Coffee House

An improvement on Lord Finkelstein’s Syria analogy

28 August 2013

11:37 AM

28 August 2013

11:37 AM

As Freddy Gray points out, Danny Finkelstein has wheeled out a very odd argument in the Times today (£), in favour of intervention in Syria. We are all subject to ‘omission bias’ says Finkelstein, and uses an example from Scorecasting, a sports psychology book — of the sort most bought by men who can’t catch.

Here’s the example: ‘Lets say there’s a disease that kills ten in every 10,000 kids, and a vaccine that protects agains the disease, but kills five in every 10,000. Would you let the doctor inoculate your kid?’ asks Finkelstein. The fact that most people say no, is an example of how prone to ‘Omission Bias’ we are. We’d rather not act if there’s a risk, even if it would be rational. So…says Fink, we should wise up and let Dr David Cameron and his friend Dr B. Obama get on with ‘vaccinating’ Syria.


But hang about — before you give Dr C the go ahead, let’s just improve Finkelstein’s analogy with some more relevant info. What if the doc administering the vaccine and proclaiming its virtues had never been medically trained? What if every properly trained medic he had asked for advice had been against the vaccination?

What if we knew the doc had pulled the ‘five saved in every 10,000’ statistic out of his ass? And what if neighbouring hospitals were full to bursting with patients dying in their hundreds of thousands from awful diseases caused by other ‘vaccinations’ given by the same ‘doctor’ and his friends? What would a responsible, logical parent then decide, do you think, Lord Finkelstein?

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  • Ron Todd

    Why is it the type of weapon rather than the number of people killed and the reason for killing them that provokes a red line.

    Conventional artillery shells would kill just as many. In Rwanda and the Congo far greater numbers including women and children were killed by AK47s and machetes.
    No red line there for the west.

    How many Christians need to be killed in Syria (or in Egypt) before that is a red line for Obama. How many christian children need to be burnt to death in Nigeria befor Obama complains?

  • Radford_NG

    But this is what does happen,although the figures will be different.If measles runs rampant there will be `x+`deaths.With mass vaccination this will end;but there will still be `(-)x`deaths.These will be the result of the vaccine.This is a matter of `public health`.The MMR vaccine expands on this.

  • alabenn

    This charade is an exercise in covering for a witless idiot, an idiot that happens to be the US President, this man opens his mouth and spouts red lines about chemical weapons, did he not think that Assad`s enemies would not try to make it look like he crossed it.

    The paragraph could also go like so, Obama mentioned the red line so his Islamist cronies could try to make it look like Assad crossed the red line.

    Or Assad saw a red line by Obama and decided to commit suicide by crossing it.

    Out of the three the first looks most likely, but no matter Cameron will stamp his foot and shout “let me help please let me help” let me be in your gang.

    • telemachus

      Oh why
      Do we always want to be in the US Presidents gang
      Harold Wilson resisted Vietnam
      It is time the British Prime Ministers emulated the steel of Wilson

      • Bryan Dunleavy

        I agree. One of Wilson’s major achievements was not to allow himself to be inveigled into Johnson’s war

        • Makroon

          John F. Kennedy’s war actually.

  • Samuel Johnson

    Inject a potentially fatal substance into the body of a child because of a miniscule chance it might catch a disease? If that’s Finkelstein’s logic, I’m glad I’m not his kid. The five dead kids are just so much detritus I suppose, like the people of Syria when Finkelstein and his pals finish their posturing.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, but that is indicative of how our commentators assess risk! Much better to apply good principles – feed your child healthy food, keep your house clean, given them clean water to drink, let them acquire good natural immunity, try and limit the damage from industrial chemicals in the environment. Translate that to Syria and all along we should have been supporting real democrats in the country and generally seeking to meet the threat of Sharia and a revived Caliphate. We’ve been doing neither.

    • Boo80

      You have just proved Finkelsteins point. You have chosen a “Miniscule chance it might catch the disease” (10 in 10000 chance of catch and die) over a “potentially fatal substance” (5 in 10000 chance of adverse reaction and die).

      Remind me again is 10 bigger than 5?

      • Daniel Maris

        You have just proved how people who think they understand statistics don’t.

        When it comes to vaccinating MY child the statistics that matter are those that apply to MY child. My child is healthy, has a strong immune system, lives in a clean and hygienic house and is well cared for…if there are any signs of serious ill health such as a very high fever I will take him straight to A&E. The chances of HIM dying from something like measles is close to zero, not 10. You haven’t factored in that most of the children who die in a measles epidemic in a prosperous society will be those with compromised immune systems, or with neglectful parents who fail to notice symptoms, or those living in poverty.

        • Boo80

          Except this is a thought experiment.

          When it comes to Vacinating MY child the chances of complications are also lower because they are healthy, strong and I will take them to A and E at the first sign of trouble. So while the chance of My child dying is only 2 in 10,000, that chance of complications is also only 1in 10,10000. And 2 is still greater than 1.

          Ofcause I don’t have any children so the chances of him getting it are zip, and vacination of an imaginary child is tricky.

          • Daniel Maris

            You then have to factor in the reluctance of the health authorities to assign ANY deaths or complications to vaccines…so the figures you are looking at are probably completely bogus.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    What if the vaccines were produced by multi-national corporations, which made it practice to give financially to any politicians, foreign or domestic, who support the distribution of their vaccines?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    There is no need for stupid analogies, nor to waste time in debating them. We have a real situation. Much remains unknown or unsure. There is no justification for bombing in the name of peace. Not by us, not by the US.

    • Augustus

      ” Much remains unknown or unsure.”

      I agree. Biological warfare weapons experts using genetic engineering, can presumably now produce a weapon that is unique and can only be protected against with a unique vaccine. Assad, with the help of former Soviet Union scientists, could easily have such a weapon. And even if he hasn’t, it’s well known that the revolution in biotechnology has produced new agents that are even more toxic and resilient than the lethal agents that have been a threat for some time, and that relatively minor molecular adjustments produce more toxic, fast acting, and stable biological agents.

  • Jez

    Is this a joke for you people?

    • Mr Grumpy

      Anything but. More than can be said for some of the arguments we’re hearing from the government camp, though.

      • Wessex Man

        5 Coptic Christian Churches burnt out last night by the Muslim Brotherhood, Christians and Kurds bering forced out of their homes and beaten in Syria. It’s no joke Jez, just the usual blood letting and we should stay away, we Crusader Nations, that they hate even when we provide aid!

        • Daniel Maris

          We should give humanitarian aid with leaflets in Arabic or other local languages explaining that bloodshed of this sort will only stop when you adopt civilised democratic norms and are tolerant of other sects.

          • chan chan

            That’s quite funny…you ARE joking, I sincerely hope? What makes you think muslims are remotely interested in changing their behaviour, when they have their own system of social, economic, and political governance?

            • Daniel Maris

              Er- countless examples from around the globe where people have changed their behaviour…

              • Wessex Man

                er, no he’s not chan chan, he actually believes the rubbish he spouts, I bet none of his family are in the Forces!

  • Austin Barry

    What if you injected a previously healthy body with a metastasizing malignity masquerading as a benign entity? How long before it triumphs?

    • telemachus

      Good analogy
      Vaccinate Syria with Cruise Missiles and trigger an unopposed assault by Al Qaeda throughout the country letting Jihadist forces take the country and then act as a base far more lethal than Afghanistan to attack the West

      • Austin Barry

        My analogy referred to a rather more domestic issue.

        • Keith D

          Amazingly the malignancy doesn’t hide its intentions.Its the Drs with the syringe pretending its a good thing.Sadly,some of the patients still refuse a second opinion.A brain transplant would be appropriate for them.

    • telemachus

      And of course what of Israel?
      Will Tel Aviv survive the retaliation?
      Will Israel’s counter attack bring in Iran?
      Will the counter attack against Iran bring in Russia?

  • the viceroy’s gin

    What if the vaccinating physician worked out of Mid-Staffs, where they vaccinate with a rusty crocheting hook, even though Call Me Dave ringfenced the NHS and thinks all’s well?

  • Leo McKinstry

    Excellent, absolutely right. When it comes to medical conditions, Hague and Cameron seem to be suffering from some form of psychosis combined with neurotic delusions.

  • William Reid Boyd

    Would this be your genes or your governess at work here, Mary?

  • HookesLaw

    ‘The sort of book bought by men who can’t catch’ ??
    Never mind omission – thats just plain bias from Wakefield.

    The point is that doing ‘nothing’ has a consequence in itself. why should dictators be allowed to act in the knowledge of being free from consequence?
    The whole point of the UN is to prevent citizens being gassed by their own government.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Then let the UN act.

    • Pootles

      ‘The whole point of the UN is to prevent citizens being gassed by their own government’ – but not by rebels ? Or have their hearts eaten by rebels ? Or be driven out, culturaly ‘cleansed’ by (Islamic freak) rebels, if they happen to be Christians? Can we really take sides here when one lot are as dreadful as the other? Or, perhaps worse, when, if the rebels win, we will see all the horrors of religious-ideological persecution, and the further extension of jihad to other countries

    • alabenn

      The whole point of the UN has degenerated into a corrupt cesspit of criminally insane and pathetic political leaders who use is as a cover for their own shortcomings.
      It should be shut down.

    • Makroon

      Let’s put it in terms you might understand –
      The UK economy is finally, painfully, beginning to recover, and the Tory’s polling gradually improving.
      Higher oil prices, will damage economic recovery.
      There is a massive and very obvious bear-trap, just in front of Cameron.
      The BBC and Labour are just itching for Cameron to fall in.
      The minute he does, the Cameron-war-monger cacophony will start at full volume. Labour are already demanding to see the legal opinion on a missile strike.
      They see this as exactly equivalent to Blair’s folly.
      Those floating voters will be alienated, and Cameron will have handed us over to the tender mercies of Mili-Balls, on a fatuous whim.
      So shut up with your sanctimonious bleating.
      This government was elected to restore the economy, NOT to think up yet more nanny state interventions and certainly NOT to start more overseas adventures.

    • Colonel Mustard

      “…why should dictators be allowed to act in the knowledge of being free from consequence?”

      Well that blithering idiot in No.10 seems to get away with it. The consequences of his foolish prating increasingly affects us more often than him.

  • arnoldo87

    Is this supposed to be a considered response to Finkelstein’s article?
    Mary – I suggest you try to get into the Football League before you tackle a Premier League giant.