A Great Relative Risk Graphic for Terrorism

Lynne Kiesling

In previous posts on the TSA and security here, here, here, and here, I’ve argued emphatically for taking a relative risk assessment approach to our security and surveillance policies and spending. Courtesy of Meg McLain, here’s a vivid graphic representing why that’s a good idea, and why we should not be spending so much money so ineffectively on security theater:

8 thoughts on “A Great Relative Risk Graphic for Terrorism”

1. Vivid, but grating to anyone who can do math beyond counting ones fingers. The relative sizes of the bars don’t even work on a log scale. I give it a D+, since she did label the multipliers in the bars.

2. Lynne Kiesling says:

Oh, c’mon, folks, don’t go all Tufte on this! I’m as much of a mathematical pedant as the next geek, but even scaling this logarithmically would make it less visually comprehensible.

Once we’ve beaten back the “anything for security” numerical illiteracy, then we can work on the fine details of the relative magnitudes and how to express them visually more accurately. Sadly, we have cruder logical fallacies to fight in this particular battle.

3. Jeff McCray says:

OK, put down the calculators and back away slowly…

Seriously, I wonder about an economic model on this. What if one airline decided (in a magical world, obviously) to do away with all security screenings, and instead offer “hassle-free” flights? Would there be sufficient demand? Would there be cost savings? What if it were just on high-usage routes?

Or would most consumers put up with the intrusion as a reasonable and necessary cost of perceived safer travel? How can we let the market decide this, instead of government?

4. Sorry, Lynne. But I do tend to “go all Tufte” when one of my health science students is blase about where a decimal point should go when calculating a toxic dose. Scales matter.

Another problem with the graph is the co-mingling of events where the individual does or does not have the locus of control. I can choose to avoid swimming, but cancer hunts me down.

5. I went swimming today and survived. Thank god for the full body scanner at the pool!

6. One more thing about that “go all Tufte” crack: Thanks! That’s the nicest thing a highly-regarded economist has ever said about me. And you threw in “mathematically pedant” as a lagniappe. My cup overflows.

7. Lark says:

Oh no, we need 8 TSAs to protect us from the police! And then what’ll we do to protect ourselves from all the TSAs? Surely we can’t be allowed to just grope ourselves?