The Extreme Rule – A Gaussian Explanation

Why do nutters make the headlines? Why is it reportable if a 13 year old kid decided to go and fight for Islamic State? There are plenty of people who have decided to go and fight, it shouldn’t surprise us that one of them turns out to be a youngster. It WASN’T news. People lied about their ages and signed up for WW1, that was seen as patriotic [different issue though].

The crazy 5% of our population seems to inhabit 95% of our news time and concern. This is pathetic. The news reporting for the Islamic killer kid should have been more realistic, along the lines of “This kid has decided to do go to Syria and fight for a cause he believes in but there are approximately twenty million children who haven’t”.

Crazy person drives down the wrong carriageway on the motorway, it happens and makes the news. The reporting is never “out of 200 million journeys this has happened only once”.

Here’s a diagram to show what I mean [with apologies to Karl Gauss].

Gauss Again
Gauss Again

The continuum in the top graph is meant to describe how there are stupid people who do stupid stuff and there are nutters who know what they are doing but do it anyway. 95% of the population are somewhere in the middle.

The media seems obsessed with crazy or stupid people who, by definition, do crazy or stupid stuff. This is made even more evident by the amount of this shit on the internet. There is never a realistic version explaining that actually this is a rare event and we shouldn’t be bothered by it.

Humans have a very poor “risk calculating” ability. We are unable to understand probability correctly. Partly because it actually gets quite hard and complicated and partly because we are shielded from correct interpretation of risk by a culpable media.

Some things we don’t seem to understand:

  • Flying is safer than crossing the road
  • MMR is safe
  • The difference between relative risk and absolute risk
  • Crime is falling
  • Education is a good thing [the stupid are celebrated]
  • Weather is not climate

A final hurrah before I go and do some ironing:

Q: If you have twenty people, how many different soccer teams could you create from those people (if you specified which position they played in)?

A: 6,704,425,728,000

Wow, that’s a lot you should say.

Q: If you have twenty people, how many different soccer teams could you create from those people?

A: 167,960

Q: Suppose you were the captain. How many different teams could you create from the remaining nineteen people?

A: 92,378

See, you are useless at numbers and probability.