Risk.

Risk.


Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
When will you die? I don’t mean you
specifically, I mean the mean of you all – the average
Vsauce viewer. By combining World
Health Organization life tables with YouTube
analytics for Vsauce viewers, we can calculate
that the average date everyone over the age of 15
watching this video right now will die on is
8:42 in the morning, November 28th, 2059.
The mode is in 2073.
Morbidly, but mathematically, about 340
of the people who watch this video this
week will not be around at this time
next year. These statistics are based on
averages but interestingly
the average person considers him or
herself anything
but average. Studies have consistently shown that the
average person believes he or she will
live a longer and healthier life
than the average person. We overestimate
the likelihood that bad things will
happen to other people and underestimate
the likelihood that they will happen to
us. It’s a natural part of our psychology,
but, yeah, we miscalculate risk in many fascinating
ways. K.C. Cole points out that we are
often more responsive to threats that are personal
exotic, erratic and dramatic
than we are to threats that are well more likely.
I love one of her examples – imagine a
world where cigarettes
are harmless, but one cigarette pack
out of every eighteen thousand seven
hundred and fifty contains
a single cigarette laced with dynamite
that, when lit,
violently explodes, blowing the user’s head off.
People would be loudly
and messily losing their heads every
day all over the world
but in that imaginary universe the same
number of people would die every day
because of smoking
that already do. The results
would just be more shocking, more
immediate and probably more likely to
affect our decisions.
Last month, I and some of my favourite
YouTube creators met
with President Obama about the decisions
Americans make when it comes to
protecting themselves from the cost
of staying healthy. The issue with health
care is mired in conflict and debate
matched only by the turmoil of risk
assessment going on
in our own minds.
Our myelinated machines use more biases and
shortcuts to evaluate probabilities
than can fit in a single video, but a
particularly strong example
is the availability heuristic. Our
tendency to think that something is more likely
because it happened recently or there
are more examples of it happening
available in our memories, not because it
actually is more likely.
We also over exaggerate risks we don’t
have control over
while being comparatively fearless in
the face of equal
risks we nonetheless can control. Chianti
Stars famous 1969 study on risk
found that people were willing to accept risks
1,000 times greater
if they could control them, for instance,
driving a car than if they
didn’t have control, for instance, a
nuclear disaster.
Let’s talk about Abraham Wald.
Only so much extra armour can be added to
an airplane before it becomes too heavy to fly.
Now, during World War 2 the US military
noticed the planes returning
from enemy territory were usually damage
around the wings,
the body and the tail gunners.
So, they put more armour
on those areas. But it didn’t make a
difference. The same number of planes
continued to be lost. So the military hired Wald
for his mathematical super powers.
He told them to put what little
armour they could on the parts of the planes that
weren’t being hit. Why?
Well, because returning planes were survivors.
They took damage in areas where a plane
can take damage
and survive. Damage to other areas
caused the plane to
not return.
Wald was protecting them against
survivorship bias – only paying attention
to successes. A similar phenomenon is
partly responsible for why music
feels like it was just better back in
the day than it is now.
Is that really true or are we just remembering
the good stuff? Wald’s work saved
thousands of lives and made flying safer
for many more. Tragically, a few years
later Wald and his wife
died in an airplane crash. You can’t
predict how and when you will die, it’s not that easy.
But a few risk scoring systems have been created
to make the discussion and comparison of
hazardous behaviors
clearer. The micromort was conceived by
Ronald A. Howard and is an amount of risk
equal to a one in 1,000,000 probability
of dying. John Green discussed Micromorts
in a fantastic mental floss video you
should watch, if you haven’t already.
He points out that a single skydive
temporarily increases your
death risk by seven micromorts – a seven
in 1,000,000 chance of dying. That’s the same
as smoking 5 cigarettes. It’s been
estimated that you gain one micromort
for every half litre of wine you drink.
Every year you spend drinking Miami tap water, every 1,000 miles you fly in a jet plane,
every 230 miles you travel by car, every
20 miles you travel by bicycle
and every 6 miles you travel by motorcycle
or canoe. There is a happier
unit of risk – the microlife. Proposed by
David Spiegelhalter and Alejandro Leiva,
a microlife is gained by doing helpful
things. In small quantities their benefits are roughly
linear and one microlife is the equivalent of
30 extra minutes of life.
Twenty minutes of moderate exercise
gives you two more microlives.
Two hours of sedentary behavior
-1 microlives. Plenty of
non-scientific websites exist that allow
you to calculate when you will die
based on your life expectancy and habits.
PokeMyBirthday.com is the kind of goofy site
that takes a nonetheless interesting look
at not your death,
but your birth. Enter your birthday and
see when you were conceived,
when your mother probably first realized
she was pregnant with you
and the dates your parents created or
moved into position the two cells
that eventually became the thirty trillion cells
that are now watching this video. Every single person
who ever died, died right here on planet Earth.
Except for three.
The crew of Soyuz 11.
On June 30th, 1979, their cabin depressurized,
while returning to Earth, before they
crossed the agreed-upon boundary between
Earth and outer space. Far from
any populated area, a three-sided metallic columns
sits where they’re craft landed in Kazakhstan.
It’s a remote memorial to humankind’s
remotest deaths. We haven’t
all died here on Earth, but so far we have all been born
here. Thanks for being here.
Stay safe, and as always,
thanks for watching.

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