David McRaney explains âsurvivorship biasâ by using an example from WWII:
The military looked at the bombers that had returned from enemy territory. They recorded where those planes had taken the most damage. Over and over again, they saw the bullet holes tended to accumulate along the wings, around the tail gunner, and down the center of the body. Wings. Body. Tail gunner. Considering this information, where would you put the extra armor? Naturally, the commanders wanted to put the thicker protection where they could clearly see the most damage, where the holes clustered. But [statistician Abraham] Wald said no, that would be precisely the wrong decision. Putting the armor there wouldnât improve their chances at all.
Do you understand why it was a foolish idea? The mistake, which Wald saw instantly, was that the holes showed where the planes were strongest. The holes showed where a bomber could be shot and still survive the flight home, Wald explained. After all, here they were, holes and all. It was the planes that werenât there that needed extra protection, and they had needed it in places that these planes had not. The holes in the surviving planes actually revealed the locations that needed the least additional armor. Look at where the survivors are unharmed, he said, and thatâs where these bombers are most vulnerable; thatâs where the planes that didnât make it back were hit.
The Failures You Canât See Â« The Dish