Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
‘…we have nothing to fear but fear itself.’

Franklin D. Roosevelt; Inaugural Address 1933

There is a story about a king of old, who was on a royal tour of his lands. Whilst riding with his entourage through some remote village, his horse threw a shoe. He approached the local blacksmith, who also served as the farrier to the village, and asked if his steed could be reshod. “Of course, Your Majesty”, said the blacksmith.
“What will it cost me?” asked the king, who was a Good King, and didn’t expect any largesse from his subjects. The blacksmith thought a while and said, “We’ll need to replace all four shoes; the nails are worn. So: a pound per nail, Your Majesty. I’ll throw in the four shoes and hoof alignment for free.”

The king calculated mentally, and also being a reasonably Clever King, came up with the cost. “Good Heavens, man! Four shoes at eight nails a shoe. That’s thirty two pounds! Highway robbery!”
The blacksmith shrugged; he knew that the nearest alternative for the king was many miles yonder, over the hills and far away. But he was willing to strike a deal. He knew what happened to Highway Robbers, too; it wasn’t pleasant.
“If Your Majesty thinks that is too much, here’s an alternative. I’ll charge one penny for the first nail, tuppence for the second nail and fourpence for the third. We can continue in this fashion until all nails are in. But here’s where you will score, Sire: I’ll only charge you for the last nail.”
“You’ll start at one penny, double the cost per nail, but only charge for the last nail?”

“Aye, Sire. That’s it in a nutshell.”
“You are a good man!” said the king, sensing a bargain. His mathematical skills ended with simple multiplication. “Carry on with all haste!”
Which the blacksmith did, and when the king’s horse was freshly shod and ready to continue, the blacksmith excused himself and retired into his shop to make some calculations. He emerged some time later back into the sunlight and, presenting the king with a neatly scripted invoice, said: “That’ll be £17,850,000. I’ve rounded down. Or Your Majesty can stick with my original quotation if preferred.”

Which all has to do with viruses, or specifically one virus – Covid-19 – which has the world in a state of panic at present. The reason for the panic has similar roots to the fable quoted above: if each infected person passes on the virus to two more people, within a matter of days the entire world will be bedridden, at best, with those of us over sixty potentially facing a somewhat more permanent resolution. If there are any UFO’s around, those infected aliens heading back to their distant planets may cause an even greater disaster: within a few billion years or so the entire universe will be beset, and Coronavirus will have won. The Coronaverse. And that is why there is panic: the maths points to absolute chaos, catastrophe and unshackled spreading of the disease. Panic stations ensue! Shops are emptied, shutters are put up, doors slammed. Companies are bankrupted, the economy nosedives. It’s the Black Death all over again, only this time there are no borders: nobody is safe.

Hang on. Like that canny blacksmith of yore, there is an alternative. It’s called rational thinking, and it is what we humans have evolved (in theory) to apply to any situation that threatens to spiral out of control. Viruses, unlike our clever blacksmith, don’t really understand exponential change; they don’t control the rate of expansion – it’s us humans who do. To give an example, graphs recently published show different scenarios: best case scenario sees 680 people in South Africa infected by the end of March. Worst case scenario – the blacksmith’s method – makes the figure 12 800 000. (I, too, have rounded down.) The good news is that worldwide figures based on actuality: infections, rate of spread and outcomes – are pointing firmly towards the former number, and this is why we don’t need to panic. By all means, take adequate precautions; our Government has applied very sensible measures and guidelines, and there is every reason to believe that the spread can be contained and ultimately controlled. Vaccines will be developed and the threat will be contained.
The epigraph quoted at the start of this essay bears enlarging on. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, in his inaugural address, that ‘…we have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ He went on to say that fear ‘…paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’ This is exactly why we need to take stock of the current situation, and meet the threat with equanimity. Look after our own interests and the interests of those around us – known and unknown – without selfishness,

As the old Persian adage wisely put it: This, too, will pass.

Waterfront Charters are operating at full speed. We, and the V&A Waterfront, have taken all necessary precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and we also know that ocean cruises are probably one of the finest panaceas known to man for virtually any ill. To quote our recent FaceBook comment: Nothing beats fresh ocean air for a healthy outlook on life. Deep breaths of pure Atlantic air can put all thoughts of nasty bugs and viruses to rest: surrounded by wide-open space and clean, clean air; with Nature’s finest views and the lulling sounds of swells lapping against the hulls of your luxury boat, you can feel restored, rejuvenated and reassured.

Take a look at our cruise schedule and treat yourselves to a dose of ozone-tinged air. And if you have an event planned (for under a hundred people!), chartering a luxury boat will be the perfect venue for all the reasons quoted above.
Be well!