The Chain of Chance - Introduction
In the book "The Chain of Chance", by Stanislaw Lem, a detective is investigating a series of mysterious deaths occuring to foreign businessmen at a seaside spa. If you'd like to read the book, then don't read this article, as they share many of the same themes.
Consider a magic trick - a performer is in a fairly large theater, it holds 2000 people. He asks them all to take out a coin and flip it. He then asks all the people for who the coin comes up heads to flip it again. This repeats, and more and more people are eliminated. Eventually after ten tosses, only one person remains - the magician calls this person to the stage, the winner.
Now consider this from the point of view of the person who "wins". They flip the coin, it comes up heads - they flip it again and again, it keeps coming up heads! Something must be going on? From their perspective, the continual heads is very surprising.
But it had to happen to someone.
Consider now, that 5% of the US population have some form of Eczema. That's about 15 million people (out of a total US population of 300 million)
Consider furthur, that 2.2 million Americans have Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, that's about 0.73% of the population.
Now, assuming an even spread, then of our 15 million people who have eczema, then 0.73% of them will have both eczema and OCD. That's 110,000 people.
The numbers get larger if we consider the number of americans who have a Major Depressive Disorder. That's 9.5% of our 15 million, or 1,425,000 people who have Eczema and a Major depressive disorder.
So out of those, who also has Fibromyalgia? Well, the prevelence of Fibromyalgia is 1.36%, so out of the people who have a major depressive disorder, and Eczema, then 19,380 also have Fibromyalgia.
So that means nearly 20,000 people will have the combined symptoms of:
- A Major Depressive Disorder
That means they will have
- Intense itching
- Major Depression
- Abnormally irritable mood
- Brain fog
- And several other symptoms.
Some of these 20,000 people meet one-another and compare symptoms. They find they have the same symptoms. They figure they have the same disease. They call it Barstow Syndrome after the town it was first discovered in. They form a support group, they start a web site, more people find out about it, everyone thinks it's a real disease. They start to speculate as to the cause of the disease.
But there is no Barstow Syndrome - they are simply the 20,000 people who were unlucky enough to get combined Eczema, Major depression and Fibromialgia all at the same time. From their point of view this is very unlikely. But right now, 20,000 people HAVE all three problems. It's just simple statistics. It's unfortunate for them, but it's nothing special.
The Barstow Syndrome Research Institute dislikes this analysis. How likely is it, they ask, that all these people, thousands and thousands, all have the exact same symptoms? Well, as we just saw, it's not only likely, it's inevitable. Like the guy who tosses heads ten times in a row - it just had to happen to someone. It HAD to happen to 20,000 people.