The statistics of risk...

I regularly swim in Los Alamitos Bay, in Southern California and it amazes me how often people see this as some sort of foolhardy thing to do because, well, you know, SHARKS!

My contention is that what I’m doing is less risky than many things people do that are considered “safe” activities.

I suspect you’re much more likely to be killed playing baseball… hell, I suspect you’re much more likely to be killed WATCHING baseball live in person.

I believe my chances of being attacked by a shark are so remote that this fear mongering is actually irrational.

So… here’s the only shark statistic I know about ocean swimmers in California (even though I am not in the open ocean) 1 attack per 738 million beach visits.

So, can someone help me find some “risk by activity” stats that would show my “risky” behavior is actually much, much safer than lots of other things I could do.

I know that swimming carries it’s own risk, but that’s not really the point. People aren’t calling me stupid because swimming is risky and I might drown, they’re calling me stupid because I’m not afraid of being attacked by a shark and I’m getting tired of it.

I’m not afraid to play baseball and I’m not afraid to swim in the bay, but of the two, I think baseball is the more “risky” thing to do. Is that really true and is there an easy way to characterize it?

Just a quick reply. How many people do you think are killed because they are watching baseball live. You don’t get to count people who died of a heart attack just because they were at the stadium. You can count someone who died of food poisoning, I guess. I’d think the number of people who died because they were watching a baseball game live in the past 10 years you could probably count on your fingers.

As for shark attacks. How many of those 100s of millions of beach goers actually went into the water? I believe you are in zero risk of a shark attack sitting on a beach. I’ve never heard of a real sharknado.

The people you’re speaking about don’t trust numbers more than they trust their own off-the-cuff “truthy” sense of risk and danger. “Swimming with sharks” is dangerous because IT SEEMS DANGEROUS! BECAUSE SHARKS!

People are generally terrible at risk estimation, and most don’t improve just because someone presented some kind of objective evidence. Because what are you going to trust? Some “evidence”, or your own gut?

I recommend instead you stop giving a rat’s ass what people say about your chosen activity. Because their opinion matters only insofar as you let it.

While it’s true - it may be a limitation on the data. I can imagine that it would be extremely difficult to come up with a good, population-wide (or state-wide) way to estimate how many beachgoers go into the water - especially in California where water is frequently cold enough that if people go in, they don’t stay in for very long unless they’re wearing a wetsuit or used to it.

gnoitall, thanks for that.

Fear is an emotion; you can’t stop it with statistics. Ignorance fought.

I will continue with my usual response which is, “Oh I’m way too drunk when I swim to care about sharks.”

You have a 1 in 169 chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Long Beach, CA {Cite} … so are you safer in the water swimming with these sharks, standing on the beach talking to someone about the dangers of swimming with sharks … or, like what the hell, driving on them death-traps for freeways in Southern California …

Do you know how mussels reproduce? … like ewww … ewwww … EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW …

Being bitten by a shark, death or no death, seems to me to be a lot more terrifying than being hit by a fly ball. Maybe that’s it. The chances are remote, but the event would be pure horror.

Possibly, but anyone who approaches it rationally for more than 5 seconds can recognize that “severity” and “probability” are two completely different concepts, and conflating the two is just wrong-headed.

Well, just for fun, here is a list of 25 things that could kill you. Looks to me as if you are much more likely to drown or be killed driving to the beach than shark attack (it didn’t even make the list). Here is a list of the top 25 things more likely than a shark to kill you, FWIW.

I heard a speech about this very topic - the speaker was using “fear of sharks” as an example of an illogical fear. His reasoning was that the sharks were the 3rd most dangerous thing at the beach - more people were killed from skin cancer (specifically, among that population who frequented beaches) and from sand castles (and sand tunnels) collapsing on them each year than were killed by sharks.

Yes, but I can have a legitimate fear of something really really awful even if I correctly understand the odds are quite remote.

Personally, the fear of sharks doesn’t keep me out of the ocean, and the fear of bears doesn’t keep me out of the forest.

I was snorkling down on Mission Beach south of where the OP is … there were sharks everywhere … little four foot guys with broad heads … they all swam away when I got close … I was told they came in to spawn (ewww) and weren’t no danger to nothing … I don’t know why that seal thought I looked sexy in a wetsuit …

A great many sea creatures use a similar strategy. The ocean is a roiling stew of … fluids.

Ewwwww … no wonder Bob is Ornery

I think that this is probably the best way to approach the problem. Compare the number of people killed by sharks to the number of people who die by drowning in the ocean, since both have the same denominator (amount of time spent swimming). So you can safely say that the presence of absence of sharks is only a rounding error when it comes to your risk calculation.

And no wonder W.C.fields wouldn’t touch the stuff!

OP, you can reduce the risk of shark bite to zero by wearing an amulet with Lamentations 4:3 (which offers slight praise to sea monsters) inscribed on it in the original Hebrew. ZERO swimmers wearing such an amulet have ever been bitten by sharks!

For similar reasons I always carry a bomb when boarding an airplane. The chance an airplane has a bomb is a million-to-one, but the chance it will have TWO independent bombs is a trillion-to-one.

The human organizes its reality by way of stories, not numbers. The story about someone getting attacked by a shark is way more compelling (to most people) than the story about the numbers that indicate such an attack is highly unlikely, just as the story about someone winning the lottery is far more compelling (to enough people so that lotteries are profitable) than the story about the odds against winning.

The important (to me) consideration is that risk is cumulative. It’s not really important that swimming in the bay has less (or more) likelihood of resulting in death or injury from shark attack than, say, having a five-gallon bucket that could drown a toddler in your home. The MORE activities you engage in and the LONGER you do them are the key factors.

If someone engages in several risky activities (e.g., skydives, races ATVs, SCUBA dives, fights forest fires, BASE jumps, and so forth), then the higher the likelihood that at least one of the activities will result in injury or death.

Similarly, leave a large bucket of water around your child for 16 hours a day for years on end, and you are a lot more likely to get a tragic result.

It’s silly to compare one-off and infrequent events by themselves. By this I mean that saying “event X is N times less likely to end in tragedy than event Y” is a gross oversimplification.

(I am not a statistician or an actuary.)

I’ve never heard it put that way (highlighted), but yeah. Smart people (smugly) say that “anecdote is not evidence”, but actually, for most people, anecdote is the only evidence that matters.

We’re wired to learn from others’ experiences. If the experiences are statistically atypical, too bad. If the experiences are communicated from a great distance and concentrated by the media, exaggerating their likelihood and applicability, too bad. If the experiences are bullshit clickbait “fake news”, or woo fabricated by someone with a crooked or malicious intent, too bad.

Our learning system and risk-evaluation heuristics aren’t well-suited for the hyper-connected, media-saturated, sensationalist short-attention-span world we live in.