Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Frogs, Drowning, and Risky Behavior

Here is one of my favorite jokes — one that demonstrates how one can be presented with the facts in a logical manner and still reach the absolute wrong conclusion.

A young science student decided to experiment on a live frog. He placed the frog on an observation table and said, “Jump, frog! Jump!” The frog jumped eight feet.

Then the student cut off one of the frog’s legs and said, “Jump, frog! Jump!” This time, the frog jumped six feet.

He cut off another leg and said, “Jump, frog! Jump!” The frog jumped three feet. He cut off one more leg and said, “Jump, frog! Jump!” This time, the one-legged frog could hop only a few inches.

Finally the student cut off the last of the frog’s legs and said, “Jump, frog! Jump!” The frog did nothing; he just stared blankly at the student. “Jump, frog! Jump!” Once again, nothing. The frog didn’t move.

So the student wrote in his notebook: “When all the legs of a frog are cut off, the frog becomes deaf.”

Another example of possibly coming to the wrong conclusion involves the recent news item. It reported that 80% of all drowning victims are male. If you’re not careful, it may be tempting to conclude that women are better swimmers than men.

But I believe it has more to do with the way a man’s mind is wired than anything else. Men are inherent risk-takers. Given a set of possible actions, a typical woman will generally choose a safer alternative than a typical man. Women want stability and security; men want challenge and excitement.

So men are more likely to drown simply because they are more likely to put themselves in a position where drowning is a possibility. It has nothing to with their physical abilities and everything to do with the choices they make.

Since risk and reward are so highly correlated, that explains why men seem to be at the polar extremes of almost every category. It explains why men dominate boardrooms and lists of the wealthiest people. It also explains why prisons and homeless shelters are filled almost exclusively with men. Men choose risky behavior and are more likely to accept the rewards and suffer the consequences for their actions.

See? If you stick around me, you’ll be sure that you’ll always come to the correct conclusion.

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