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My own thoughts--for me.
(. . . OK, you can look.)







Saturday, April 17, 2004

No Fear (Hardly) 

I know you're worried about me. There's no need, really. I hope I convinced you that the risks of flying to Israel are tiny. Of course, there's still the risk on the ground, with all the news of suicide bombings. Some say Jerusalem is a dangerous place. It's probably true that no other city outside Baghdad poses as great a risk of suicide bombers. If you're primary goal in life is to avoid being the victim of a suicide bomber, then you might be wiser to choose another destination. But does that make it dangerous? No states poses as great a risk of tornadoes as Oklahoma and Texas. Does that make them dangerous places to visit? (hint: no)

There are several different ways to look at questions like this. One is to grant that there is an increased risk of injury, and then try to put that risk in the context of other things that raise our risks. Then we can see whether equally risky things are well thought of as dangerous or not. For example, people often say things like, "You think doing X is dangerous? It's safer than driving your car to the store." That's a fair point if it's true. On the other hand, as we saw last time, driving your car is extremely safe, at least with respect to the chance of being killed in an accident. If the store is less than 6 miles away your chance of being killed in an accident is less than 1 in 10,000,000. I don't think visiting Jerusalem for 6 days will be as safe as a trip to the store. So the question is, how safe is it?

There were 213 deaths in Israel from terrorist attacks in 2003. Many of these were outside Jerusalem. On the other hand, the year before there were about twice as many victims. So let's exaggerate the apparent risk by supposing 365 people will be killed by terrorists in Jerusalem in 2004, averaging one per day. The population of Jerusalem is over 6 million, plus there are always tons of tourists there. But let's use the figure of 6 million, again slightly exaggerating the real risk. So in a 6 day visit, that would make your risk 6 out of 6 million, which is 1 in a million. But remember, I've used numbers that substantially exaggerate the risk as far as we can tell. So, my risk of being a victim of a terrorist bombing during 6 days in Jerusalem seems to be well below 1 in a million. This is not as safe as driving to the store. And driving to the store is not as safe as huddling under the bed. But some things are more fun than others too.

[Note July 7, 2004: In the above paragraph I meant to state the population of Israel, not Jerusalem, resulting in a risk assessment for a trip to Israel, not specifically a trip to Jerusalem. The reason for this is that I could not find figures for bombings specifically in Jerusalem.]

That settles that, I think: a visit to Jerusalem is not very dangerous. Well, wait. What counts as dangerous? Let's find some other 1 in a million risks of death and see if we think of them as dangerous.

...


OK, I found some. On this website about calculating risks, we find these on a list of 1 in a million risks of, apparently, death. The first two are apparently risks of death from cancer, and the others are explained:

- smoking two cigarettes
- drinking 30 diet sodas with saccharin
- eating one hundred fifty (1/2 lb) charcoal broiled steaks (aromatic hydrocarbon risk)
- eating four tablespoons of peanut butter every 10 days for person without hepatitis B1
- drinking seventy pints of beer per year (alcohol cancer risk)
- one quarter of a typical chest X-ray
- traveling 100 miles in a motor vehicle
- dying from a lightning strike in a 6 year period

The beer one is not clear. I'm guessing it means that seventy pints of beer per year gives you a one in a million lifetime risk of dying of alcohol cancer, but it's not clear. I do know that I'll think twice the next time I'm tempted to eat 150 charcoal broiled steaks.

Really, this is not a very informative list. It doesn't let us compare the safety of beer and diet soda, because it is only listing one of the risks that each one poses. Alcohol comes with health risks other than alcohol cancer, along with some benefits. But a few of these do seem to give us useful comparisons to the risk of spending 6 days in Jerusalem. The terrorist risk is about the same as the fatal cancer risk from two cigarettes. And about the same as the risk of dying in a 100 mile car trip.

Again, notice how tricky this is. I might very well take a 100 mile car trip when I'm in Jerusalem. I did the last time I was there. Now what? This doubles my risk of death. That sounds bad. Well, it's not bad. It puts the risk of dying at the same level as the risk of a fatal crash on a 200 mile car trip in the U.S. And we have seen that this is an extreeeeemely small risk.

I'll be fine. But just to be safe, while I'm away, I'll lay off the steak.

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