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Tornadoes and Chance

By Chris | June 12, 2008

I got the book Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the mail the other day.  I happened to pick it up this evening as the Tornado sirens blared in Manhattan, KS.  Taleb argues that often humans attribute skill to outcomes that are really the result of chance.  Successful people may be playing games with a high probability of a small favorable outcome and a very low probability of a disastrous outcome.  He argues that we should judge success based on the expected outcome over hundreds of lifetimes.  I’m enjoying the book and will give a full review when I finish.

Most tornados warnings are false alarms.  They are issued if the storm is  capable of producing tornadoes.  However, tonight the storm actually produced them.  Twisters touched down on campus and on the west side of town.  I heard on the news that approximately 50 homes were destroyed.  The building where I will be teaching in the fall was damaged.  I think humans have the tendency to overestimate the likelihood of dramatic disasters like tornadoes.  On average, more people die each day in the U.S. in car accidents than die in natural disasters in the entire year.  Nevertheless, sometimes disaster strikes.

Topics: College, Economics | 1 Comment »

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