November 30, 2008 1 Comment
In every place I’ve ever lived that had smoke alarms, I’ve caused the alarm to go off by cooking something in the oven. Every place.
Till a few years ago I used to get phone calls from Discover freaking out about “potential suspicious activity on my card and we just want to verify” anytime I charged something more than a couple hundred bucks, till it got to the point that I yelled at the lady in annoyance. All cars I’ve ever had with that irritating “Check Engine” light have had their oh so informative “Check Engine” light come on at some point or another, forcing me to take it in to the shop to get it “Checked” (no, there’s never been anything seriously wrong). And of course like everyone else my car alarm has gone off for no reason.
The problem with false alarms is not only that they’re irritating. It’s that by being irritating they actively do more harm than good, lulling you into ignoring them.
In statistics jargon these tests all have a ton of sensitivity but not nearly enough specificity.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this so let me try to make it relevant to current events. People are fond of blaming the financial crisis on this or that; you hear that there should have been more “regulation” (whatever that means), or better “risk management”. Why didn’t the people who were supposed to watch out for these things watch out? Why did all the regulations and risk controls and warning flags fail?
I have reason to believe that there was no lack of controls and warnings and regulations at all. Seems to me the financial world is regulated and risk-measured up the wazoo and that any entity within it must navigate a labyrinthe of interlocking regulations and employ giant teams of folks to measure and flag everything in sight, while business heads are flooded daily with risk measurements, warning flags, reams of reports filled with numbers, and endless red tape.
And maybe that’s the problem.
At one point I just took out the batteries of the smoke alarm near the kitchen. Of course, I survived, but a less sensitive/more specific smoke alarm would have been far preferable.