My first post!
I’d like to welcome you to my blog. To start out, I thought I’d share a few cool things I read about. Ok, here’s an incident that took place in World War 2, in the fight of the Allies against the Axis powers. The setting is New York City, where a man named Abraham Wald was working in a group called the SRG, the Statistical Research Group, which was researching ways to help the US in its war against the Nazis.
Wald was born in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now Cluj, Romania, and was a mathematician from a very early age. After studying math in various institutions, the rise of Adolf Hitler brought him to the US, where he continued his work, and was called upon during the war to help use his insight to make better decisions for the US military.
A very interesting situation aroused while Wald was there, and it involved the following. Planes in the war had to be armored to prevent them from being shot down, obviously, and at the same time the more the armor the heavier the planes had to be, and therefore the more the fuel they required, raising costs. Therefore there had to be some kind of perfect balance in the amount of armor required which made sure that fuel was not wasted and yet the pilots were as safe as possible, and the SRG was tasked with trying to ascertain what this was. There was also some data given, which was taken from the planes which had been in the war, fighting just as the future planes would. This data clearly showed that the bullets per unit area was much greater on the fuselage and body of the plane, and was much less on the engine area.
Oh! So it obvious then, just set proportionally less armor to the engine area, and determine the ratios using the data given. That is the kind of thinking that most people, including the fellow mathematicians at SRG were going through. Yet Wald saw something else entirely. Where were the missing planes, he thought. By this, he meant that this data was from the planes which had survived battles, meaning that the planes which had fallen, which are the ones which really needed the armor badly, were not included. So if the planes that were relatively well off had more bullets in their body, what does that mean about the less fortunate planes? The planes that weren’t destroyed were what the information was about, so the ones with less bullets in their engine were less vulnerable.
So the solution? Put more, not less armor over the engine. The elegant thinking behind this can seem trivial yet is counterintuitive in every sense until one realizes the idea behind it. One brilliant observation of Wald’s made all the difference and even saved lives.