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Reckoning with risk


I lifted the title from Gerd Gigerenzer’s excellent 2003 layman’s and professional’s guide to understanding probability and statistics. If you want to get your head around whether an expert witness is boggling a court with misleading figures or what the numbers say about your chances of getting cancer or winning big in a game show this book is the go-to guide. I found it particularly revealing that with a world full of examples Gigerenzer chose Australia’s breast screening ‘education’ leaflets to illustrate how medical authorities present data deceptively in order to justify large expenditure on public health programs of no proven benefit. Naturally drug companies are the masters of such statistical sleight of hand and Gigerenzer exposes some of their favourite tricks too – though not as comprehensively as Ben Goldacre does in Bad Pharma.

But this post isn’t about anything as important as drugs or DNA or winning at cards. It’s about lawn mowing. Well, OK, I’m talking about the most religiously adhered to ritual in Australian suburbia so I guess it is pretty important. But as the preferred tool for the job is a wheeled, bladed, two-stroke torture device designed for maximum noise and fumes so that your grass disciplining virtue can be signalled to all your suffering neighbours there’s nothing here for the majority of my fellow Australians. Because I use a Chinese mower. An electric one. It’s quiet and doesn’t stink and it’s possible to mow the back yard without the family three doors down even knowing. Stealth mowers are just one of the technologies we Chinese agents and Russian bots are using to undermine sacred Western values. Except that right now I can’t use it.

Next week the rental agents will carry out one of the periodic property inspections which ignore the chronic maintenance issues the owner is meant to attend to and focus instead on whether tenants are keeping windows clean and lawns neat. Although the landlord doesn’t care, the grass is now long enough to upset the agent even if I don’t hide rubber snakes in it before she arrives. But I don’t want to cut it.

For the past week it’s rained every day for most of the day. According to the weather bureau that’s not set to change soon. There’s nothing in my mower manual warning against using it in the rain and I’ve heard no reports of people found dead beside their electric mower. But even with rubber soled sand-shoes I just can’t bring myself to stand on wet ground while pushing a 1500W electric engine through soggy grass.

Do you think Gerd Gigerenzer would understand?

From → books

  1. I wonder if agents will ever value biodiversity in the backyard haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They seem fine with having it in the kitchen and bathroom.

      The hostility agents have towards anything living and green unless it’s strictly regimented is just another expression of Australian suburban values. I suspect estate agents aren’t born but sort of coalesce from the avarice, superficiality, hypocrisy and petty mindedness in a community. So we have only ourselves to blame for them.


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