‘Invisible’ Statistical Patterns

That govern our lives.

Some 50 years ago I was a trustee of a community hospital outside of New York City.

I noticed after a couple of years on the board that the regular hospital statistics indicated the number of automobile accident hospital admissions varied within a very narrow range of 3 to 5 per month. That was always the number, month after month and year after year.

It wasn’t directly relevant to our work – except in planning for emergency room capacity. But the ceaseless conformity intrigued me.

I asked how that pattern was possible – I would have expected a wider range of occurrence. I was told, essentially, that it was and had been the pattern for years, so why bother with the question?

Well the bother has a simple, interesting reason, made more interesting now by what the number may be at this moment—which I do not know.

The reason for the numbers back then arose simply from the number of cars on the roads around the hospital, and the population of the region. Our world consists of many moving parts and they all interact in various ways to create statistical sub-facts that describe the operation of our world.

For example, today hospitals have been caught short by a pandemic that has produced a need for far more hospital beds than we have – a function, in part, of the privatization of health care, which makes idle beds a financial burden.

Now, today we have a new set of questions, with new inputs.  How many seats on public transportation will we need going forward? How many private offices will be needed?

The virus has radically changed and speeded up human behavior— quite likely for the long-run — and may have sped up changes already underway.

Human behavior gets set in patterns and moves very slowly unless jarred into radical change.

I wonder how many auto crashes get to that hospital today? We need to ask a lot of questions like that to get a better grip on the shape of tomorrow’s human activities — when and if we get to a new normal.


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