Character POVs and Statistics

First, a mea culpa. I have a fair amount of statistics under my belt, and one of the first things they teach you is that regular people don’t do statistics. Not without a lot of time to think it through.

Take, for example, the differences between statistical risk and hazard. IMHO that was illustrated best by some volcanologists dealing with the Air Force when Mt. Pinatubo – very possibly prone to a pyroclastic flow – was threatening to erupt. “There’s a 99% chance that everyone will be fine. There’s a 1% chance that everyone will be 100% dead.”

1% pyroclastic explosion is the risk. 100% dead – is the hazard.

So since I know statistics, and know most people don’t automatically grasp them right off… Well. Here’s some numbers. I’ll throw them at anyone reading, just like they’d be coming at an SG team member in a crisis.

0.3 seconds. 300 homicides. 4% death rate.

Now, some context.

0.3 seconds: the average time in American English between one person ending their statement, and another person responding. So that’s about how much time you have to think about what someone’s finished saying and pick what you mean to say.

Not much time. Which is why most people are composing what they mean to say while the other person’s still talking. Meaning they often lose the end of what someone else is saying. On top of that, the brain uses sloppy thinking to keep up. In short, shortcuts.

300 homicides: about the death rate in NYC.

This is a shortcut.

Janet isn’t using this shortcut, because she’s been dealing with player death rates for a year now. She’s had months to grasp how many deaths are coming out of a relatively small population of noncombat personnel.

Which brings us to the third number: 4% death rate. In combat numbers, 4% fatalities is… not good. But it is a sustainable loss rate. Especially when you’re trying to save a whole planet.

For a civilian population – no. It’s not acceptable. But civilian is not Jack’s baseline. When someone’s taking in a lot of info in a hurry, they fall back on what they already know. It’s human nature.

I like heroes to be human.

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27 thoughts on “Character POVs and Statistics

  1. Yeah, my example would have been about me wandering off into the weeds of thermodynamics, and how most people aren’t doing that when they process energy policy soundbites. And my statistics is weak enough that if I ever understood the difference between risk and hazard, I forgot. Though maybe that is due to a different area of focus.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yeah, we had a whole section on that in one of my law classes. The “composing while the other is speaking” bit. It really messes with your ability to retain info. Which is why trials are essentially scripted! You rehearse (not that it’s called that, but it’s what you do) the testimony of your own witnesses so you _know_ what they’re saying and you plot out what the other side is likely to do based on what their claims and defenses are. Ideally, courtroom hijinks do not happen, because that means that the lawyers don’t know the answers to their questions _before_ asking. And you should never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. And this is one of the big reasons I prefer written communication (books, forums, etc.) over spoken communication. It is really, really difficult for me to think of anything while someone (another person or myself) is talking. Combine that with mostly remembering what information is communicated instead of how it was communicated and… let’s just say I don’t do “normal” conversation well. There isn’t enough time to think in it.

    I much prefer it when I can go over what was “said” multiple times or the other person isn’t expecting me to respond right after they’re done. There’s a reason my favorite learning method has been reading and/or doing something…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Amen. The only time I ever use my phone as a phone and not as a convenient IM device is when I am driving or when I am calling a business or something (which is usually put off as long as possible. Phone calls are scary.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Heroes should always be human, anything else has you wondering if you somehow picked up a “How to Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu” guide by mistake. 🙂 Even when heroes aren’t ‘human’ human, you like them to be realistic and not perfect, so I wish you the best of luck on your writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It sounds here like the problem is less that they are failing at statistics… but rather that they’re using incompatible contexts. Which is one of the most common communication fails, really.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course even if there is a statistical correlation, it doesn’t always mean what you think it does. I’ve been told there is a direct correlation between the corn growth rates in Iowa and the crime rates in Chicago. This makes absolutely no sense, until you realize that the criminals don’t like cold weather either.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I think my problem was that Jack seemed to equate the death rate in NYC, one of USA’s biggest cities, with 300 murders in a population of a little less than 10,000. I wouldn’t have thought it took a great grasp of statistics to notice the difference – it’s almost exaggeratedly unequal.
    I only know the SGC characters from fanfic, so I’m not sure if this is just Jack’s standard MO when pulling explanations out of his colleagues, or a sign that Jack really isn’t processing things well, or what. It just seemed weird.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll give you a few quotes, you can judge for yourself.

      Daniel: “Hathor. The goddess of fertility, inebriety, and music.”
      Jack: “Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll?”

      [Jack tossed a Kleenex box through the Stargate to Abydos as a message to Daniel]
      Major Samuels: What if the aliens get it?
      Jack: Well, they could be blowing their noses right now.

      Jack: This where you’re keepin’ the little green men?
      Area 51 officer: There are no alien life forms at Area 51.
      Jack: [to Teal’c] Present company excluded, of course.

      Jack: Look, I know I should know this by now. I swear it’ll be the last time I ask. These wormholes we go through, they’re not always there, right?
      Sam: No, sir. They can only form between two open gates.
      Jack: What’s with the worm part? The worm thing. I-I don’t get that.
      Sam: That’s just a metaphor.
      Jack: Right. I knew that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a brand of memorization that finds a snarky/humorous recap more helpful as a memory hook. People who come up with such things publicly are very helpful to other students (although sometimes annoying), because that sort of memory hook comes back for years. Some teachers deliberately recap their own lecture points in this way (but the practice is dying out, because of the easily offended).

        Jack seems to do this a lot during briefings. He might have been the class clown as a kid, though, and he does seem to joke more when upset or nervous. He also practices dark humor, as well as minimalization snark, making the scary threats feel a little more shootable.

        In a lot of ways, though, he is tending to poke his nose where it doesn’t belong. He is very senior, and Janet and the medical folks did ask for investigation help and suggestions, but the whole schmole of kids is Janet’s jurisdiction. I admit that Jack is not openly portrayed in the series as a big fan of letting subordinates do their thing, but we know that in fact he is not micromanaging the science or medical people most of the time. (Which would make sense for him. Micromanaging the armory people would be more his temptation, and yet he does not do that.)

        So if anything is an indication that stuff is wrong with Jack or that the pacing is weird for readers, it is that he is not just surveying stuff, asking questions and snarking, and then moving on quickly to the next thing, which is his usual investigative style. He keeps getting drawn into longer conversations with a lot of pushing, which is what he usually does when he has already figured out what things feel hinky and is zeroing in, by interrogation. That is why he feels “mean,” and that is why he is not getting answers.

        Given how many SAO people may feel guilt about killing, or worry about prosecution and offending/having obligations to the families of the dead (even though their actions were self defense or justified), the Hinkydar is probably going off a lot. This might be throwing Jack off. When you have a bunch of people acting defiant and guilty, and they really do have guilt and shame poking out all over for good reason… Not all the same reasons…. Probably there would be a lot of folks investigating that in a less kind way than Jack.

        It is a war crimes situation, really, with a bunch of civilian partisan fighters. Atrocities done to all, by Kayaba; atrocities done by some, with complicity by others; everyone feeling shamed that they did not survive better; a lot of people trying not to feel ashamed, and thus seeming defiant or furtive. There is going to be a strong cultural tendency to save face by pretending nothing happened, but also there are plenty of SAO people feeling cultural obligations to get justice or to pay back debts of help or revenge.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. But wait, there’s more!

        Legally and morally modern Japanese society does not have the tools for coping with that irregular warfare situation.

        Player society has some ad hoc tools that somewhat worked, but player society is no longer an island, and may soon no longer be.

        American civil society and civil laws don’t exactly contain the tools either. (Check out Branca listing the five elements of self defense, and ask yourself about the warehouse.)

        The American military and the UCMJ may have the tools. However, Kirito currently isn’t going to listen if Jack tells him he did the right thing. Furthermore, while the UCMJ does seem to at least partly cover the civilians who go through the gate to fight, it apparently does not cover the players. (Okay, you could make some sort of bullshit argument about the quests being based on SGC missions, and thereby some of the players somehow signed up to fight for the SGC before the game ended, but you’d need both those players, the SGC, and a bunch of judges and lawyers to cooperate. It’d be doable if those players on their own sign up to fight for the SGC without coercion, especially if they justify it based on gamelore and quests.)

        As suburbanbanshee says, this is a genuinely unpleasant and challenging situation. Good work.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Also, this another strike for Kayaba’s language meddling. The players speak American English, perhaps with a slight military or rogue intel flavor.

        Their reactions are not generic American.

        America may have subcultures so alien to lethal violence that they would have similar problems processing things, but the players are not giving off the cues of those subcultures.

        Add in the alien Japanese stuff, and no wonder Jack is pushing the stressed people to anger.

        Liked by 2 people

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