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It is a cliche of reporting on individuals who attain 100 years of age, and even 110, to ask them some variation of the query: “What did you do to stay this lengthy?”

Inevitably, some attention-grabbing and surprising reply is highlighted. Fish and chips each Friday. Ingesting a glass of robust liquor day-after-day. Bacon for breakfast each morning. Wine and chocolate.

Whereas a preferred information story, it is a comparatively meaningless query that does not assist us perceive why sure individuals have lived so lengthy. Let me attempt to clarify why, by way of lovely buildings, fighter pilots and statistics.

Within the second world warfare, Allied statisticians have been making use of their expertise to minimizing the variety of bombers being shot down by enemy hearth. By learning the harm patterns of bombers coming back from motion, maps may very well be drawn up of probably the most regularly broken components of airplanes in order that costly, heavy armor may very well be added to those areas.

Easy sufficient, proper? Then, alongside comes statistician Abraham Wald who argues for the precise reverse level. The planes that they are learning are all those who did return from fight with in depth harm, however what about those who did not return?

Wald argues that armor needs to be added to these locations which can be undamaged on all of the returning planes, as any airplane hit in these undamaged areas was shot down, by no means making it again to be surveyed.

Survivorship bias

This phenomenon is called survivorship bias, or the cognitive and statistical bias launched by solely counting these which can be round to rely however ignoring those who have not “survived.”

You’ll be able to take these examples to the absurd. Think about a bunch of 100 individuals, all of whom have smoked their whole life. As a bunch, the people who smoke would die earlier of cancers, lung illness or coronary heart illness, however one or two would possibly defy the percentages and stay to 100 years of age. Now think about the intrepid journalist interviewing the fortunate soul on their a hundredth birthday with that traditional query: “What do you attribute your profitable getting old to?”

“Smoking a pack a day,” says the newly minted centenarian.

It appears apparent however survivorship bias is in all places in society. We will all consider that one well-known actor or entrepreneur who succeeded regardless of adversity, who labored laborious, believed in themselves and in the future made it. However we by no means examine or hear in regards to the numerous examples of people that tried, gave it their all and by no means fairly made it.

That is not a very good media story. However this creates a bias, we primarily hear the successes, by no means the failures. This bias applies to our perceptions of structure (principally nice buildings from a given interval “survive”), to funds (we regularly hear examples of people that have succeeded in dangerous investments, those that fail do not promote books or self-help plans) and to profession plans (“In the event you work laborious, and drop out of faculty now, you is usually a profitable athlete like me,” say those that have succeeded).

I work with a wide range of older individuals and sometimes embrace excessive outliers who’ve lived to excessive ages. We’re presently learning over 65-year-olds who’ve maintained unusually excessive ranges of train into older age and have maintained glorious well being.

They’re phenomenal examples of older people, a lot of them are sooner, fitter and stronger than me by lots of the measures we carry out within the lab, regardless of being nearly twice my age.

Whereas we all know that their lifelong train is related to their unusually good well being into older age, we will not straight say one causes the opposite but. It may very well be that extremely lively individuals are protected towards persistent illnesses equivalent to cancers, diabetes and coronary heart illness. However it additionally may very well be that these individuals are nonetheless lively into older age as they’ve not been bothered by cancers, diabetes or coronary heart illness earlier of their lives.

Conversely, there may very well be some unknown third issue that we have not but recognized about these people who each retains them wholesome and individually retains them exercising.

For readability, there are issues that scientists like me will say in rigorously caveated, scientific language that may most likely make it easier to to stay longer. Being very bodily lively, not consuming an excessive amount of and never smoking are all on that record, together with typically having a constructive outlook in life, and naturally, selecting the correct mother and father and grandparents.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation. That time is hammered house relentlessly to college students in science levels. It is how our mind works, we see a sample between two variables, and assume they’re linked ultimately. However typically, like in survivorship bias, we’re not all the info, and so discovering patterns the place there are none.

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