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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ben Franklin on fake security

Physics Today has an article on Benjamin Franklin and lightning rods. Of particular interest is a quote from Franklin on the feeling of security which is all but a justification for fake security measures:
Those who calculate chances may perhaps find that not one death (or the destruction of one house) in a hundred thousand happens from that cause, and that therefore it is scarce worth while to be at any expense to guard against it. But in all countries there are particular situations of buildings more exposed than others to such accidents, and there are minds so strongly impressed with the apprehension of them, as to be very unhappy every time a little thunder is within their hearing; it may therefore be well to render this little piece of new knowledge as general and well understood as possible, since to make us safe is not all its advantage, it is some to make us easy. And as the stroke it secures us from might have chanced perhaps but once in our lives, while it may relieve us a hundred times from those painful apprehensions, the latter may possibly on the whole contribute more to the happiness of mankind than the former.
In reading this, I couldn't help but think of Jacob Sullum's account of his discussion with an El Al security guy and, in particular:
While American air travel security is just for show, he said, the Israeli version is for real.
(Physics Today link via Schneier on Security)