Tiger Petting, Not That Dangerous

I was not designed to be forced.
—Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

I’m going to run for president, and I’ve found my platform. (Note that this post follows in the very very long tradition of guy complaining on a blog.)

New York bureaucrats (I prefer the more technical term, “human trash”) have passed a bill banning “hugging, patting, or otherwise touching tigers at fairs or circuses.” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who proposed the bill, explained that her goal was to increase safety.

Oh, and it’s going to kill off all of these great pictures:

…which one intrepid Tumblrizen has been collecting from the dating app Tinder. This, too, I understand was, if not an explicit goal of the legislature, an unexpected “benefit.” Of course, infringing on the tiger-patting liberties of the populace is a very dubious sort of benefit, but this doesn’t prevent our popularly elected nannies from relishing it all the same: The Washington Post reports that one of the assemblywoman’s staffers joked, “I feel bad now. We’re killing bros’ dreams and chances of being laid!”

Before I tear into this one, note that 1) everyone who voted for this bill should be, if not hanged, barred from public office forevermore and 2) the governor has not yet signed it into law.

Wherein we calculate tiger petting risks

The internet’s reaction has been to repeatedly make the same lame joke: “…you’ve eliminated yet another way for Mother Nature to eliminate dumbasses from the planet.”

But I would like to paint you a different picture, one where people learn to distinguish minuscule from real risks and to avoid scope insensitivity. Guys who manage to set themselves apart in a hypercompetitve dating market by posing with tigers are not bros or dumbasses, but creative geniuses. Or, at least, sorta clever.

Especially when they are in what is, to a first approximation, zero danger.

There are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers in the United States right now, a small subset of which are public zoo tigers. Many more are private property, owned by circuses, fairs, eccentric people, or small guy-with-a-backyard-full-of-cages level private zoos.

To make this as convincing as possible, we’ll assume the lower bound: there are a mere 5,000 tigers within the United States.

Now, how often does someone pet, pose with, or otherwise touch one of these beasts? Well, it’s hard to say for certain, but we can say something about it. It’s got to be higher than zero, ever — we have the photos after all. On the other hand, the average tiger is probably not being touched 1000 times per day, so that’s an upper bound.

As a conservative estimate, it seems reasonable (at least to me) that the average tiger might “hugged, patted, or otherwise touched” once a month. Sure, there are some unfriendly ones that no one touches, and others on the circus circuit who are very friendly, but the average tiger, at least once a month someone pats him on the head or whatever.

Round that down to 10, and we receive a lower bound of 50,000 tiger petting incidents in the United States per year.

Now, how often is someone killed in the United States by a tiger? Over the last 23 years, there have been a total of 15 tiger-related fatalities, if we generously count ligers as tigers — .7 tiger fatalities per year.

I’ll also note that during the last 23 years, there have been zero tiger-related fatalities in New York. In fact, I can only find 1 New York tiger fatality on record, and that was a 1985 death of a zookeeper, something this new law would not have prevented. It’s unclear what tiger attack epidemic, exactly, this new law is supposed to be preventing.

Indeed, only one person has ever been killed as a direct result of posing with a tiger, at least in the last 23 years — a 17 year old volunteer in Kansas.

So, if you believe that there are at least 50,000 tiger petting incidents in the United States per year, then, your risk of dying from petting a tiger is about 1 in 70,000. And remember this is a lower bound. (Although note that your chances of being somehow harmed by a tiger are higher, probably by about a factor of 5 to 10, but fatality rates are easier to compare.)

In which I compare tiger risks to other risks

But 1 in 70,000 is just a number. What is about as risky as tiger-related death as a result of petting?

The odds of dying from touching a tiger are about the same as:

Petting a tiger is less risky than:

So go forth, pet tigers, hold snakes, skydive. Don’t smoke or deal any crack — there’s a lot to live for: I know I for one am looking forward to Rage Against the Machine’s next single, “Fuck you, I’m petting that tiger.”

Fox News Versus MSNBC: Who’s More Opinionated?

Listening to the internet, you’d think that Fox News is some sort of liberal boogeyman — the lowest of the low that is modern journalism. From the top comment on the Reddit thread, “Republicans of reddit, what’s your opinion on Fox News?”

I’m a registered Republican, from the midwest, and a military officer. Obviously it’s the only thing I watch, right? Fox News is an embarrassment.

But what about, you know, facts and stuff?

From The Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence in Journalism:


Does race exist?

No one in her left brain could reject reductionism.
—Douglas Hofstadter

Dear friend,

I read your recent response on edge.org, arguing that the concept of race ought to be retired. Race, you argued, has no place in science, being a messy concept with no clear genetic basis. You said things like — I’m paraphrasing here –, “the apparent homogeneity of races is a product of the environmental factors, not genetic determinism and DNA.”

Friend, when I read your ideas, I let out a hoot of delight. I have long felt the same way. Only I didn’t realize it until now. You see, friend, not only does race not exist, I’m certain that humans don’t exist, either.

I know, I know. No humans? But hear me out. It sounds absurd, but surely not so much more absurd than your own ideas at first appear. I feel like some people are White and some are Asian, but I now understand that race — invented by immoral racists — is an imprecise, messy, non-scientific notion and ought to be abandoned.

You see, friend, the concept of human is messy, too. You can’t say, “all two-legged, two-armed things are human.” There are some humans with one arm or no arms and there are chimpanzees with two arms and two legs. Messy!

But maybe this is not enough. You might demand to compare our DNA and say, “Look, humans have different DNA than chimpanzees. What a scientific comparison!” After all, that’s why you rejected race. DNA didn’t support its existence.

Ah, but friend, you have not gone far enough. DNA is not a scientific concept, either. It’s messy. You can tell it apart by its higher level characteristics, it’s structure, sure, but race is the same — you tell races apart by characteristics like skin color or whether they own a Faith Hill CD. You see, with DNA, when you go down a level, down to subatomic particles, all DNA is the same. You can’t tell it apart, not scientifically.

The notion of human, then, along with the notion of DNA ought to be abandoned. The means of telling them apart — relying on subjective judgment regarding high level structure — are vague, messy, and not science. Just like you reduced race to DNA, you need to reduce humans to subatomic particles, and those are all the same. Humans, like race, can’t exist.

But that’s not all, friend. You see, I’ve been a little dishonest with you. Not only do humans not exist, neither do chairs, squash, love, or happiness and, well, anything that is made out of other things. All of these rely on unscientific categories to distinguish them, invented by confused humans, no doubt most of them racists. They’re all made out of subatomic particles and, as you know, subatomic particles are all the same.

In fact, friend, only subatomic particles and fundamental forces exist. The rest, well, as you said, it’s a “social construct.” Just as “racial skeptics see no racial patterns,” I see no patterns at all, only subatomic particles. I hope you see what violent agreement we are in. Just as “race today is best considered a belief system that ‘produces consistencies in perception and practice at a particular social and historical moment’,” chairs, squash, humans, and concepts generally are best considered a belief system that produces consistencies in perception and practice at a particular social and historical moment (invented by — like race and racists — immoral categorizers, no less!).

Polya Urn Model Dissolves The Gender War

Now listen, you queer, you stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.
—William Buckley1

I’m not sure whether the two sexes are about to stage World War III over gender issues or if I’m in some sort of gender bubble but, for whatever reason, I’ve been hearing about gender issues daily for the past six or so weeks and, as part of a gender, I have some thoughts on it. These thoughts revolve around the notion of boys clubs and general irritation at the idea that I’m somehow in the wrong for being a manly guy who likes to do manly things, and those manly things happen to be math and computers.

You see, friend, I’m part of a number of male-dominated communities, of boys clubs, and — to my perpetual dismay — I find myself surrounded by discussions where some naive progressive yells something like, “Hey, look at all these men here. It’s all men. Where are the women? Therefore, sexism.” And I’m thinking something like, “Hey, fuck you. I’m not a fucking sexist. Take your agenda elsewhere and let me read about category theory in peace.”

But then I had idea. What if boys clubs are like Polya’s urn? And, if you don’t know what Polya’s urn is, don’t worry, because I’m about to tell you. There’s this urn, right, a big fucking urn, and it’s got two balls in it, like one of those lottery contraptions, a blue one and a red one. Here’s the thing about this urn, though. When you draw a blue ball from it, you have to put two blue balls back in. When you draw a red ball, you put two red balls back in.

Now, the notable thing about this urn is that small changes in initial conditions lead to big changes in the long run. If your first draw is blue, it’s pretty likely that all the subsequent draws will be blue, too.

What if male-dominated sites like, let’s say Reddit, are like this? The Reddit founders were two men, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Given that men are more likely to have male friends, they’re like the balls in Polya’s urn. They’re in the urn, convincing a friend to sign up is like picking a ball out of the urn and throwing two more back in, and Reddit’s current male-dominance is the long-run outcome of this sort of process. Men invite men, therefore men and not sexism. QED.

Hey, look Ma! My model predicts boys clubs without positing sexism anywhere.

Or, you know, there’s the whole compelling narrative that men and women have different preferences, with men more likely to be interested in things, like computers, and women more interested in people. Oh, and hey, before you go screaming “But that’s sexist. Men and women are the same in every way,” here’s some empirical validation with massive effective sizes.

1. A Google search for both “quotes about men” and “quotes about women” return these pages. Both are filled with quotes about how great women are and what brutes men are.