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  • “. . .producing a tsunami at least 600 feet high. . .”

    Posted by Jonathan on November 25th, 2006 (All posts by )

    There’s evidence that asteroid impacts may have occurred much more frequently, and recently, than anyone previously thought. Of course evidence isn’t proof — there may be a better explanation for the apparently-related “chevrons” (huge inland flow-molded sedimentary deposits) and undersea craters, from which proponents of the asteroid-impact hypothesis infer mega-tsunamis — but it might be a good idea to reconsider the odds of asteroid impacts in light of this new information.

    And speaking of odds, why is global warming more of a threat than asteroids? I’m not saying it isn’t. I am saying that our public-resource allocation decisions ought to be driven by realistic comparisons of the expected aggregate costs (i.e., the odds that an event will happen or its incidence in the population, multiplied by the cost of the event if it happens) of each class of events. What are the expected aggregate costs of

    -Global warming?

    -Asteroid impacts?

    -Breast cancer?

    -Prostate cancer?

    -Diabetes?

    -AIDS?

    -Automobile accidents?

    -Gun accidents?

    -Nuclear or other WMD attacks?

    Not all of the information necessary to make such comparisons is available, but in cases where it isn’t (asteroids, global warming, WMD attacks) we can stipulate wide ranges of odds and possible costs and use these ranges in our comparisons.

    Comparing risks in this way might lead to a different set of public priorities than does our current societal practice of responding to the most publicized and dramatic risks.

    OTOH, there is little if any incentive for public officials to evaluate relative risks on their merits. The political incentives are all for response to spectacular risks and risks that have organized constituencies.

    I suspect that better public education is the only effective remedy for this classic problem of public choice. Citizens are more likely to demand rational allocation of public resources if they better understand science, probability and statistics, and history — IOW, if they have the tools to make more-realistic risk assessments.

    (Cross-posted on the Chicago Boyz Forum.)

     

    7 Responses to ““. . .producing a tsunami at least 600 feet high. . .””

    1. Wickedpinto Says:

      You left out cow farts.

      Supposedly cow farts produce more methan than anything in the other portions of the natural world.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      I meant my list to be an example rather than all-inclusive. You can add a separate category for cow-induced climate change if you want.

    3. veryretired Says:

      One of the truly unfortunate consequences of having an educational system which has little or no interest in actually educating students with real knowledge and intellectual skills, as opposed to indocrinating them according to the latest educational fad theories, coupled with the superficial, scandal and celebrity driven MSM, is that the average citizen is woefully unprepared to make competent decisions regarding the extremely complex problems of a modern, hi-tech culture.

      We now have the capability of identifying, and attempting to ameliorate, major problems in the areas of public health, climate and environment, resource use, and various other threats that in past times were mysterious acts of nature or god for which no prevention, or even foreknowledge, was possible.

      Now we are talking about preventing world wide plagues, conserving resources on a global basis, dealing with problems of the environment around the world, and managing supplies of food and other essentials to insure that even the most remote areas are sufficiently supplied.

      All of these efforts require immense investments of money and creative energy from our best and brightest. All involve complex questions in the public arena which demand the very best, most sophisticated reasoning by citizens as they sort through the options, and select representatives whom they believe they can trust to protect their best interests.

      But to prepare the populace for this enormous task, we have a collapsing educational structure which can barely teach the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic to average students, has abandoned enormous numbers of more difficult students to “special ed” programs and “social advancement”, and routinely graduates millions of young people who cannot read simple texts, perform simple mathematical problems, or comprehend basic scientific principles and methods.

      I don’t even dare to mention the state of history, philosophy, or other, more complex intellectual subjects. A recent survey found most high school seniors didn’t even know which century such things as the Revolution, Civil War, or World wars 1 and 2 occurred, much less the intellectual issues involved in any of them.

      It is ironic, and I mean very ironic, that at a time when the capabilities of the human race to explore and understand the various dangers and challenges of our planet, its systems, and its neighbors in and around the solar system have advanced to an unheard of level, the citizens who are charged with ultimately deciding how those challenges should be met are unable to read anything more difficult than the latest issue of “People”, or deal with issues any more complex than whether Madonna should adopt some baby from a third world country.

      I have an enormous level of respect for the sense and reasonableness of the ordinary citizen as he or she goes through their lives, earns a living, manages a household, raises a family, and attempts to deal honestly with the many issues of modern life in a fairly free and open society.

      But I am also truly disappointed that several of the significant social systems and structures which should support and strengthen those citizens, and assist them as they confront these difficult tasks, have failed in their functions, and, indeed, become more of a liability than an aid.

      A badly informed, educationally deficient, and intellectually untrained citizenry is not the “body politic” envisioned by those who constructed a great republic, and presented it to us as our inheritence, if we could keep it.

      I am afraid that last question becomes ever more problematic as time goes on.

    4. Tyouth Says:

      I love those apocalyptic movies, don’t you? – even the cheesy made for tv flicks.

    5. david foster Says:

      veryretired…the failure of the schools to educate people to a reasonable level of quantitative literacy is indeed harmful to their future role as citizens: it is also directly harmful to their individual financial futures. As more people join the “investor class,” and especially as they become more responsible for their own retirement planning, it is a crippling disadvantage to be unable to apply quantitative reasoning to documents like mortgage agreements, prospectuses, 10-Ks, and the like.

    6. veryretired Says:

      David—Yes, the complexity of modern life seems normal to us, but it is daunting to those not familiar with the range of choices and options available in a free society.

      I recall one of the biggest complaints of the former East Germans when they were introduced to life ala West Germany was the dizzying range of choices that needed to be made about everything in life, matters both great and small, on a daily basis. They were used to a one-size-fits-all society in which most things were decided before they ever got to the ordinary citizen.

      Having said that, I must confess I’m completely helpless when faced with the sorts of subjects you mention, and usually can’t even read through the descriptive material without collapsing into a coma.

      Thank god, my wife revels in figuring things out and finding the best deal for us. The way it works around my house is, she puts some papers down and says sign these, and I do. So far so good, although it is troublesome when she gets mad at me and mutters about how I’m worth more dead than alive.

      If it were up to me, I’d probably be living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere.

    7. Tatyana Says:

      *veryretired, I’m reading Julian Barnes’ short stories, and in one of them a personage refers to his wife of 50 years as “higher authority” or “Government”.
      As in “thanks for your prospectus on new roof, I’ll have to discuss it with higher authority”. Or “we’ll go to the country fair on Sunday if the Government will allow it”.

      In my view, the most legitimate case for submission to governments.