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April 3, 2008
Reaction to 'Typical White Fact-Based Reasoning'
The web site Sadly, No commented on my article "Typical White Fact-Based Reasoning" in a piece called Fun with Figures as follows.
The Sadly, No comments about my article in American Thinker were misguided.
It is true that people are most likely to be murdered by members of their own race, and indeed by friends or acquaintances. Does that mean you should most fear your own race? Not necessarily. It is also true that most car accidents occur within 25 miles of home. Should you move? Same logic applies.
You are most likely to have an accident near home because most of your driving is near home. You are most likely to be murdered by a member of your own race because most of your contacts are with members of your own race.
But the situation of Barack Obama's grandmother, and the type of situation I addressed, was conditioned on meeting a stranger on a street or bus. The likelihood of contact is already taken out of the equation. If race is the only thing we know about that person on the street, and that person is black, there is about a 20 in 100,000 chance that he or she will murder someone this year. If the person is not black, the chance is less than 3 in 100,000. The ratio is 7:1, or the likelihood that the person is a murderer is 600% greater if the person is black than if not black. ("Everything else equal.")
Perhaps you think the chances are so small either way that none of this matters, not even in deciding on whether to cross the street, lock your car doors, or not take the bus. Let me give two other examples that might illustrate.
About 30,000 people per year die as drivers or passengers in cars out of a population of about 300 million. So the chance of dying in a car wreck in any year is about 10 in 100,000. That is very similar to the chance of being murdered, which has been between 5 and 11 in 100,000 in recent years, and much higher for blacks. (If we include other violent crimes, the chance of being a victim would be far higher than the chance of dying in a car accident.) The government claims that airbags reduce fatalities by 10%. That is not a factor of 10, but just 10%. If we have an airbag, our chance of dying would go from 10 in 100,000 to 9 in 100,000.
For that sliver of a difference, the government mandated air bags in all cars. See that the chance of dying in a car accident is similar to the chance of being murdered, and much lower than the chance of being a victim of some type of violent crime. And lowering that chance by only 10%, or 1 life in 100,000, was reason enough for government to mandate airbags. Compare that 10% difference to the 600% difference in the stranger/murderer situation.
The second example is medical. The chance of dying of a heart attack in any year is pretty small. My doctor prescribed a pill because he said it would lower my chances of dying from heart attack by 60%. So my chance of dying from heart attack might go down from 10 in 100,000 to 4 in 100,000. (The 60% reduction is actually a factor of 2.5, or a 150% increase if viewed as an increase in risk if the pill is not taken.)
Again, the levels of absolute risk are on par with our stranger/murder case, and the difference is only 1 to 6 lives saved in 100,000 (1 for the airbag case, 6 for the pill case). The difference in our stranger/murder case was 17 in 100,000. And remember, my numbers were only for murder, not all violent crime.
Government, businesses and individuals make behavior-altering decisions based on levels of absolute and relative risk the same or lower than the situation I examined, all considered quite "rational".
What any person's threshold of fear is (the point where behavior would change), is up to that person, and I did not make any prescriptions. But a factor of 7 (600%) is a large relative difference, much larger than the 10% difference that was sufficient for government to change behavior in the airbag case and the 150% difference for the doctor in the pill case. I see nothing irrational or bigoted in simple passive behaviors such as crossing the street or locking car doors when meeting a stranger on the street, even if race was the deciding factor in such a decision.
As for bathtubs, it is not irrational to fear them either. That's one reason people sell and people use those non-slip rubber mats to put in them.
I personally have few fears. But government is making many of my behavioral decisions for me. I must wear a seatbelt wherever I drive. I must wear a helmet when riding my motorcycle in many states. In my own state I cannot smoke in bars or anywhere but private residences. Eleven vaccines are mandated for newborns, including against diseases with extremely low mortality rates, especially for infants. It amuses me slightly to find rational fears, acted on privately, being so derided by many of the same people so willing to mandate our behavior in so many other cases, especially ones that are less "rational" if based on solid risk analysis.
Let me try to simplify even more. Suppose we found that over 50% of all traffic fatalities happened in Fords, yet Fords comprise only 13% of the vehicles on the road. Would you be more or less inclined to buy a Ford if you knew that? Would you think the government should investigate the situation? Would you consider such decisions rational, or bigoted against Fords?