For pets what is in advantage for cats. Let’s say you live on the seventh floor of an apartment and because this is YouTube, that you have a cat. Let me pull up a statistic for you, me being the nerd that I am. In 1987, a study was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Medical Assosiation by two vets. They examined 132 cases of cats falling from great heights. They found that cats fell from 5.5 stories on average, but over 90 percent survived. With injuries, of course. The weirder finding was this. For cats that fell from higher than seven stories, the number of injuries per cat was significantly lower. The vets concluded then, that this was because the cats have longer time to orient themselves properly to the ground. This skydiving posture would then reduce their velocity tremondously which is how they survived. But keeping in mind the statistic that I just shared with you, your cat should be alright, right? Alas, what you find is a dead cat. Rest in peace, hypothetical cat. We will never forget you.
What just happened? Apart from the dead cat. Was your cat suicidal? Was the 1987 study wrong? Should we never trust the vets? Not really. While the data that the 1987 study had collected was accurate, there was a serious flaw in their conclusion that cats falling from higher than 7 stories were less hurt. Your cat leapt to her death after jumping off the seventh floor. Do you take the corpse to the vet or to the dumpster? Or if you are kind, have a quiet funeral, inviting only your closest friends and family? Point is, you don’t take a dead cat to a vet. And when these vets take all their data and analyse it they only look at the cats that survived the fall. And to be fair, a cat that miraculously survived a 10 floor fall should be pretty special that it would have gotten less injuries. The keyword here, is survived. This, is called the Survivorship Bias.
It’s when you ignore the subjects that failed a certain test In this case, falling off the seventh floor And only look at the subjects that succeeded, or rather, survived. The statistics nerds in the room are dying to bring up Abraham Wald and the World War II fighter planes, so sigh. I’ll talk about it. The Second World War. The era of the dogfights. As amazing as they are to watch in a movie[Dunkirk] and them inspiring dozens of other movies [Star Wars] it was not a good time to be a dog fighterd uring the Second World War. The odds of a fighter pilot surviving close combat action with another fighter pilot was equivalent to calling heads in a coin toss. The US Air Force was trying everything they could to try and decrease their casualities for two reasons. One, they were losing good fighter pilots and two, planes are expensive. The first solution they came up with was to add more armour to the entire plane, but then realized that doing so would make the plane too heavy and incapable of taking off.
Afterwards they had the bright idea to do the following. Once a plane returned from battle, they would record the locations of the bullet holes on the plane. They would do this for each and every plane that returned, and after a while, they could figure out which regions on the plane were being shot at the most. Therefore, instead of trying to add more armour to the entire plane, they would only add armour to the regions that were more susceptible to bullets. Genius, right? Except, not really. As the statistic an Abraham Wald pointed out to the Air Force, the locations of the bullet holes that they had recorded, were from the planes that survived the battle. In other words, the planes that were shot in locations that were not recorded, were precisely the ones that didn’t return from the battle.
So his solution was quite counter intuitively was to add armour to the regions that were found to be unscathed in the planes that returned. And guess what. It worked. All Wald had done was take into account the survivorship bias, and it had dramatically changed the landscape of aerial one-on-one battles. Also remember, this is the Second World War, where the country with the strongest airpower stood victorious. Okay fine – I hear you say. What’s the big deal? As it turns out, surviorship bias is a tiny detail that has the tendency to derail decision making. I present to you, my final example – the ‘Successful & entrepreneur’ effect. We have heard a lot of successful people sharing their ‘secrets’ to success.
Mostly, this is what they all say : Focus on doing what I did, and you will be as successful as I am. We hear this the most when we hear stories about the tech giants of today. Or the dropped out garage corporations, asI call them. Stebe Jobs, founder of Apple, dropped out of college and started Apple in his garage with his friend Steve Wozniack. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, dropped out of college and started Microsoft with his friend Paul Allen. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, dropped out of a well paying job in New York and started Amazon in his garage without friends. Point is, the theme here is more or less the same.
Step one : Drop out of a well paying career or drop out of college.
Step two : Go back to your garage and start building The Next Big Thing (TM) Step three : ??? Step four : Profit. These “steps” to success as absurd as they sound now is something a lot of college students do. They drop out of college following their role-models. After all they were perfectly alright after doing that, and then went on to invent something amazing which made them rich, famous and powerful. What you don’t ever, ever hear are the number of failures. You never hear about the number of people who follow these very steps and fail, because they are silent, or they have been silenced. Any event or process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are either destroyed like the planes that didn’t return or the cats that died or removed from your view, like every single failed start up all along the Silicon Valley. The more we ignore failures, the more we pay attention to the successes.
And our brain being the foolish inference engine it is, tends to extrapolate the frequency of successes to being plenty more than what it really is to such an extent we don’t even consider the failures. In conclusion, making a decision purely based on those that succeeded is a terrible way to make decisions. So the next time you have to make a decision, whether it is about buying stocks from the stock market, choosing a career or heck, even throwing a cat from the seventh floor, keep in mind the fact that your brain is easily fooled by numbers, and that survivorship bias, is the greatest human enemy.