Monday, April 27, 2009
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.
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.
Added 6:37 pm: P.P.S. Today's xkcd agrees: