More Britons Died on The Titanic Because They Were Polite

By Anupum Pant

Tahir Shah in his book, House of the Tiger King wrote:

“As the head of an expedition, you can’t pussyfoot around being polite to everyone. You have to show your teeth once in a while; a little growling goes a long way.”

It turns out, a little growling can indeed go a long way – Sometimes it can even save your lives. Let’s see how…

Two Stories

Let us consider the two widely studied ship tragedies – Titanic and Lusitania. Here is a brief copied background of both the ship stories (to make it easier for you):

Titanic’s story: Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. – Wikipedia

Lusitania’s Story: Lusitania was a British ocean liner, holder of the Blue Riband and briefly the world’s biggest ship. She was launched by the Cunard Line in 1907, at a time of fierce competition for the North Atlantic trade. In 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. – Wikipedia

Differences and Similarities

Similarities: Both of them were British ships and capsized almost during the same time (a three years difference). Both the ships carried a similar distribution of passengers in terms of their age, gender and economic status. Chance of survival for voyagers in both the ships was around 30%.

Differences: One important thing to note about the sinking of Titanic was that after it hit the iceberg, it took about 160 minutes to sink. Whereas Lusitania was hit by a torpedo and it collapsed in 18 minutes. Isn’t that a big difference in time?

Since time taken to sink is the only big difference in both the stories, scientists think that this explains the changed behavior of people aboard, during the last minutes. As a result, it explains the big difference in the kind of people who died in Titanic-tragedy vs. Lusitania-tragedy.

Who died?

In Lusitania, which sank in 18  minutes, many youngsters who ages ranged from 16-35 years, survived. Since, people had no time to think and assemble into social groups, the fittest people were able to push their way out and survive – youngsters who were physically competent, survived.

Whereas Titanic sank in about 160 minutes, it gave people enough time to take into consideration, the social protocols. As a result several men queued up and politely let the women and children go first.

This is the reason, scientists think, more men survived when Lusitania sank. Whereas more women and children survived when Titanic sank.

British boys

on the Titanic, it is calculated that Americans were 8.5 per cent more likely to survive. On the other hand, British passengers were 7 per cent less likely to survive. A big difference! Why?

Australian researchers believe that since British passengers on the Titanic queued up politely to get into the lifeboats, a significantly high number of them died. Also, they think that Americans elbowed their way out, but there is no direct evidence that supports Americans were rude on the ship. If they were, we’ll never know.


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Benford’s Law Will Make You Wonder For a While

By Anupum Pant

Benford’s law is a fairly simple law to grasp and it will blow your mind. It deals with the leading digits of numbers.

So, for example, you have the number 28 – The leading digit for it would be 2. Similarly, the leading digit for 934 would be 9. Just pick the first digit. Now…

In a data set you’d say – it is common sense to assume that the probability of leading digit one (1) appearing would be more or less equal to that of leading digit nine (9).
As there are 9 possible leading digits, you’d think that the probability of each leading digit would compute to something around 0.11
You’d imagine that it would be normal to assume a nearly straight graph of probability vs. leading digit. But this isn’t true.

Benford’s law says

Your common sense fails. What actually happens is that the likelihood of 1 appearing as the first digit in a data set is around 0.3
For the following digits, the probability keeps decreasing. And the following graph appears. You’ll see that the numbers rarely start with nine!


When does it work?

This counter-intuitive result applies to a wide variety of natural data sets. It works the best if your set spans quite a few orders of magnitude. Natural set of data like stock prices, electricity bills, populations, which could range from few single digit values to several digits work the best. Other data like the heights of people doesn’t work because it does not span “quite a few orders of magnitude”. Also, artificially tampered data fails to comply because the person who tampers does the same mistake everyone does. Therefore, Benford’s law is also used to detect frauds in data.


  1. Count the number of data points in a data set which have the leading digit 1 and write the number next to the number 1 in a table.
  2. Then, keep repeating it for all the numbers 2, 3, 4 and so on.
  3. Calculate the probabilities for each. In the end you’ll be left with a table that would look something like this. (Probability = Number of Data Points for that  digit / Total Data Points)
Leading Digit Digit Probability
1 0.301
2 0.17
3 0.125
4 0.097
5 0.079
6 0.067
7 0.058
8 0.051
9 0.046

How does it work?

Watch the  following video for the explanation:

Try it yourself: [Kirix]

Gompertz Law – The Dreadful Law of Death

By Anupum Pant

There is no astrologer in the world that can tell you for sure if you’ll die this year or not. But, thanks to Gompertz Law, if you ask me, there is one thing I can tell you for sure – Whatever may be the odds of you dying this year, in 8 years, the likelihood of you dying will double.

This dreadful law of death was named after the first person who noted it – Benjamin Gompertz, in the year 1825. The law rests on a general assumption that a person’s resistance to death decreases as he ages. The Gompertz Law of mortality, put simply in a sentence would compute to this:

Your probability of dying during a given year doubles every 8 years.

It is amazing, and no one knows how it works exactly. Why does nature pick the number 8, to double our likelihood of death? We’ll probably never know.

There is a whole table which relies on census data, and statistically notes the probabilities of people dying at different ages. And when it is plotted on a Probability of death vs. Age graph, you get an exponentially increasing mortality rate with age. That is death coming faster as you get older.

Gompertz Law can be verified for real-life data – the 2005 US census data. The following graph and the probability vs. age plotted using the law match almost perfectly. Amazingly, the law holds true for several other countries too.

gompertz law graph

That means, the probability of me, a 25-year-old dying during the next year is very small — about 1 in 3,000. When I become 33, this probability will grow to something around 1 in 1,500. In the next 8 years, the probability of me dying will be 1 in 750, and so on…At the age 100, the probability a person’s death will be about 1 out of 2 – fat chance of successfully moving on to 101!

Theoretically, using this data, it can be said with 99.999999% certainty that no human will ever live to the age of 130 (of course only if medicine doesn’t start tampering with human genes, or some other artificial factor). There is one thing for sure – there is almost no chance that you are going to beat Mr. Ming.

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