Monday, March 01, 2004

Remember When?

... recently ... I received an e-mail entitled "If you are over 35, you should be dead." As I am in fact over 35, I decided to read it to clear up the mystery of why I was not dead. On opening the message, I thought (an act that provided axiomatic evidence of my being) that I recognized the contents as an antiregulatory diatribe I had already received a few times. And if I've gotten this note a few times, perhaps some Scientific American readers have received it as well. Therefore, I decided to respond here, because I don't have all your e-mail addresses.

First, some highlights of the e-mail: "According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 40's, 50's, 60's, or even maybe the early 70's probably shouldn't have survived. Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint. When we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. As children, we would ride in cars with no seatbelts or air bags. We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. Please pass this on to others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before lawyers and government regulated our lives, for our own good! People under 30 are WIMPS!"

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the target audience for this message is people who are alive. In data analysis, this is what's known as selection bias. Indeed, many kids didn't wear seat belts way back when. Some of them are now, in technical medical terminology, dead. The dead ones don't write such rants. Kids brain-damaged by lead or preventable blunt trauma may write, but they are probably not responsible for the above e-mail. Probably.

Still, life unfettered by bureaucratic interference remains tempting. And so I find myself musing on the good old days. I mean the really old days--30,000 years ago. Bureaucrats and lawyers didn't even exist yet. We were on our own and took responsibility for our actions ...

Steve Mirsky in Scientific American

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