Dance with Chance.

I’m currently reading a book with the above title, as I’m profoundly interested in trying to figure out the interplay of luck/chance and the amount of control we do really have in life. It’s not much I think.

While reading it I came across an interesting statistic, which appears very timely seeing the politicians are interested in factors like prediction and control at present.

Japan has the highest rate of cigarette consumption in the Western world (big countries). In fact the place just billows so much cigarette smoke that one day the IPCC may well suggest an ETS of Japanese smoking obsession. ☺

Japan has also close to the highest if not the highest big western country longevity rates in the world too.

Statisticians find it awfully hard to find an answer to this glaring anomaly. Of course the possible answer could be diet related. However if that’s the case then smoking may not necessarily be the leading cause of death in the West that we’re often told it is. I’m just throwing this up, as I don’t really know and it is in no way a suggestion that anyone should take up the habit. This is particularly so since big stats doesn’t necessarily lead to individual fortune

Japan’s longevity and very high per capita smoking offers an interesting insight that lots of things are really non-linear. This is possibly food for thought as a large number of politicians try to peddle a huge government redistribution money grab under the pretext of saving the planet.

Things are usually not so simple.

25 thoughts on “Dance with Chance.

  1. I think smoking is still a big factor in health. Let’s have a look at the Life Expectancies of Australia vs Japan:
    Male: 79.25 years
    Female: 84.14 years

    Male: 77.96 years
    Female: 84.7 years

    While the average life expectancy in Japan is marginally higher it is lower for men. Smoking is also much more prevalent amongst men in Japan than women (this is experience, not data based). Much more. In Australia the genders are more equally likely to smoke.

    That seems to explain the gap between the genders being much larger in Japan. The overall higher life expectancy in Japan is probably dietary, but I think smoking is still a factor.

    Looking at data for the USA:
    Male: 75.20 years
    Female: 81.00 years

    The gap also appears (marginally) smaller than that in Japan. So I don’t know if that’s significant or not. Just throwing some ideas out there.

    Regardless of the health costs of smoking, however, smokers stink. Just putting it out there.

  2. Shem:

    Considering the health risks, japan’s lifespan is pretty surprising, considering how many people smoke.

    It should be a lot lot lower and it’s not. Basically it’s comparable to ours and we’re close to the top of the tree I believe. The difference between the males in Japan and Australia aren’t hugely significant and male/female spread isn’t also hugely different either.

  3. If we say that a 7 year gap isn’t significant compared to a 5 year gap then why is an 84 year life expectancy significant compared to an 81 year life expectancy?

  4. I’ve often pondered the relationship between the decline in smoking and the rise in obesity. The theory being that smoking is an appetite suppressant. Also that smoking and eating are both time filling habits that occupy the hands and give a chemical kick so perhaps smokers substitute one for the other when they quit.

    My preferred metaphor for the amount of control we have in life comes from a Taoist story. The story is that traditional western man thinks of himself as a river boat captain able to set a course anywhere on the river and plough through the currents. As such the western man expends a lot of energy paddling against the stream. The Taoists sees himself as drifting on a small raft pulled by the many currents and eddies of life. However the Taoist knows that with a well placed pole at an opportune moment he can shift himself from one current to another and in so doing change his destiny. The Taoist goes with the flow and conserves his energy but is ever ready with his pole.

  5. Shem:

    Look I’m pretty freaking amazed the Japanese are near the top when you consider the negative which to me appears not to be as hugely significant as we’re made to believe.

    The real point I’m making is that we should be very wary of attributing linear relationships and AGW comes immediately to mind. That’s all.

  6. All I’m saying is that men in Japan don’t have all that high a life expectancy. And men in Japan are the ones with the huge smoking culture. So the linear relationship still has some merit.

    No linear relationship tells the whole picture, though. And on AGW it’s extremely naive to think that it does. But I think it is just as naive to think that the relationship tells us nothing.

    Same as smoking and health. There’s more to it than “smoking= bad health”, but that state is true, too.

  7. here’s more to it than “smoking= bad health”, but that state is true, too.

    I agree. But there’s also more.

  8. Statement*

    And yes. Glad we agree. I just thought it’d be interesting to point out that the smoking culture in Japan is only really strong among males. Yes, females smoke there. But the linear relationship you’re trying to show as incomplete is actually slightly more robust (imo) than your original post indicates.

    Still not perfect though. No simplification is.

  9. I think we’re mostly in control of our lives. I mean there’s the chance you’ll suddenly get a disease or hit by an asteroid, but it’s pretty unlikely. However I also think the choices we make are up to chance, so I guess that’s an interesting interplay.

  10. JC,
    1) It may be that some of the effects of smoking are non-additive with diet — So if you have a really good diet (and the Japanese pretty much have the best in the world), you won’t die of heart disease as much if you smoke compared to if you have Western style diet. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, just less bad.
    2) The Japanese may simply have better genetics than many groups in terms of longetivity (there are certainly genetic factors in life expectancies even factoring out diet and so on), and so perhaps if they stopped smoking, they’d live even longer.
    3) Apart from having a good diet, the Japanese don’t eat too much — their rates of obesity are tiny compared to places like Aus. This is probably even more important than what you eat.
    4) If you look at people of comparable thinness and richness that also have fairly similar genetics in HK, you’ll find they live even longer than Japan — in this respect, the HK diet is slightly worse ( but tastier :)) but hardly anyone smokes, so obviously the trade-off wins versus Japan.
    Given this, I’m pretty much in full agreement with Shem on this. The difference between men and women is really important. The fact that the Japanese live a long a time may simply be because they have good genetics and don’t die from over consumptions diseases as much. If they all started eating large amounts of Western-style muck (and drinking more too), no doubt their life expectancy would decline and it would be a fairer comparison.

  11. 38% over the US rate isn’t especially high, Conrad? Is innumeracy prevalent with all lefties?

    Furthermore it’s a higher rate and the longevity rate is higher.

  12. JC,

    29 – 21 = 8. So 8% more of the population smokes. Big deal. Unless they’re dieing two decades earlier, it’s not going to affect the results much. Have you had an accident so you only have 5 fingers and not 10?

  13. Look at the initial question — 38% is meaningless in the discussion — it’s the percentage relative to the overall population which matters.

    1) JC Notes that Japanese live a long time overall (that’s true), and conjectures maybe smoking isn’t bad since lots of them smoke.

    2) Shem notes that smoking probably is bad, and looks male female data.

    So what’s important here?

    It’s clearly the 8%, not the percentage difference between only smokers, because what we are interested in is why the Japanese live a long time overall (JCs initial observation). However, if you assume, for example, smokers die 10 years earlier, then the most difference you will get on overall means is 8% of 10 years = .8 years. No doubt this differences is washed out in variance from other factors like obesity. So the 8% is the meaningful measure for the question asked, and what it tells you is that it is too small answer JCs observation one way or the other.
    Now let’s look at the difference between males and females as Shem thinks is important — Let’s assume that the US rate is about the same for males and females. Any differences between groups must then be stuff not relate to smoking (unless there are interactions — which there might be as I would suspect smoking hurts males more due both genetic and lifestyle factors). Ignoring that, you can note that in Japan, it’s mainly blokes that smoke. To make numbers easy to calculate let’s say 40% of men smoke and 10% of women. If this is the case, assuming smokers die 10 years earlier, women will lose 1 year overall (i.e., 10% lose 10 years), and men will lose 4 (i.e., 40% lose 10 years). This really is a meaningful and potentially observable difference.

  14. Conrad

    The point is that there other factors at play in the propensity to a long life than just saying smoking cuts your life.

    Note the spread between male/female lifespan isn’t hugely different to other populations.

    See the paradox of Japanese longevity

  15. JC,

    what you really want to do is identify the interactions. The obvious one is heart disease. Guys suffer from this more than women, as do people with poor diets (or perhaps not good diets). However, if you’re female and have a good diet, smoking may not be nearly as bad for you compared to what it is for other people because even if your arteries harden a bit, it won’t matter much. With data like that, you could argue that the harmful effects of smoking are really overstated for some groups and overstated compared to other things which no-one cares much about (like being overweight)

  16. You have to be a statistician to gain anything meaningful from the stats. The evidence suggests that in Japan the relative risk of getting lung cancer for current smokers compared with non smokers measured around 4.4 for men and 2.8 for women.

    As for any discrepancy between Japan and other countries, it was observed that Japanese smokers initiated smoking at an older age and smoked fewer cigarettes per day for shorter durations than elsewhere

    Importantly the correlation between tobacco usage and morbidity and mortality remains proved.

  17. Rog:

    You seem to be emotionally caught up in this smoking thing. Are you able to comprehend that no one is saying that smoking isn’t bad for you? You seem to be stalking me on another site about that.

    Thanks for pointing out there are differences in Japanese smoking and possibly dietary habits that makes their longevity stats one of the world’s highest. However the differences were inferred already.

    You’ve been told numerous times at the other site that no one seems to disagree with the proposition that smoking is bad for you. However there also seem to be other factors at play changing effecting the relative longevity stats.

  18. Your argument JC seems to be supported by this character called “no one,” who allegedly said that smoking isn’t bad for you.

    Take my advice and don’t listen to “no one”

  19. Hi from the pristine Glacier country of rainy NZ kiwiBirds!

    The lifespan is high in Japan and Australia because the pacific and desert act as large raw environments which feed health into the population thru what they consume..
    Also, very strict enviro laws in Japan since Minamata, in fact it is the MITI policies of a strong state and offshoring dirty industries that keep the Nipponese flying the red sun flag longer..
    Fect, cozzy bro
    Also see long lifespan in Canada, Siberian women etc..

  20. JC, was the book trying to make any major point about chance in our lives?
    There have been some books (that I don’t know much about) such as “predicatbly irrational” that I believe promote some form of socialism to combat people’s supposedly inherent “predictable irrationalities”.
    Was this book trying to promote any political or other recommendations?

    Regarding the element of chance in our lives: My thoughts have always been that there certainly is an element of chance, but that over the course of someone’s lifetime with the millions of descisions they make, chance generally becomes a fairly insignificant factor in determining someone’s success and happiness.
    Longevity is IMO a little different though. While I still think we do generally have a great deal of control, my opinion is that genes still play a large role.

  21. No real point, Tim. Just talking about how chance plays so much of a role in our lives. It’s a good book and has some quirky stories.

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