Challenging the flaw of averages
By Enda Keane
Have you ever heard the sorry tale of the statistician who drowned while crossing a river that was, on average, only three feet deep? A mathematical fact with enormous practical consequences.
This funny anecdote is applicable in many industries where the law of averages is used as a means for making key decisions.
As an example, a number of years ago I read an interesting article about how a U.S. air force lieutenant Gilbert Daniels challenged and overcame this flawed average figure.
In the 1940’s the air force was concerned with the high level of crashes which was attributed primarily to pilot error. At that time, the airplane cockpit was designed for the average pilot. Daniels however worked out that there was a huge flaw in the design because there were in fact no pilots that met these average dimensions. This cockpit design was responsible for many crashes. To their credit, the Air Force did take action and started to design cockpits to fit the intended pilots, leading to much better results.