Tuesday 27 October 2015

The red meat panic

Once again, I'm being bombarded by headlines saying that "xxx causes cancer". The thing is, xxx changes all the time. Currently, xxx is processed meat.

Humans are notoriously bad at assessing small risks. I like to compare everything to the risk of driving.

I (and pretty much everyone else) am better than average at driving, but let's assume that I'm average (actually, I know I'm better because the last time I had an accident, which was several years ago, was when a cow jumped from the side of the road on to the car - the cow wasn't badly hurt). UK statistics for people killed or seriously injured are 1713 per year, for 304 billion vehicle miles, of which 53% are car occupants. So when I go out caching, I drive to my start point (in a car), and the day's travel might be 100 miles. And suppose I do this 100 times per year, then my chance of being killed or seriously injured, is 0.003% per year. And I'm totally willing to accept that risk, so let's use that as a standard.

Now let's look at the other end of the risk spectrum - smoking. If I were to smoke 5 per day, I'd have a 25% chance of getting lung cancer at some point in my life. Taking 50 years as a time period, that's 0.5% chance per year. I can see why so many people are willing to ignore such a small chance, but I'm not, and I don't smoke. Actually, the reason I don't smoke isn't to do with that, it's more to do with a place I worked when I was 16, which was a sedentary job, and the smokers at the same job sounded like they were periodically coughing their lungs out.

Smoking causes a million cancer deaths per year; red meat 34,000. So if I eat red meat for a year, that's a 0.017% chance of cancer. Which means that red meat is five times as risky as my driving. That, I think, is acceptable to me.

And that's why I shall continue to eat bacon sandwiches, and drive to my cache outings.

1 comment:

  1. Alan, spotted your blog the other day while Googling for something and have enjoyed reading how you amuse yourself when telephone scammers call. But, really, just wanted to say hello - Bob Crabtree (founding editor of Computer Video magazine).