"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Why it’s best to never seek dietary advice from a centenarian.

It's a cliché to report on individuals who live to be 100, and even 110, to ask them some variation of the query: “What did you do to live so long?”

Inevitably, some interesting and unexpected answer is highlighted. Fish and chips every friday. Drink a glass of Strong alcohol each day. Bacon for breakfast every morning. Wine and chocolate.

Despite being a well-liked tidbit, it's a comparatively meaningless query that doesn't help us understand why some people live so long. I try to elucidate through beautiful buildings, fighter pilots and statistics.

In World War II, Allied statisticians were using their skills to scale back the variety of bombers killed by enemy fire. By studying the damage patterns of bombers coming back from motion, maps of probably the most continuously damaged parts of aircraft may very well be made in order that expensive, heavy weapons may very well be added to those areas.

Simple enough, right? Along comes the statistician Abraham Wald who makes the very same argument. Opposite point. The planes they’re studying are all of the ones that got here back from combat with heavy damage, but what concerning the ones that didn't?

Wald argues that armor needs to be placed in areas which can be undamaged on all returning aircraft, since any aircraft shot down in these undamaged areas are never returned for survey.

Survival bias

This phenomenon is generally known as survivorship bias, or the cognitive and statistical bias introduced by counting only those that are around to be counted but ignoring those that usually are not “survivors.”

You can take these examples to the ridiculous. Imagine a bunch of 100 people, all of whom have smoked their entire lives. As a bunch, smokers will die early from cancer, lung disease or heart disease, but one or two may survive these odds and live to be 100 years old. Now imagine the intrepid journalist interviewing the lucky soul on his one hundredth birthday with the classic query: “To what do you attribute your successful aging?”

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

It seems obvious, but survival bias is all over the place in society. We can all consider that one famous actor or entrepreneur who succeeded against the percentages, who worked hard, believed in himself and made it at some point. But we never read or hear concerning the countless examples of people that tried, gave it their all and never made it.

This is just not an excellent media story. But this creates a bias, we mainly take heed to the successes, never the failures. This bias applies to our perceptions of architecture (most great buildings “survive” from a certain period), to finance (we regularly hear examples of people that have succeeded in dangerous investments, who’ve failed). They don't sell books or self-help plans ) and for profession plans (“If you work hard, and drop out of college now, you can be a successful athlete like me.” Those who occur say).

Parts of the aircraft it’s best to not tighten.
designer491/Alamy Stock Photo

I work with a wide range of older people and infrequently include extremes who live to extreme ages. We are currently studying people over the age of 65 who’ve maintained unusually high levels of exercise and maintained excellent health in old age.

They are extraordinary examples of older humans, lots of whom, despite being almost twice my age, are faster, fitter and stronger than I’m due to the various steps taken within the laboratory.

Although we all know that their lifetime exercise is related to exceptionally good health of their old age, we cannot yet directly say that one causes the opposite. It could also be that highly lively persons are protected against chronic diseases comparable to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But it may be that these persons are still lively at an older age because they didn’t suffer from cancer, diabetes or heart disease earlier of their lives.

Conversely, there could also be an unknown third factor that we now have not yet identified that keeps each people healthy and exercising individually.

To make clear, there are things that scientists like myself will say in rigorously worded, scientific language that may probably aid you live longer. Being physically lively, not eating an excessive amount of and never smoking are all on the list, together with generally having a positive outlook on life, and naturally selecting the best parents and grandparents.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation. This point is used extensively for college kids in science degrees. This is how our brain works, we see a pattern between two variables, and assume they’re related ultimately. But often, like survivorship bias, we're not taking a look at all the information, and subsequently searching for patterns where there aren't any.