UPDATE 1PM: let's be fair to our beleagured security officials (see end of post) The NYT correctly mocks the new US government travel alert:
Where is the threat? Europe. What is the target? Subways, railways, aircraft, ships or any “tourist infrastructure.”
The government's cluelessness is even more breathtaking once we include two simple truths about risk:
(1) a warning covering an extremely broad area implies the risk in any one location is very low.
(2) risk must always be judged relatively, not absolutely. How does the risk of travel in Europe compare to the risk of staying at home? At home, you are likely at greater risk from a much more dangerous group than Al Qaeda: your fellow drivers every time you take the road. In Europe, you won't be driving as much as you traipse through picturesque Euro-sites.
Oh, wait, you will be driving more than usual because the government also tells you that -- if you are foolish enough to brave Europe -- you should avoid the safest forms of transportation: subways, railways, aircraft. It's obvious you should minimize risk by using non-seat-belt-equipped tiny taxis made out of aluminum and cardboard piloted by speeding cabdrivers.
What point is Professor Aid Watch making with this post today? Perhaps that we should worry about any government this stupid about elementary probability theory when it takes on any other areas that require risk management such as just about everything. Maybe some tax money should be spent on economists, statisticians, and mathematicians giving probability courses to government officials?
UPDATE: let's give our security officials a break and exempt them from considering other risks of everyday life, so the Europe alert should be compared only to security at home -- where the threat level is also on high alert (either YELLOW: SIGNIFICANT RISK OF TERRORIST ATTACK or for airline flights it is ORANGE: HIGH RISK OF TERRORIST ATTACK.)
Could our government kindly clarify WHICH it is recommending: that we should be attacked at home or in Europe?