Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nine Lives,… and Three Deaths (Statistically Speaking)

Sigh… From the New York Times Book Review. A case of information irresponsibility, statistics-and-probability division.

Heller flew 60 bombing missions between May and October 1944, a feat that should have killed him three times over, statistically speaking, since the average personnel loss was 5 percent per mission.

Reality:  A pilot’s chances of surviving 60 such bombing missions is about 4 percent.  Was there no one in the editorial process who perceived the silliness of being killed “three times over, statistically speaking?”

Being realistic:  I don’t expect everyone to be facile with simple statistics and probability.  But I expect writers and editors to know their limitations. If you’re going to write (or publish) a statistical claim, ask someone competent to check it for you.

The Enigma of Joseph Heller -

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