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Topic: How "New Scientist" robbed me
Replies: 43   Last Post: Jul 13, 2011 1:29 AM

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 abzorba Posts: 14 Registered: 2/18/11
How "New Scientist" robbed me
Posted: Jul 6, 2011 12:10 AM

Sit down and I'll tell ya. About 15 years ago, I read an article in
public science mag New Scientist which noted that the airline industry
had allegedly proved that flight was about the safest way to travel,
using stats. The idea was they measured all the flights they make over
a period of, say, 20 years, and totted it all up as "millions of
passenger kilometers". Then they divided that by the number of deaths
that occurred in crashes during that time, to obtain an average number
of deaths per million passenger kilometers. This figure suggested
considerable safety in air travel, more so even than train travel.

best suited their purpose. If we take a reduction ad absurdum logical
approach to the problem (always a productive start) one can see where
they went wrong. Suppose you were offered a trip around the solar
system at the speed of light. You could travel many millions of
kilometers and come back in a day or two. Now suppose you were told
that it was also very safe because you would only have, say, a 50%
chance of dying on the trip, but you would cover more space than you
would ordinarily in a hundred lifetimes. Now you would surely balk at
those odds.

I came to the conclusion that people regard risk to themselves
existentially, not in terms of how far they have travelled. Because
planes travel very fast, go long distances and carry a lot of people,
using passenger kilometers as the base makes them seem safer than they
might really be. So, the correct statistical measure to employ is not
"millions of passenger kilometers travelled" but "millions of
passenger hours elapsed" I wrote New Scientist a letter to this
effect, directed to their "Last Word" section, which is a sort of
weekly Q and A feature. They did not print it.

Precisely one year later, New Scientist printed a review of a book
published by one of their in-house writers. This tome was on the very
subject that I had posted to them, and used exactly the same arguments
that I had described there, as detailed above. All the author of this
tome had to do was substitute hours for kilometers, and so derive the
new and far more accurate figures for risk. In the new analysis, air
travel is far less safe, much less so than trains, and about as safe
as traveling in cars.

I was a bit irritated that my idea had obviously been hijacked, and
plagiarized by the mag, and that I received no acknowledgement for it,
not even having my original note printed. So I thought I might do so
now. It might not seem OT for this froup, but it does have to do with
how meaning can be subverted by using incorrect terms in incorrect
ways. What say you?

Myles (It was just PLANE wrong, I tells ya!) Paulsen

Date Subject Author
7/6/11 abzorba
7/6/11 Stephen
7/6/11 Peter Brooks
7/6/11 Jonathan
7/7/11 abzorba
7/7/11 R H Draney
7/7/11 Peter Moylan
7/7/11 R H Draney
7/7/11 chazwin
7/7/11 IAP
7/7/11 R H Draney
7/7/11 Frank S
7/7/11 Cora Fuchs
7/8/11 abzorba
7/8/11 R H Draney
7/8/11 abzorba
7/8/11 Peter Brooks
7/8/11 Peter Moylan
7/8/11 abzorba
7/8/11 Frederick Williams
7/9/11 Frederick Williams
7/7/11 Lurker
7/8/11 abzorba
7/8/11 IAP
7/8/11 Lurker
7/8/11 Marshall
7/8/11 abzorba
7/9/11 Marshall
7/10/11 abzorba
7/11/11 Marshall
7/11/11 Lurker
7/11/11 Marshall
7/13/11 abzorba
7/12/11 abzorba
7/13/11 Marshall
7/8/11 abzorba
7/8/11 Stephen
7/8/11 abzorba
7/12/11 Stephen
7/9/11 Marshall
7/8/11 Glenn Knickerbocker
7/8/11 BretCahill@peoplepc.com