Survivor Bias: WW2 Edition

26 October 2010 at 6:50 pm 5 comments

| Lasse Lien |

During World War 2 the British Royal Air Force (and Navy) pioneered the use of empirical and statistical analysis to improve performance — laying the foundation for the field we now know as Operations Research.

One fascinating anecdote is how these pioneers used data on damage from German air defense fire. The RAF collected large amounts of data on exactly where returning aircraft had received damage. The intuitive recommendation would be to reinforce the aircraft were the data indicated they took the most damage. However, realizing that they only had data from surviving aircraft, the OR group under leadership of Patrick Blackett recommended that they reinforce the aircraft in the sections where no damage was recorded in the data. Clever chaps, I dare say.

Entry filed under: - Lien -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science. Tags: .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. srp  |  26 October 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Ah, the classic anecdote. Far too good to check.

  • 2. Lasse  |  26 October 2010 at 11:11 pm

    True. I wouldn’t dream of checking it (beyond Wikepedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operations_research#History

  • 3. Joe Mahoney  |  27 October 2010 at 9:48 am

    The education of our (doctoral) students is enhanced when we provide vivid examples that convey both the theory and the importance of APPLYING the theory. Thank you for contributing to my education, and to those of my students (this example is now part of my teaching notes).

  • 4. Aidan Walsh  |  27 October 2010 at 11:46 am

    I guess what was visible was that innovations were centralised around OR. What was the invisible cost of the inability of others to innovate?

    The leading military historian, Martin van Creveld, has criticised the Anglo-American cultural perspective for collecting and centralising information: “An improvement in performance being by definition associated with a greater demand for information, it is possible either to enhance the organization’s capacity for information processing or to restructure the organization in such a way as to enable it to operate with a reduced capacity… [the latter] will probably remain superior … in virtually every case.’ Command in War, (HUP, 1985) p.269.

  • 5. Recomendaciones « intelib  |  27 October 2010 at 4:11 pm

    [...] Survivor Bias: WW2 Edition, by Lasse Lien [...]

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