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Thursday, 11 January 2018

On lawnmowers and terrorists again: the danger of using historical data alone for decision-making


The short paper and blog posting we did last week generated a lot of interest, especially after Nicholas Taleb retweeted it. An edited version (along with a response from a representative of the Royal Statistical Society) is going to appear in the February issue of Significance magazine (which is the magazine of the RSS and the American Statistical Association). In the mean time we have produced another short paper that explores further problems with the 'lawnmower versus terrorist risk' statistics - in particular the inevitable limitations and dangers of relying on historical data alone for risk assessment:
Fenton, N.E., & Neil, M. (2018). "Is decision-making using historical data alone more dangerous than lawnmowers?", Open Access Report DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.20914.71363. Also available here.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Are lawnmowers a greater risk than terrorists?


Kim Kardashian, whose tweet comparing the threats of lawnmowers and terrorists, led to RSS acclaim
In December 2017 the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) announced the winner of its “International Statistic of the Year”. The statistic was simply "69" which it said was "the annual number of Americans killed, on average, by lawnmowers - compared to two Americans killed annually, on average, by immigrant Jihadist terrorists".  The full RSS citation says that the statistic tweeted by Kim Kardashian ‘highlights misunderstandings of risk’ and ‘illuminates the bigger picture’. Unfortunately, we believe it does exactly opposite as we explain in this brief paper:
Fenton, N.E., & Neil, M. (2018). "Are lawnmowers a greater risk than terrorists?" Open Access Report DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.34461.00486/1 
As you can see from the tweet by Taleb, this use of statistics for risk assessment was not universally welcomed.