A bit of mathematical fun

I am a bit tired tonight – all the commenting on Williams MP’s site has drained me a little.

Here is the mathematical fun:

Suppose that it was reasonably proven that Second Hand Smoke (SHS) would only cause death after a person had lived for 200 years. Purely mathematically, that would mean that a person would be half dead after 100 years, and a quarter dead after 50 years.

Purely mathematically, you could add together four persons, who are one quarter dead each,  and produce the sum of one whole death after 50 years.

Why is that idea nonsense? Well, simply because our first assumption requires 200 years to pass before a person dies from SHS.

But the pure mathematics are sound. That is, four times one quarter apple equals one whole apple. Four times one quarter death equals one whole death.

Nevertheless, with a bit of refinement, such mathematical tricks can easily be used to ‘prove’ that nonsense is correct.

Is that how epidemiology, as used at the present time, works? How else can it work? Quacks say that actually smoking produces all sorts of deaths 30, 40, 50 years later, while the Surgeon General of the USA says that SHS can kill immediately at any time. These statements are contradictory, and can only be backed up by the sort of mathematics which I first described. 

It really is very peculiar. For example, if only 1 in 17 people who smoke get lung cancer before they die, the other 16 might live for an infinite length of time before getting lung cancer. There is no way to know, because no one lives for an infinite length of time.

Funny, innit?


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