Monday, April 27, 2009

If You Don't Like Swine Flu, Stop Having Sex With Pigs

Here is some perspective.

There have been six cases of swine flu in Canada so far.

The chance of dying from swine flu if you get it is less than 1%.

So if you randomly shuffled Canada's 33 million people and gave six of them swine flu, the probability of you dying from it is about .0000000018 . *

In comparison, your probability of dying if you throw yourself out of an airplane once every year (i.e., skydive) is about .00001, or about 10 000 times higher than of dying from swine flue. If you drive an average amount, your probability of crashing and dying is about .00016, or about 100 000 times higher than dying from swine flu.

In other words, if you're worrying about swine flu right now, after driving to / from work today, you're 100 000 times more worried than you should be. We all accept a baseline of risk that we don't (and can't) worry about too much. It makes no sense whatsoever to start going apeshit over new things that fall below that level of risk just because the media is freaking out about it in order to catch your valuable attention.

And there's nothing wrong with the media's freakout; we need to be informed, especially in a situation where it could rise above that acceptable level of risk if we don't do anything about it. But unless it gets to that point, we shouldn't let our emotional thirst for drama and novelty outweigh the cold but comfortable logic of mathematics.






* =6/33000000*.01

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P.S. I went to Pod Camp London on Saturday and it was awesome. I'll write about it tomorrow if I think about anything that hasn't already been said. Oh and I must credit Dan Brown, who I met there, with tweeting the title for today's post, which I stole.

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Added 6:37 pm: P.P.S. Today's xkcd agrees:



9 comments:

SharkBoy said...

Can you tell me the probability of dying if I skydive every morning to my car so I can drive to and from work with a couple of sexy pigs in the backseat? I'm bad at math...

Oh and just how cool is Dan Brown's blog's name?

Jennifer said...

SAAAAAAAARS!

Phronk said...

SharkBoy: According to my calculations, you're ... *gasp* ... you're already dead.

Jennifer: I never did figure out which animal you have to sex up to get SARS.

Leann said...

I just read this outloud to the people I work with for a good laugh. Someone just called in sick and honestly believe they have the swine flu. Some people just have a case of the dumb.

sirbarrett said...

I don't understand how zoonesis works. You have viruses for certain species jumping spontaneously to others? If AIDS came from monkeys then why wouldn't there be an AIDS epidemic in monkeys? Fascinating but confusing.

That's cool that you got to meet Dan Brown though.

Phronk said...

Leann: Hehe, sheesh. It takes some ego to think that you are one of six people infected with an extremely rare virus.

Sirbarrett: My understanding is that there aren't even any pigs known to have swine flu. It's only called that because it contains pig DNA (but also bird DNA and human DNA, so it could just have easily been another bird flu).

I wonder if AIDS is a problem in monkeys, though. And who fucked a monkey to bring it to humans? ;)

Ubersehen said...

I remember people panicking like this over SARS back in '02. My girlfriend at the time got all pissed off at me when I confronted her with documented evidence that it wasn't:

A) particularly rampant (12 cases in the Toronto area, total?)

B) particularly dangerous (Only the super-infirm/elderly were at any risk)

Guess she liked being terrified of stuff. Like she was terrified of not sleeping with other people.

Krista said...

It's been a while since we had a disease scare, the swine flu will pass over and we'll be scared with the next one.

Jane Thomson said...

Hey, have you seen this? www.sickofswineflu.com. It's a great tongue-in-cheek look at how out of proportion this whole swine flu scare is.