Another Thing About Taking Your Chances

I’ve mentioned before the problem of assuming false homogeneity, that because something happens, its chance of happening is the same for everybody. Put that way, I hope it’s patently silly. But, in case it isn’t:

Ralf Roletschek / CC BY-SA (

About 0.01% of the US population will die of prostate cancer this year. You are a member of the US population. What is your chance of dying of prostate cancer this year?


  1. if you are not a man, zero;
  2. if you are a man under 40, very, very close to zero;
  3. if you are a man over 65, higher than 0.02%;
  4. if you are a black man over 65, about 60% higher than for a white man over 65;

And so on. Take away: With the exception of everyone eventually dying of something, measures of risk across a population are meaningless to individuals. You have to know more about how the risk applies to you, personally.

Several people are eaten by sharks every year. What are your chances of being eaten by a shark this year?


  1. if you never go near an ocean, zero;
  2. if you rarely swim in the ocean, very slightly above zero;
  3. if you surf daily in Australia, somewhat above zero, but still very, very slight.

So, if, for some reason, you are worried about being eaten by a shark, simply stay out of the world’s oceans and seas, and you’re good to go!

So, now to the big one: Somewhere between 0.15 and 0.26% of Americans who get infected by the coronavirus die. What are your chances of dying if you get infected by the coronavirus?

  1. if you are under 25 years old, zero; *
  2. if you are under 45 and otherwise healthy, very, very close to zero, as in, no measurable chance of dying of COVID;
  3. if you are very sick already, you have a measurable chance of dying if you catch the virus – comparable to your chance, as a very sick person, of dying of any nasty infection;
  4. if you are 85 years old and very sick, a serious chance.

And so on. Most of the population, being younger than 45 and healthy, have effectively no chance of dying of COVID. You might as well wear shark repellent in Iowa as worry about COVID, if you are under 45 and healthy. Even old guys like me, a 62 year old who is somewhat overweight (a real risk factor) but otherwise healthy, have so small a risk it would be neurotic to worry about it.

Be careful around sick people, especially elderly sick people, wash your hands, cover your face when you cough or sneeze like a civilized person – and, that’s about it. Lockups and masks are simply stupid.

Addendum: If you buy *two* lottery tickets instead of one, your chances of winning are twice as good! However, your chances of winning no matter how many tickets you buy short of thousands of tickets are still so stupidly low as to be effectively zero. Similarly, your chances of catching or transmitting the virus may – may!- be reduced if you wear a mask. But your risk, and the risk to others, remains microscopic for almost everybody as described above whether you wear a mask or not. For those under 25, the risk is zero with and without masks; for those under 45 and healthy, the risk is likewise zero with and without masks. Conclusion: wear a nice fresh mask when visiting the very sick and elderly, and maybe if you are very sick and elderly. Otherwise, you may as well wear a helmet to reduce you meteor-to-the-head risk, or a deep sea diving suit 24/7 to *really* cut the risk of transmission…

*a few dubious claims to the contrary notwithstanding

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “Another Thing About Taking Your Chances”

  1. It seems I have been around more uncovered coughs and sneezes since Covid began, and this is just from one trip out of the house since we’re mostly staying put at home. “Like a civilized person” expects way too much, I am sad to discover. When the person who was 6 feet away from you turns around and walks toward you, coughing (without twitching a finger, and without a mask) in your general direction just as they reach you, there’s not much you can do except self-quarantine to avoid passing anything to the higher-risk family member….. I see more spitting on the ground now too, but that may be a cultural issue since we’ve only been in this area for a few years…. Perhaps this – ie the lack of cough cover and proliferation of spitting – is one of the failures of the education system, when “Hygiene” becomes “Health” and morphs into sex ed. Or perhaps the demand that we not only cover our coughs, but cover them with a CLOTHED ELBOW, just made it all too complex, and people gave up entirely.

  2. Perhaps the claims that came your way were dubious, but some of them probably aren’t. However. Every year or so, the local paper has another sad story of some unfortunate student over at Michigan State University who contracted meningitis and just died of it. I’m not aware of any national warnings to stay away from Michigan State lest one contract meningitis; I suppose for those of college age, the odds would be about 1 in 42,000 (or 1 in 84,000 if it’s every other year), about the same for an under-25-year-old dying of the COVID. In other words, live your life, but sometimes nature has another plan.

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