Watch it again!!!...Re: Watch this, folks....was: Re: retirement

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Sun Mar 4 13:32:27 EST 2001

On Sun, 4 Mar 2001, Josh Halpern wrote:

> Arthur Sowers wrote:
> > On Thu, 1 Mar 2001, Rich Lemert wrote:
> > > Arthur Sowers wrote:
> > > > >   This is what insurance actuaries do for a living - look at current trends, make some
> > > > > intelligent guesses about what's coming down the pike, look at how changes in their
> > > > > assumptions affect their predictions, and come up with their best estimate of what's
> > > > > going to happen.
> > > >
> > > > The problem is that insurance companies are playing "economies of scale"
> > > > with "populations." You can use the word "chance" to cajole people into
> > > > doing lots of things because of fear. Insurance companies will _always_
> > > > make a profit on this but YOU can't tell anything about yourself, _as an
> > > > individual_.
> > >
> > >   Looking back at my direct ancestors shows a typical age at death well
> > > into the 80's.Based on this, I should expect to kick off two years
> > >before I retire?
> > >   Conversely, if my family tree shows several cases of Huntington's
> > > disease, I should plan on seeing my second century?
> >
> > I see no relationship at all between the above two sentences and what I
> > wrote except for mostly coincidence.
> Art, you are definitively dumber than mud. 

Premature conclusion. Conclusion not supported by the facts. Besides, its
impolite. However, I am neither insulted nor angry (FYI). Just read on.

 Actuarial tables are the
> place to start for estate and retirement planning.  This then has to
> be modified by your family history.  At the end you have a good
> (not perfect) estimate (ESTIMATE) of your life expectency.

Probably (pun intended) the biggest misunderstanding of probability is
that so many people "buy into it" without understanding that the only time
it is of value is when it is applied to _populations_, not _individuals_
in those populations. Probability only has commerecial value when
insurance companies use it, or faculty writing journal papers. Probability
_cannot_ predict what will happen to any _individual_. Think about it.

All the doctors talk about re cholesterol is "risk factors" and they
cannot tell you "you have X cholesterol, that means you're going to die of
a heart attack in 183.95 days."  Besides, I have two contrarian articles
on the cholesterol story and the authors certainly know more than I do
about it (And, look at the hundred billion dollar low/no fat food
industry out there all built up on "you'd better cut your cholesterol or
you're gonna die"). 
Life expectancy? Like I said, and some more enlightened writings I've
read, I agree with the authors: have parents with good longivity genes if
you want to live long. You can the actuarial tables and throw a dart at
them. Sure, the "probability" that you will live longer goes down the
older you get. See, the word "probability" is there and who can predict
how that applies to YOU the individual. Sure, you're parents died
relatively young, or relatively old, and that might play a role. Some
diseases are genetic. Sometimes there is a stronger probability of
transmission to you (you have to look up the exact mechanism). But outside
of that, YOU can agonize all you want. _I_ am going to live life for a
quality of life. I started trying all that no/low fat food years ago and
the damned stuff was actually making me sick. And, I said, if this is how
to _help_, not _guarantee_, a longer life, then forget it. If you don't
like that attitude/philosophy, then move to some newsgroup where they
agonize and lose sleep over whatever factor(s) you and they want to
agonize and lose sleep over.

> > > > >   The way you've stated the situation above makes it seem like
> > > > > "I can't predict exactly how long I'll live and what my health will be
> > > > > blah blah blah, so why should I even  try?"
> > > > >
> > > > This is typical "Rich-Lemert-says-lets-look-at-half-glass-of-water-and
> > > > just say-its-really-a-full-glass"
> No it is a sensible, lets see what we can learn about the odds.  A half
> full glass is a hell of a lot better than an empty head.

You can't compare glass and heads.
> > > > Even talking to a physician about risk factors for heart attach WILL NOT
> > > > predict what happens to YOU; only to populations!!! Thus, this kind of
> > > > science benefits only authors of journal articles AND insurance companies.
> Don't know much about statistics do you.  The issue is not prediction
> but getting the most likely estimate.  I'm sure you will reply with your
> obnoxious best, but that, I predict will be your usual pile of solipsist
> bull.

And, the phrase "the most likely estimate" means something more to you
than the word "statistic" or "probability"? Get real. Even your sentences
above really fail to understand the relationship between individuals in a
population and _the population_. Suppose you tell me, in all your
luminary, tenured professor brilliance, what you think all the data in
your statistics can exactly predict about a given individual!

Just for comparison, lets look at a situation where _prediction_ has some
value: engineering. Calculating the moment arm on a span on a bridge when
the materials, stress/strain, densities, moduli, blah-blah mechanical
measurements, compositions, etc. See, I think someone can "engineer" that
data and tell me, with great numerical precision, some factors (plus or
minus some tollerance figures) about individual "elements" in that bridge. 

"Solipsist bull" really sounds like namecalling and it comes from
ignorance and bias. 

> > > > Stop smoking, lower blood pressure, etc., will not guarantee ANY out come
> > > > for YOU, as an individual although you might _feel_ better about what you
> > > > are doing.
> The only guarantee is death, and taxes. 

So, here is such a high probability situation that it is a guarantee and
you try to be sarcastic with it. Actually, I think a very large number of
people would agree with that sentence, including me. 

 Art's continual wishing for
> guarantees and only optimal outcomes guarantees his eternal
> disappointment.

I think the people who live their individual lives by consulting a
probability table are in the same category as people who live their lives
by tarot card reading. 

Certainly I would recommend against cigarett smoking, flying in Osprey
marine aircraft, bungee-jumping/sky diving, and taking a tour in a boiler
factory where nitroglycerine is being stored, and other common sense
things. Beyond that, the more money you can sock away for retirement, the
better. A very few people live a life of poverty to save, then die before
they can enjoy it. Most people run out of money (or at least don't
have enough) before they die (I can give references for this) The rest is
a tradeoff.

Careers: you're better off in medical school. And, your wallet will be
better off, too. 

> > >   So in other words you are saying don't even bother planning for the
> > > future, live life for
> > > today, because you don't know if you'll live to see tomorrow.
> > >   If you plan to live 25 years past your retirement, and you get hit by a bus
> > > the day after you retire, you'll probably say you wasted all that planning.
> >
> > SNIP...
> > >   My "half full glass" as you call it is actually a very realistic way of looking at
> > > the situation. If you know what the median life expectancy is for someone your
> > > age, then you know that's an age you have an even shot of seeing (correcting
> > > for risk factors such as heriditary diseases, smoking, and the like).
> >
> > I hope you and your "half full glass" will be happy with each other.
> With some luck, sure.  For example, my glass is half full, life
> has its difficulties, but all in all it is pretty good.

I can say just about exactly the same thing about my own life. 

  But maybe that
> has something to do with the fact that I realistically approached
> a bunch of important decisions and tried to figure out what the
> most probable consequence of each of my choices would be
> rather than moaning about how mean undergraduates, graduate
> students, professors, chairs, deans, insurance companies, the
> government and fate are. 

Too many people accept the crap without critical evaluation. I don't think
all of your life was entirely under your control. You had some good luck
with your tenure outcome. I know people who got turned down because there
was a personality clash, some because an administrator never intended to
grant tenure, and other reasons which are discussed in literature and
references not authored by me but on my website.

 Did everything work out well,
> no, but enough did that we are very happy.

I can say the same about myself. I know of many more situations, people in
bad situations, people who, by chance, were in the wrong place at the
wrong time, and their lives are really in pitiful shape and one of the 
only things that could help them is winnig the lottery or an act of God. 

However, I appreciate the fact that there are a few people and
organizations out there that try to warn people about very high
probability bad things. Just a few Examples include: messing with drugs
(especially kids), unprotected sex, drunk driving, and not having good
batteries in smoke detectors. I went to a Senior Citizen "thing" at a
local senior center and they had all kinds of booths on helpful things
dealing with health and safety. The Delaware Attorney General's office had
a good number of brochures on avoiding all kinds of scams, cheats, fraud,
etc. I think this is all "for the good" and certainly in the public

If you don't like my "tune" then don't listen to it.

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
  | Science career information website:   |
  |      |

> josh halpern
> >
> >
> > Art
> >
> > > Rich Lemert
> > >
> > >

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