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5 Risk - Reward Examples That Will Make Your Eyes Pop

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Monday, November 21, 2022

Human beings have an innate propensity to think with our emotions than with undeniable truths and facts. The human mind also does a very poor job in evaluating gradual existential threats. Most people don't want to take the time to gather all the evidence and facts, and let the resulting truths speak for themselves, and inform critical decisions. From Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest book, the following are five irrefutable, surprising, eye-popping risk/reward examples that most people don't know, or don't want to know.  

Self-driving cars: 


"Human error causes more than 97% of all traffic crashes around the world. Meanwhile, self-driving cars are never inebriated. They are never sleepy nor susceptible to road rage. Their reflexes are nearly instantaneous. They can see unlit obstacles at night. They can see through fog. They're never texting while driving, and even if they were, it wouldn't matter. Furthermore, on a road with just self-driving cars, if any one vehicle wants to change lanes - a source of many fender benders - your car simply shares this information with surrounding cars, and they politely allow this to happen. During this inevitable transition away from human-controlled cars, unforeseen software and hardware errors will surely lead to traffic fatalities. Each cause will likely happen only once, as engineers update software to prevent the same situation from happening again. This will systematically drop the self-driving fatality rate to near zero per year. 

"Self-driving cars may ultimately save 36,000 lives per year in the US. What do you do emotionally, legally, societally, if self-driving cars still manage to kill, say 1,000 people per year? No journalist will profile and celebrate each of the 35,000 random men, women and children who didn't die that year from car accidents." 


The big city versus the suburbs:  

"We all want to live long and prosper. What about the overall risk of dying prematurely from all causes if you live in the city versus the suburbs? Big cities have always been a hotbed for crime and homicide, but that's where the businesses are. So why not live in the city for now, get married, make a bunch of money, then move to the safety of the suburbs to raise a family? That's what the suburbs are for: a means of escaping everything bad about city living. 

"A prime example of wishful, selective thinking. 

"If that's your reasoning, your fantasy has overridden your search for conflicting data. Holding aside that nearly all mass shootings in schools happen in the suburbs, if you add up the lethal risks to life in the city versus life elsewhere, turns out you're safer in the city. The causes of possible harm are different, but enlightening to compare. In the suburbs, traffic fatalities are much higher than in the city, as are overall accidents (drowning included), suicide and drug overdoses. All combined, on average, your chance of dying prematurely in the suburbs is 22% higher than in the big city." 

Mass shootings: 

"(I) once posted a tweet that should have been regulated to my Forbidden Twitter File, but I mistakenly thought people would be comforted to know that mass shootings are a tiny fraction of all preventable deaths in the country. Mass shootings are even a tiny fraction of all gun deaths, and emotions more than data drive our reactions to them. My Tweet posted within days of the 2019 El Paso, Texas, shooting, in which 46 people were shot in a Walmart, 23 of them killed. I was instantly pilloried in social media for my insensitivity to the victims and their loved ones."   


"If you smoke heavily, for example, you're surely aware that you face increased risk of death from lung cancer or related heart diseases. But it's you're body. It's your cigarette. Dammit, it's a free country. So you accept the risk that there is a 1 in 8 likelihood your tombstone will read 'Died from smoking'." 

Tyson offers a striking analogy and interesting thought experiment:


"All regional authorities designate next Tuesday as 'Cigarette Smoker's Day'. The first puff taken by one out of every eight smokers. at random, will cause their skulls to explode, leaving them as collapsed, headless, bloody corpses on the pavement. If you happened to remain alive that day, you could smoke for the rest of your life and die from some other cause. 

"On that fateful Tuesday, the streets and smoking lounges of America would be strewn with four million headless bodies - three times the death toll the US sustained in all its armed conflicts combined, including both world wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Civil War. A gory day indeed, but the exploded heads scenario would be far less costly to society since the mode of death incurs no protracted medical bills from trying to keep terminal cancer patients alive. 

"If you love to smoke, would you take that risk?"  

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001:  

"Nearly 3,000 people died that day, all of whom expected to come home for dinner. I noted that we lose about 100 people a day to traffic fatalities, which means that by October 11, 2001, one month later, we had lost more people than died on September 11. The statistic continues to accumulate, month by month, and will not abate until we do something about it. Every year we continue to lose upwards of 35,000 people on our roads, yet the US military has spent $2 trillion on our post 9/11 war on terror, mostly in Iraq, precipitated by  the singular deaths of September 11. America was angry and did not want to live in a state of terror."    


Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson   Henry Holt & Company 2022 (pages 102-107) 

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Photo: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/driverless-car-technology-claus-lunauscience-photo-library.html 

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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