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The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty by Sam L. Savage

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INTRODUCTION
Connecting the Seat of the Intellect to the Seat of the Pants
The only certainty is that nothing is certain.
—Pliny the Elder, Roman scholar, 23-79 CE
 
 
As the financial meltdown of 2008 has demonstrated, Pliny is still pretty much on target two millennia later. Despite all its promise, the Information Age is fraught with a dizzying array of technological, economic, and political uncertainties. But on the flip side, the Information Age also offers electronic extensions of our intuition that can provide a new experiential feel for risk and uncertainty. This book shows how.
Let’s start off with a simple everyday example in which most people’s intellects fail. Imagine that you and your spouse have an invitation to a ritzy reception with a bunch of VIPs. You must leave home by 6 p.m. or risk being late. Although you work in different parts of town, each of your average commute times is 30 minutes. So if you both depart work at 5:30, then you should have at least a 50/50 chance of leaving home together for the reception by 6 o’clock.
This thinking sounds right. But your instinct warns that you will probably be late. Which is correct: your brain or your gut?
Your gut is correct, but not being particularly good with words, it may have difficulty winning the argument intellectually. So here, in terms that even a brain can understand, is why you’ll probably be late.
Suppose there really is a 50/50 chance that each of you will make it home by 6:00. Then the trip is like a coin ...

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