795: Conditional Risk

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Conditional Risk
'Dude, wait -- I'm not American! So my risk is basically zero!'
Title text: 'Dude, wait -- I'm not American! So my risk is basically zero!'


The comic deals with the difference between general probability of certain event based on entire past history and the probability of the same event in particular circumstances. The chance of any American selected randomly from general population to be killed by lightning is very low, but part of the reason for this is that an average American would seek shelter and safety when caught in a lightning storm. The joke is that someone armed with this particular statistical knowledge would not take the normal precautions and therefore leave themselves far more vulnerable.

Since the statistics provided talks only about Americans, the other character wrongly assumes the chance to be struck by lightning for non-American is non-existent - which underlines the difference between knowing certain event can't or didn't happen and not having any data about the event.

The "one in six" statistic is probably invented by the author - which also illuminates the danger of dealing with "statistical data" provided by random sources without any attribution to actual statistical surveys or hard data. And of course, now all xkcd readers know the statistic, likely bringing down the death rate.


[Lightning strikes the ground, illuminating trees with a bright white light. Two people are standing near it. One has a walking stick.]
First person: Whoa! We should get inside!
Second person: It's okay! Lightning only kills about 45 Americans a year, so the chances of dying are only one in 7,000,000. Let's go on!
The annual death rate among people who know that statistic is one in six.

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"I'm not American! So my risk is basically zero!"

Is the risk to Americans so low because lightning concentrates on non-Americans?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 15:42, 26 January 2015 (UTC)

The line 'The annual death rate among people who know that statistic is one in six' clearly points out that the people who know the statistic tend to be dismissive about the danger of the lightning strikes and put themselves in danger. Even though the statistic is probably invented by the author, shouldn't it go in the explanation?

I did not want to change the explanation without a discussion. (PS: I am a newbie here)

A2658742 (talk) 10:44, 10 April 2015 (UTC)a2658742

I'd like to point out that the "invented one in six statistic" is a roll of the dice. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

1 in 6 is also the probability of shooting yourself in (classic) russian roulette. Siv3nIvy (talk) 11:41, 8 September 2016 (UTC)