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Math - Probability and Statistics

Probability and statistics is a powerful branch of mathematics that is also a double-edged sword. It can be used for good purposes or for bad ones. It informs people of the truth in numbers, and it can also spread lies by manipulating the numbers. For this reason, it is very important to know how to interpret statistics correctly.

There are certain things in statistics called biases which distort the way people see the numbers and figures. At first glance, these biases may seem logical and correct, but when looked at more closely, their more deceptive nature is revealed.

One well-known example is what is known as Survivorship Bias. To illustrate this, here is the story of World War II statistician Abraham Wald. During the war, the US Air Force used a lot of these so-called B-17 airplanes for bombing missions. But a lot of them were riddled with bullet holes when they returned to base. The USAF then wanted to find a way to reinforce the planes to they won’t come back with that much damage.

Many suggested putting more armor on the parts that had the most number of bullet holes, which were the wings, tail, and body of the plane. But Abraham Wald stepped in and said that this was a bad idea. Why? Because the USAF was only looking at the planes that survived, not the ones that were shot down. This means that the wings, tail, and body were already strong enough to withstand that much gunfire. In the planes that were shot down, their engines were the ones that were hit the most. Unlike the wings, tail, and body, the engines were a lot weaker and if hit by bullets, the damage would be enough to bring the whole plane down.

Therefore, it is wrong to say that cars from 50 years ago are a lot more durable than modern cars. Only those that were made tough and were maintained well survived up to today; a whole bunch of other cars also had bad designs back then and are now forgotten.