There was an interesting editorial in Sunday’s New York Times about the anxiety produced by terrorism and people’s general inability to deal rationally with said anxiety. All kinds of interesting stuff that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor at UMass Amherst, writes that risk avoidance is governed mainly by emotion rather than reason, and our emotional systems tend to work in the short term: fight or flight; not fight, flight, or look at the evidence and make an informed decision based on the likely outcomes of various choices. Dr. Taleb points out that Osama bin Laden “continued killing Americans and Western Europeans in the aftermath of Sept. 11″: People flew less and drove more, and the risk of death in an automobile is higher than the risk in an airplane. If you’re afraid of an airplane hijacking, though, you’re probably not thinking that way. It would be interesting to do a causal analysis of the effect of the September 11 terrorist attacks on automobile deaths (maybe someone already has?).
Terrorism and Statistics