Nate Silver: Terrorist Risk Will Never Disappear
It's a no-brainer conclusion, but sometimes it needs to be reiterated with data and comparisons and all that other jazz.
FiveThirtyEight proprietor Nate Silver's column in the Wall Street Journal laid out just what the odds are that you, the average citizen (provided you are, in fact, an American citizen) will be blown up by a terrorist. The conclusion? You're pretty much safe! (Although we all end up dying at some point.)
[I]n the decade of the 2000s, only about one passenger for every 25 million was killed in a terrorist attack aboard an American commercial airliner (all of the fatalities were on 9/11). By contrast, a person has about a one in 500,000 chance each year of being struck by lightning.
We're obviously discussing probabilities these days because of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed crotchbombing of the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. Imagine if Al-Qaeda recruited a competent Nigerian! But there are two points here: (1) nobody died on that flight, and (2) he says he didn't do it.
So if he's found not guilty ... then who is the real terrorist? Could there have been a second crotchbomber in the forward lavatory?
Anything's possible. Someone could die from a car crash or a stray bullet from the heavens. Nobody's ever 100 percent safe. Or as Silver put it, "at best, we will reduce the risk from an extremely small nonzero number to a slightly smaller nonzero number."
What's immeasurable in the empirical data of civilians dying in terrorist attacks is the impact of said deaths on those who are still living. How irrational can airline passengers become? Perhaps hysterical enough that guys like Nate Silver need to write such columns, not to assure safety, but to help them accept reality.