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The Role of Probability in Assessing and Communicating Risks

Jul 4, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jul 4, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Read the OP-ED article by Nassim Taleb in the New York Times from July 24, 2005 entitled “Scaring Us Senseless” identified below.

Risks are often portrayed using probabilities. Summarize the article and comment on the pros and cons of the use of probability to express risks like terrorism. Why aren’t humans good at processing risk/probabilities with respect to terrorism? What is the evidence? What did you learn from reading his analysis that could be applied more generally to our course? What role does context play if any? Finally, what ethical responsibilities do the media have, if any, with regard to reporting on this issue? Make arguments and support them with evidence. Feel free to bring in credible outside sources.

Use a paragraph format including an introduction, your analysis and conclusions. Remember – college writing! The length should be from 550 to 600 words.

In addition, read the following article entitled “What are the odds? To learn to think critically, take a statistics class.” Summarize the main points and explain how that relates to our Statistics as Evidence homework. Write an additional 150 word analysis.


Don’t forget the word count at the end.

Good luck!


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Scaring Us Senseless explores the danger of using probabilities and statistics to explain the occurrence of risk. The writer uses terrorism as the example and illustrates further how human perceptions are likely to be changed by statistics reported in the media. What are the Odds? Explores the importance of statistics and how statistics is used to predict true events.

It is statistically correct to say that both human beings and the modern society, in general, are wired to respond rationally to terrorism. Most of the time when a terrorist act occurs we tend to be more vigilant, but this vigilance fades away as our memories forget the terrorist act. There are three aspects that terrorism exploits in human beings. All these aspects are related to perception and management. People tend to avoid risks according to the message portrayed by their emotional system.

It is for this reason that the writer advises against relying on the human emotional system for statistics. He says that the emotional system was built for the primitive environment with no or very simple dangers. Terrorism is not a simple danger. Since the emotional system is built that way, then there is a very high chance that it would hinder any one’s ability to deal with a sophisticated risk like terrorism. The writer uses an illustration of someone who loses a friend in a motorcycle accident. According to statistics records, such a person is very likely to avoid motorcycle. A real-life example would be a child whose friend drowns in a pool, there is a very high chance that this particular child would avoid swimming at all costs. Besides, someone would avoid visiting Central Park because they were probably victimized in a cocktail party. All this events are as a result of the human emotional system. It would, however, be advised that such persons should read the statistics of the different events to obtain a realistic view of the occurrence of the events.

The emotional system is likely to destruct decision-making. For example, the cover cost of terrorism insurance is higher than that of general insurance. Most people would not complain about this higher cost due to the perception that terrorism risks are much higher than general risks. Terrorism as a word itself evokes emotions and anxiety. The writer uses the terrorism event of September, 11 to illustrate this point further. He says that Osama Bin Laden continued to kill more Americans and Western Europeans indirectly. He says that many people decided to drive rather than fly, with the idea that driving was less risky than flying. Due to a high number of people driving, the risk on the road increased even more. If people drive for more than 20 miles then the risk they are putting themselves into exceeds the risk of flying. However, these deaths are usually not reported because they are categorized as tragedies, unlike the terrorism deaths that are categorized as a statistic.

The Human Emotional system is designed to react promptly to minor risks, which it then forgets at the same rate. This is illustrated by the pictures of terrorism acts. With the bloody site, bodies everywhere, buildings being brought down, these images cause the emotional system to be alert. When, however, a new tragedy strikes they are quickly forgotten and shift their attention to the new tragedy images.

Television images and those in Newspaper publications play a bigger role in statistics. Since images are likely to distort our thinking through the emotional system, the media has the role of ensuring all its reports are closer to the statistical truth. The primary aim of terrorism is to terrify people, and the media should not help them do that. The media should build confidence and ensure they report credible information. This is not to say that the media should lie to the people. They should, however, make sure that what they report is statistically true or closer to the truth

This analysis is useful in determining the truth in statistics. Most of the events and decisions we make heavily rely on statistics. Terrorist events are usually predicted by our security organs based on statistics. For these reasons, the article is useful for general knowledge about statistics and what to put in mind when relying on statistics. (712 words).

What are the odds?

Most of the time in life we are faced with critical decisions that require us to use our statistical skills to predict the occurrence of an event of the future. To make decisions we look at patterns and the likelihood of an event is occurring. Statistics is less likely to lie to us because it involves critical thinking. For example, the writer says in a lottery game one studies the numbers, and one is less likely to pick the same number they picked yesterday. Statistics is also used in medicine, for example when picking a cure therapy for cancer one would go for one that has been statically predicted to have cured a higher number of cancer patients. The writer emphasizes that numbers always have a meaning that should not be ignored. This article is important not only for our statistics as evidence homework but statistics as the course itself. The writer emphasizes the need to study statistics since statistics never lie. (160 Words)

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