The skewness of the missing |

It’s a story that I love and that I’m in a hurry to tell you before 100% of you have read it on social networks, so much so it gets broadcast there. A kind of fable with a math buzz and airplanes.

Born in Hungary in 1902, Abraham Wald had to flee Austria in 1938, where life was not good when one was of Jewish faith. It was in the United States that he took refuge, and from a building in Manhattan near Columbia University, that he led the fight against the Nazis who had persecuted his family. But while some developed weapons or explosives, he spent his time asking and solving equations within the Statistical Research Group (SRG in English in the text), a confidential program set up by the government that brought together the best math specialists available in the United States at the time. territory. And if, in the light of their profile, we say to ourselves that these guys necessarily hovered at 10,000, it is nonetheless a very pragmatic question that they had to answer in 1943 about the armor of bombers fighting ‘Axis ‘ forces.

In summary, it was a matter of deciding which parts of these aircraft should be reinforced in priority in order to ensure the best possible protection against enemy projectiles, without placing too much emphasis on an object that is already sufficiently heavier than air. SRG therefore had a very precise study carried out on several aircraft returning from the front, in order to map the places with the highest concentration of bullet impact per. square feet (remember we are on the other side of the Atlantic). This tedious work that was left was to compile and analyze the data thus obtained in order to identify the most affected areas, which should therefore benefit from stronger shielding. CQFD

“Uh no,” protested Abraham, who cautiously pointed out to his staff that they had left out one small detail: the missing gaps. That is, those who touched on the structure of the aircraft, who had not returned from a mission, and who therefore, of course, could not be counted. But logically, it was precisely these missing holes that had caused the loss of these bombers, which mainly affected the areas which, on those who had survived, had a lower fire density. It was therefore the latter whose protection was to be improved, and not the other way around. A recommendation whose correctness was recognized and applied, thanks to which Mr. Wald undoubtedly saved many lives from the comfort of his New York office. Ironically, he died a few years after the end of the war in a plane crash on his way to India, where he had been invited to give a lecture.

A posteriori, this kind of demonstration seems to be hit on the corner of common sense. But the fact that Wald’s collaborators – who, however, can not be suspected of lacking intelligence – themselves have fallen into the trap constitutes an excellent reminder to supporters of “I Knew It” whether this rationalization of an event is in fact retrospective distortion. And since that is precisely what we are talking about, let us also state that without the intervention of their distinguished colleagues, our men in white coats would themselves have been victims of a paralogism.
It is called “survivor bias”, which is the basic principle of a successful mindset that “it was better before.” This concerns not only B17 or B22 from the US Air Force, but also Aunt Yvonne’s Frigidaire, who is still true to her post after two or three decades of good and loyal service (the fridge, not the aunt). “This is not how we do it anymore” we often hear said about these kinds of objects, which we do not know how many have survived of all those that have been made, as much as we do not know the number of those who left the factory in 2022, will still be operational in 2052.

And, of course, the bias of the survivor is no stranger to the automotive world, where nostalgia seems to have a bright future ahead of it, no doubt in relation to the emotional charge we willingly place in our motorized companions. Its adherents, who, contrary to what one might imagine, are recruited from all age groups, moreover, often use a scientific term whose lexical sophistication serves as a guarantee: planned obsolescence. A self-explanatory term that suggests that today’s cars and their components are designed to destroy themselves, after a period of time if possible within hours after the expiration of the manufacturer’s warranty. According to them, it was obviously better before, a term denoting a period of time with inaccurate contours between the car’s prehistory and the year of the 20 years of the person using it. Before then, cars like Gothic cathedrals were built to last. The irrefutable proof is that we still see vintage models circulating, while the latest ones are destroyed with a shovel (or rather a crusher).

Aside from the fact that planned obsolescence in cars was originally something completely different. The concept is also far from new as it dates back to the 1920s, although the one who initiated it never used this term and preferred the dynamic obsolescence. At the time, General Motors had understood that the design of a car was too serious a topic to be left to engineers, and that it deserved a department in itself. Thus was born in 1927 the “Art and Color” department, placed under the authority of the brilliant Harley-Earlinventor of concept cars and spoilers that were in vogue in the 50s and 60s. And in the missions entrusted to him Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. -CEO of GM- counted the development of the style of the brand’s cars with each vintage, only to create desires for early renewal in a market that was already saturated. If the term itself should first appear in 1932 from the pen off Bernard London in a book whose title – ending depression through planned obsolescence – constituted an entire program in itself, the concept was nevertheless born several years earlier as a stylistic principle, and not with the intention of making the car a disposable product.

But apart from thinking that planned obsolescence was better before, I must admit that the term today takes on a different meaning, which testifies to fears that the ongoing electrification of the car does not seem ready to take off . Thus, not a week goes by without the image of an electric vehicle in flames appearing on the feed of the social networks I visit, which testify to the person who publishes it, of an undeniable tendency to set fire to this type of vehicle. A kind of reverse survivor bias, which I might have to write a thesis about, and which I would call “bias of the disappeared”.

In this case, what corresponds to Wald’s missing holes would consist of all the electric vehicles that had not caught fire. Or “not yet” will cynically point out its opponents, for whom it would probably be useless to argue that electric cars are actually less likely to catch fire than their thermal equivalents. At least this is what an analysis conducted by the online comparison Autoinsurance EZ, based on data collected by various US government agencies, according to which the frequency of fires affecting electric cars in 2020 was 61 times lower than for thermal. , and even 139 times lower than hybrids (with 25, 1,530 and 3,475 cars, respectively, burned for 100,000 sold).
But what does it mean after all. Because it’s about rolling or flying machines, cognitive imbalances are probably not ready to have lead in the wing.

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