If you change a four-lane highway into a six-lane highway and back again, by how much do you increase its capacity?

Chris McManus

  • Reckoning with Risk: Learning to Live with Uncertainty by Gerd Gigerenzer
    Allen Lane, 310 pp, £14.99, July 2002, ISBN 0 7139 9512 2

In John Lanchester’s novel Mr Phillips, the hero, a newly redundant accountant, is taken hostage during a bank robbery. Lying face down on the ground, he passes the time rehearsing a conversation he’d had with his former colleagues about the statistics of the National Lottery. The chance of winning is about one in fourteen million, which is much lower than the risk of dying before the week’s lottery is drawn. The accountants wondered how close to the draw you would need to buy a ticket for the chance of winning to be greater than the risk of dying. The answer is about three and a half minutes.

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