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  1. #1
    Senior Member DemostiX's Avatar
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    Jared Diamond on risk

    Geographer Jared Diamond wrote "Guns, Germs, and Steel"; "Collapse", and "Why Is Sex Fun", among others.

    He's just published a new book. Here's part of his book tour.

    http://www.edge.org/conversation/tal...fore-yesterday

    One tale from that deserves a no-click copy here at HF.

    TALES FROM THE WORLD BEFORE YESTERDAY
    Jared Diamond

    If You Camp Under Dead Trees, And Each Dead Tree Has A One In 1,000 Chance Of Falling On You And Killing You

    I'll tell you the incident in New Guinea that had the biggest influence on my subsequent life. I was with a group of New Guineans doing a survey of birds on a mountain, and we were establishing camps at different elevations on the mountain to survey birds of different elevational ranges. We were moving from one camp up to another camp, and so I'd wanted to choose a new campsite.

    I found a gorgeous campsite. It was on a place where the ridge broadened out and flattened out. It was a steep drop-off, so I could stand at that edge and look out and see hawks and parrots flying. The broad area of the ridge meant that there was going to be good bird-watching walking around there. And it was beautiful, because my proposed campsite was underneath a gigantic tree, just a gorgeous tree. I was really happy with this campsite. I told the New Guineans, "Let's make camp here."

    And greatly to my surprise, they were frightened out of their minds, and they said, "We're not going to sleep here. We'll sleep out in the open, rather than sleep in tents here." I said, "What's the matter?" They said, "Look at that tree. It's dead." Okay, so I looked up, and yes, this gigantic tree was dead, but it was solid as iron. And I told them, "All right. So maybe it's dead, but it's going to stand there for another 70 years, it's so huge and solid." But no, they were just terrified, and they were not going to sleep under that dead tree. They actually did, rather than sleep under the dead tree, they went and slept 100 yards away.

    We stayed at that campsite for a week and naturally, nothing happened. I thought that the New Guineans were just being paranoid.

    And then, this was early in my career, as I got more experienced in New Guinea, I realized, every night I sleep out in New Guinea forest. At some time during the night, I hear the sound of a tree crashing down. And, you see tree falls in New Guinea forest, and I started to do the numbers. Suppose the chances of a dead tree crashing down on you the particular night that you sleep under it is only one in 1,000. But suppose you're a New Guinean, who's going to sleep every night in the forest, or spend 100 nights a year sleeping out in the forest. In the course of 10 years, you will have spent a thousand nights in the forest, and if you camp under dead trees, and each dead tree has a one in 1,000 chance of falling on you and killing you, you're not going to die the first night, but in the course of 10 years, the odds are that you are going to die from sleeping under dead trees. If you're going to do something repeatedly that each time has a very low chance of bringing disaster. But if you're going to do it repeatedly, it will eventually catch up with you.

    That incident affected me more than anything else, because I realized that in life, we encounter risks that each time the risk is very slight. But if you're going to do it repeatedly, it will catch up with you. And ever since then, I'm now very cautious about how I stand in the shower, how I walk on sidewalks, how I go up and down stairs, how I take left turns in my car.

    Most of my friends, they're just driven crazy by my caution. The friends who best understand my attitude are people who've encountered dangers themselves. A friend of mine who piloted small planes; a friend of mine who was a British bobby on the streets of London, and dealt with criminals, unarmed himself; and a friend of mine who's a river guide and has seen people drown. They understand very well why you should be ultra cautious about rare events that, each time it looks as if you're paranoid, but it will eventually catch up with you.
    Last edited by DemostiX; 01-02-2013 at 11:35.

  2. #2
    sargevining's Avatar
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    OTOH, ask Spaceweaseal about camping around a dead tree.

  3. #3
    dragon360's Avatar
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    Interesting write-up. I'd be interested in more.
    The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering. - St. Augustine

    Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.
    - Bob Marley

  4. #4
    darkbyrd's Avatar
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    I've really liked his previous books, I'll have to check this one out

  5. #5
    Senior Member CatSplat's Avatar
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    Interesting thought, but I'd like to talk about the statistics a bit. One in 1,000 seems like a very low number indeed, and a much higher chance of falling than I would have expected. Dead snags can stand for various lengths of time, but I've heard an average of 5-10 years for smaller trees. Keep in mind that the chance of falling increases over time - a tree that died recently is much less likely to topple than one that died fifteen years ago.

    Let's, for for the sake of discussion, make some very broad assumptions. I'll assume that the sample size of trees is great enough that the probability of your sleeping-tree falling is just time of presence vs time of tree remaining standing. If we take the average stand-time for a dead tree to be, say, seven years and the time spent beneath a tree in a single sleep is 8 hours, we can run some quick numbers.

    8 hours / (365 days * 7 years * 24 hours) = 0.000130, or 1 in 7,665

    But keep in mind that a tree that falls will likely not fall towards you! It can fall in any 360-degree direction, and you in your sleeping bag would only occupy maybe 10-15 degrees of that sweep, depending on how far away from the tree you are. So:

    0.000130 *(10 degrees / 360 degrees) = 0.0000036, or 1 in 275,940.

    A far cry from 1 in 1,000! I'm obviously just playing with numbers here and probably oversimplifying a bit, but it's some food for thought. If we used the author's number of 70 years for dead-tree standing time, we're looking at a chance of almost one in three million. The author also assumes that every single night will be spent under a dead tree, which seems a bit improbable unless you are seeking them out.
    Last edited by CatSplat; 01-02-2013 at 17:01.

  6. #6
    WV's Avatar
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    Limbs falling are probably a bigger danger than entire trees. There are more of them.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Risk's Avatar
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    Part of the reason I am Risk is because I was in charge of Risk Management for part of an Air Force Laboratory. If I remember rightly, I talk about risk management in my book as it applies to selection of ultralight hiking gear - especially what gear I feel comfortable about leaving at home and why.
    Rick (Risk)
    I cook. I sew. I walk. I lead. I hang. I write. I play. I refuse to be ashamed.
    http://www.imrisk.com
    Author of "A Wildly Successful 200-Mile Hike"
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    Postholer Trail Journal
    http://www.postholer.com/risk

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by sargevining View Post
    OTOH, ask Spaceweaseal about camping around a dead tree.
    I just realized how many stories around here involve Spaceweaseal

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