Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fatality at the Underground

This afternoon, on the way back from the Science Museum, the underground route we would normally take (the Picadily line) was unexpectedly closed. There was just a handwritten message on a large whiteboard sign saying it was closed due to a customer "incident". One of the people I was traveling with remarked that that meant someone had been hit by a train. Sadly, it turned out he was correct. It was reported later on the BBC news. And just earlier today (before the accident) I had noticed a sign saying to be careful boarding and departing the underground cars. It said there were some 500+ injuries and 5 fatalities per year.

It got me to wondering at what level do we accept the negatives that go along with certain conveniences. For example, when any building project of a large magnitude is undertaken, it is pretty much known statistically that x number of people will be injured in the process and if the project is large enough, x number of people will be accidentally killed. So, is the person giving the go ahead for the project consciously accepting those deaths as part of the cost?

Or take the invention of the automobile as another example. I had once read a book that posed the question, (I'm paraphrasing here) "Given the number of deaths annually from automobile accidents (in the tens of thousands), if someone had originally presented the idea saying, 'Hey I have a great new invention that will drastically decrease how long it takes to travel. The only bad thing is it will kill about 40,000 people in the US each year.' Would people have embraced it as a good idea?" I dunno the answer. It's something to think about.

I suppose I got to thinking about this more since I started reading a book called Freakonomics on the flight over here. It's an interesting read and takes some very unconventional looks at cause and effect in society.