Monday, 17 May 2021

Monkeys, typewriters and Boris Johnson


Given an infinite number of monkeys, an infinite number of typewriters, and an infinite period of time, it is said that one of the monkeys will at some point type out the complete works of Shakespeare, in the same order as the bard himself wrote them, and using the bard’s own spelling quirks. The usefulness of that knowledge is limited, but it can help to understand the nature and scale of infinity.

We can, though, extrapolate the argument and state, with a high degree of confidence, that given an infinite number of waves of Covid and an infinite period of time, Boris Johnson would, at some point, take the right decision at the right time in order to save lives and avoid massive numbers of hospitalisations. In practice, we don’t have an infinite period of time, or an infinite number of waves (and if we did, they’d kill an infinite number of people anyway). We’ve had two waves so far, and it’s clear that a third is coming: but just as one would not expect even a solitary sonnet from three monkeys with three typewriters in two years, the probability of three iterations in two years being sufficient for Johnson to get the approach right is also diminishingly small.

That helps to explain why experts in the field and those who understand probabilities are advising people to ignore what Johnson says about relaxing the lockdown rules and carry on as though the rules weren’t changing today. It’s sound advice. Like the example of the monkeys, it’s also capable of being extrapolated: based on his record to date, assuming that everything Johnson says is either untrue or unwise is likely to lead to better outcomes than taking his words seriously. The scientists are onto something here.


dafis said...

You are being very harsh on monkeys in drawing that comparison. Monkeys have a far stronger sense of responsibility to their community whereas Boris is an adulterous chancer with minimal sense of responsibility or accountability.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought of Boris as a bit of a Bonobo