The other day I had a doctor’s appointment. During the appointment, we got to talking about the relationship between prescription drug ads and Toyotas—more specifically, about the fears related to prescription drug side effects and unintended acceleration. I thought I would share some of these thoughts over lunch.
Prescription drug companies advertise their patented products heavily. During these ads, they mention all the horrific side effects of their products, but most people ignore them because, (a) the ads are designed to emphasize the good, not the bad, and (b) for the most part, these side effects are extremely rare. But still, we worry about those extremely rare side effects: in fact, some of us won’t take particular medicine out of fear for the side effects.
Similarly, the instance of unintended acceleration in Toyotas is very rare. The OC register reports that there is a new tally of the death toll: 56 people have died due to the problem. Put on your critical thinking caps, and think. Fifty six. Toyota issued over 10 million safety recalls over this: 56 problems. Whipping out my calculator, that’s .00056% — translation, extremely rare. About as rare, if not rarer, than prescription drug side effects. Yet, people are abandoning the brand over it, declaring Toyotas as unsafe.
Perhaps irrational fears have taken over our society? More worrisome, however, is that the lack of critical thinking (and math and statistics understanding) will cause people to elevate the irrational fears over the more probable, rational ones.