my first job post college, I marveled at what a CTO could get away emailing out versus say what I could get away with.
posted by comradechu at 7:20 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I always thought it a little ironic that in a product recall the car drive to the store to return the product almost invariably holds greater safety risk than the use of the product itself.

"There's a 1/1,000,000 chance this walker could smash your baby's hand."
"Well there's a 1/100,000 that the drive to WalMart will turn your baby into a pavement smear"
posted by sourwookie at 7:38 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


those signs on the sidewalk that read 'CAUTION: FALLING ICE'

I look up at the building and if there is ice accumulated I cross the street or find another way around. This is one of those small dangers I don't mess with.
posted by meinvt at 7:51 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I quit smoking cigarettes, I quelled the awkward oral voidy feeling by eating carrot after carrot. I did this while sitting around, while walking from place to place, while waiting for the bus, etc; whatever works, right? Sometimes I found myself wondering, maybe even kind of hoping (just for the symmetry!), that the odds of my fatally choking on a carrot, projected over a dozen carrots a day for X years, would be such as to keep my life expectancy -exactly- the same as it would be were I still courting system failure with the smokes.
(I hope I don't face those risks anymore, the one habit eventually died down and the other never relapsed!)
posted by metaman livingblog at 7:56 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why it seems crazy to me that everyone including pretty much all governments everywhere aren't absolutely falling over themselves to get self-driving cars on the road.

I understand all the cultural/legal/legislative/insurance problems. I just, damn. It's so dangerous! Driving is so dangerous.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:00 PM on January 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think somebody could make a convincing argument that modern Canada is actually a death cult designed specifically to regularly sacrifice a certain percentage of the population to automobile accidents, the roads a massive altar, and that one of the reason Tim Horton's coffee is always highway-adjacent is to honour him, our highest-profile car sacrifice, the most Aztec of them all until Princess Di, by eating "Tim Bits" and drinking coffee (the body/blood that he poured out into the infrastructure) in an act of gruesome transsubstantiation.
posted by metaman livingblog at 8:06 PM on January 29, 2013 [31 favorites]


fatally choking on a carrot

I'm super allergic to raw carrots, and while I always had the vague notion that my system didn't agree with them (itchy mouth etc) and I didn't like them generally, I thought I had to keep eating them because they are always touted as #1 healthy snack! And portable &etc! Then my throat started closing when I was eating one.

Carrots = little known evil orange killers.
posted by sweetkid at 8:11 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Governments are perfectly willing to tolerate having many citizens that lack adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare, so don't expect them to be motivated to undertake extreme measures to eliminate traffic accidents.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:13 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Given enough time, the unlikely becomes the inevitable.
posted by bowline at 8:22 PM on January 29, 2013


Meh, definitely not Lonely Island's best work.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:24 PM on January 29, 2013


OK, but surely we can all agree that this 10 paragraph op-ed about old people slipping in the shower is the Best Thing Diamond Ever Wrote.
posted by dgaicun at 8:32 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


My favourite are the "WATCH FOR LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT" signs. Okay, thanks sign! Actually I had been planning to fly a kite right here! But I guess it might not be a good location for that!

Way back when I was truck driver, I was returning from a load out in some pastoral little village with my empty dump truck. As I was cruising down this twisty turny little 2 lane highway out in BFE Wisconsin, listening to the radio, and generally not paying too much attention, a cropduster came out of nowhere and buzzed the tower. He must have passed within 30 feet of me.

I damn near drove into the ditch. That fucker is probably still laughing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:33 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That Lonely Island video describes my thought processes perfectly. "I only have one life. After it ends, I will die, and I will not exist. EVERYTHING MIGHT KILL ME" and then I endup with an anxiety attack.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:36 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually I remain impressed by how crazy-catchy Lonely Island can still be while taking the piss. This was great.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:56 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this the thread where we post safety tips? Because I am totally full of safety tips.

Here's one from my slippery walk home tonight: walk safely on ice!
posted by asperity at 8:58 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


this one time a guy died just posting on metafi

How did you press the "Post Comment" button?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


...I guess I might not get an answer for that.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:05 PM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Via: Jared Diamond at edge.org
TALES FROM THE WORLD BEFORE YESTERDAY

If You Camp Under Dead Trees, And Each Dead Tree Has A One In 1,000 Chance Of Falling On You And Killing You

I'll tell you the incident in New Guinea that had the biggest influence on my subsequent life. I was with a group of New Guineans doing a survey of birds on a mountain, and we were establishing camps at different elevations on the mountain to survey birds of different elevational ranges. We were moving from one camp up to another camp, and so I'd wanted to choose a new campsite.

I found a gorgeous campsite. It was on a place where the ridge broadened out and flattened out. It was a steep drop-off, so I could stand at that edge and look out and see hawks and parrots flying. The broad area of the ridge meant that there was going to be good bird-watching walking around there. And it was beautiful, because my proposed campsite was underneath a gigantic tree, just a gorgeous tree. I was really happy with this campsite. I told the New Guineans, "Let's make camp here."

And greatly to my surprise, they were frightened out of their minds, and they said, "We're not going to sleep here. We'll sleep out in the open, rather than sleep in tents here." I said, "What's the matter?" They said, "Look at that tree. It's dead." Okay, so I looked up, and yes, this gigantic tree was dead, but it was solid as iron. And I told them, "All right. So maybe it's dead, but it's going to stand there for another 70 years, it's so huge and solid." But no, they were just terrified, and they were not going to sleep under that dead tree. They actually did, rather than sleep under the dead tree, they went and slept 100 yards away.

We stayed at that campsite for a week and naturally, nothing happened. I thought that the New Guineans were just being paranoid.

And then, this was early in my career, as I got more experienced in New Guinea, I realized, every night I sleep out in New Guinea forest. At some time during the night, I hear the sound of a tree crashing down. And, you see tree falls in New Guinea forest, and I started to do the numbers. Suppose the chances of a dead tree crashing down on you the particular night that you sleep under it is only one in 1,000. But suppose you're a New Guinean, who's going to sleep every night in the forest, or spend 100 nights a year sleeping out in the forest. In the course of 10 years, you will have spent a thousand nights in the forest, and if you camp under dead trees, and each dead tree has a one in 1,000 chance of falling on you and killing you, you're not going to die the first night, but in the course of 10 years, the odds are that you are going to die from sleeping under dead trees. If you're going to do something repeatedly that each time has a very low chance of bringing disaster. But if you're going to do it repeatedly, it will eventually catch up with you.

That incident affected me more than anything else, because I realized that in life, we encounter risks that each time the risk is very slight. But if you're going to do it repeatedly, it will catch up with you. And ever since then, I'm now very cautious about how I stand in the shower, how I walk on sidewalks, how I go up and down stairs, how I take left turns in my car.

Most of my friends, they're just driven crazy by my caution. The friends who best understand my attitude are people who've encountered dangers themselves. A friend of mine who piloted small planes; a friend of mine who was a British bobby on the streets of London, and dealt with criminals, unarmed himself; and a friend of mine who's a river guide and has seen people drown. They understand very well why you should be ultra cautious about rare events that, each time it looks as if you're paranoid, but it will eventually catch up with you.
posted by supercoiled at 10:07 PM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm super allergic to raw carrots, and while I always had the vague notion that my system didn't agree with them (itchy mouth etc)

Oral allergy sufferers unbite! Let me guess - you can't eat bananas, kiwis, or the part of the mango closest to the pit, either.
posted by item at 10:10 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I approve of this message.

I was once blown up by an explosion triggered by Con Ed - I ended up fine, three other people died - so if I see Con Ed people working in the street, I make sure to cross to the other side of the street, just in case.

My general idea is that these things are fine if you don't miss out. For example, if there were a new store I wanted to look at right beside the Con Ed workers, I'd walk over to look at it and not even think about it.

It's funny, but probably few people I know realize that I'm so risk averse, because I've taken lots of risks in my professional life - but you know, the consequence of a professional risk failing is small, and many of my great professional "failures" led to later successes.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:20 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


How to learn caution: Be raised by a father who is a claims adjuster for an insurance company. You hear all the stories, and get regular lectures being careful. (in my case, I suspect I'd be long dead but for those lectures)

As for slipping in the shower: How can no one mention John Glenn's slipping on a bathroom rug. His head hit the tub. Dangerous place!
posted by Goofyy at 10:20 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dinosaur Comics had a really great strip about this.
posted by funkiwan at 10:41 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


... how I stand in the shower, how I walk on sidewalks, how I go up and down stairs, how I take left turns in my car ...

Minus the overt paranoia, that sort of focused awareness is also known as "mindful living".
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:12 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lots of extraordinarily unlikely things happen thousands of times every day. Understanding this is, among other things, an important step to playing Nethack successfully.

The page on rationalwiki "Black Swan" does a good job of explicating the phenomenon.
posted by JHarris at 11:40 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I have to walk more than a few steps on ice (especially on icy stairs), I keep myself careful by the use of a handy mantra: "I'm gonna diiiiiiie, I'm gonna diiiiiiie, I'm gonna diiiiiiie..."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:45 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lesson I'm taking from this is that for dangerous things you do very rarely, like work on roof, home electricity repairs or whitewater rafting etc. you can ignore safety precautions that professionals use. Because they are professionals and have adjusted their precautions to level of daily work: daily repeats, high multiples. If they do this dangerous thing 100 times per year, while when I do this once per year, I can take a 50 times higher risk level and still have less chance of hurting myself. Ok, lets' go.
posted by Free word order! at 12:34 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


How did you press the "Post Comment" button?

Perhaps he was dictating it.
posted by bouvin at 4:39 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's hideously risky to get out of bed, already knew that. But if I lie here much longer I'm likely to be eaten by a grue.
posted by jfuller at 5:42 AM on January 30, 2013


Have you considered turning on the light so it is not pitch dark?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:11 AM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I quelled the awkward oral voidy feeling by eating carrot after carrot.

One of my friends ate so many carrots that his skin turned orange, and his Dr told him he was in danger of carotene(?) poisoning.

Everything in moderation I always say, but it did reduce his risk of getting hit by a car* while cycling.

* Or did it? "Hey! look at that ... " SPRANG!!
posted by sneebler at 6:25 AM on January 30, 2013


As someone who spent the last summer camping and working in a national forest, the idea that anyone would consider setting up their tent under a dead tree, and furthermore think that those who cautioned against it were paranoid, is absolutely ludicrous. A firefighter was killed in my national forest just this summer when a hazard tree fell and knocked over another one which hit her. Glad Diamond figured it out pretty quickly.

Also, this article was recently sent to me by a friend as proof of why I would live forever: my infrequent showering habits are an excellent risk mitigation strategy!
posted by Polyhymnia at 7:06 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having been raised by my Jewish grandmother, I am fully aware of these risks.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:56 AM on January 30, 2013


> Have you considered turning on the light so it is not pitch dark?

oh. oh yeah.
posted by jfuller at 8:06 AM on January 30, 2013


Shower chair.
posted by warbaby at 8:54 AM on January 30, 2013


Governments are perfectly willing to tolerate having many citizens that lack adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare, so don't expect them to be motivated to undertake extreme measures to eliminate traffic accidents.

No, corrupt/broken/shithole/poor governments tolerate these things. There are places where I've seen a person falling through the cracks in one of these matters result instead in shock and outrage and apology and action and redress, not toleration.
posted by anonymisc at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


this one time a guy died just posting on metafi

How did you press the "Post Comment" button?


His cat inadvertantly stepped on it as it was eating him.
posted by anonymisc at 11:12 AM on January 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


And to followup,

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/8243803/Familys-words-for-Kiwi-killed-by-sign
posted by xiw at 4:02 PM on January 30, 2013


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