About likelihoods (Om sannolikheter, Tage Danielsson)

In celebration of Midsummer today, I wanted to post the below monologue on likelihoods (of nuclear powerplant catastrophies), which is a translation of a famous Swedish monologue by Tage Danielsson.

When we at MySQL had joined Sun, one task for me and my Sales Engineer collagues was to travel to Sun offices and educated the huge Sun sales force about MySQL, so they could sell it too. (Basically to tell them about open source, scale-out, reference customers, and most importantly: Don't sell Cluster on your own, call me first.) Being a Telecom Sales Engineer, I was sent to tour the Ericsson account team meeting, the Nokia account team meeting, and for logistical reasons even the Siemens account team meeting that was at the same location as the Nokia team.

Each meeting had nicer and nicer dinners, but the Ericsson account team meeting in Stockholm was clearly the winner. The dinner was set in the City Hall restaurant (Stadshuskällaren), which is also were they serve the Nobel gala dinners. Our menu was a copy of the 1981 Nobel menu, served on the authentic Nobel porcelain.

I thought that if I was going to be at a Nobel gala dinner (clone), I wanted to give an "acceptance speech". Since Physics was my university major, I chose the below well known Swedish monologue about nuclear power. My monologue was well received - a related factoid is that the official entertainment for our dinner was embarrasingly un-funny, so at least my monologue saved something of the evening.

The original monologue was performed in 1979 by acclaimed Swedish comedian Tage Danielsson. Sweden had in 1980 a referendum where a majority voted against using nuclear power (to this day Sweden still uses it though). The accident in Harrisburg was the major nuclear disaster of that day, Chernobyl would only happen 6 years later.

The main joke in the Swedish original actual plays on the words "sanning" (truth, fact) and "sannolikhet" (likelihood, probability) where the literal translation of likelihood is "like truth". Unfortunately this is not possible to translate into English, but I tried to make a funny monologue around the original idea.

I've also found an independent translation here https://www.swedishenglishtranslation.com/danielsson.htm, but decided to perform my own translation instead. I concluded the other translation does an even poorer job of translating the un-translatable joke.

This is the youtube video of the original Tage Danielsson performance. Happy Midsummer!


About likelihoods

Tage Danielsson, "Under Dubbelgöken", 1979

Translation: Henrik Ingo, 2008

Likelihood. I reckon that is something that is
likely to be a fact. I mean, not
truly a fact
, but like a fact. And it is therefore
with regret that I've noticed - likely
due to the current downturn in the economy - that it
seems we cannot really afford to get true facts anymore, but
only likelihoods. This I regret, because the
likelihoods are not always as reliable as true facts are. For
instance, sometimes the likelihood can be very different before
and after
.

I mean, for instance, before Harrisburg... I mean before
it was highly unlikely
that what happened in Harrisburg could ever happen. But then when it
had happened... well then the likelihood went straight up to 100
percent, so that it became almost like a fact that it had happened.

But then only almost
a fact
. This is what puzzles
me. Because there are still those that will say (at least quietly to
themselves) that what happened in Harrisburg, well it was so highly
unlikely, that likely maybe it didn't really happen at all. The whole
Socialdemocratic party has in fact been waiting for half a year now
to get a report on whether what happened in Harrisburg really
happened or not, so that they could then finally decide whether they
will think that nuclear power is as dangerous as it would be if what
happened in Harrisburg really happened. But now I heard that they
finally have made up their mind, and it seems they have decided that
what happened in Harrisburg really
didn't happen,
but that on the other hand we need to have
much better
security
in our
nuclear plants so that it
doesn't happen here too!

And it is
understandable that they are in doubt, because I've read that based
on all the
likelihood calculations, such an accident is
likely to happen only about once in thousands of years! So in that
case it is of course quite unlikely that it would already have
happened by now, don't you think! No, it is of course much
more likely that it would have happened much later. And that of
course gives quite a different perspective on things... because, I
mean, that is then something we cannot know today... what might be
then... or... I don't know.

Then there is this other thing that is important to
remember to take into account in those likelihood calculations, which
is that IF it after all
would turn out to be a fact that what happened in Harrisburg really
happened -
against all odds
- then the
likelihood for it to happen again...
well that's just so ridiculously small that... you know, in a way you
could say that it was really good that what happened in Harrisburg
really happened, because now we can be almost certain that it cannot
happen again! Or at least not in Harrisburg! And at least not at the
same time as the last one happened!

... No ... The
likelihood for that is so small that it is
negligible.
And a negligible likelihood means that it doesn't really exist.
Except just a little bit.

All of this is of course a bit complicated for the
average person. So to have a referendum on such a complex issue is
likely not a very good idea, since most people will just wrongly
conclude that what happened in Harrisburg really did happen. They'll
just take it as a fact.

They don't understand that something that isn't even
likely
to be fact, obviously cannot truly be a fact for
real. Those people just haven't kept up with the progress lately. I
bet they were taught by their parents to always just stick to the
facts
. "Stick to the facts", their parents would
tell them. But this we shouldn't teach our kids
anymore. We have to teach our kids to always stick to their
likelihoods
. This way
they'll understand that what happened in Harrisburg cannot possibly
happen here, since it really didn't even happen there, which after
all would have been much more likely considering that it was there
that it happened!!!

Sinikka Ingo (not verified)

Fri, 2010-06-25 21:10

was performedby Tage Danielsson in the Swedish Tv for 2 ours ago.- As fresh as ever.
Happy midsummer for your family.

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