ISSUE 5/ June 2021


Laika, survival bias

and the positive shots

by Aftermath laika

What is the solution, Mr. Wald? The mathematician did not know
impatient. He had detected immediately that the precise information they offered him left out an equally important series of data. The meeting between Wald and the naval experts consisted of observing a graph. You could understand the silhouette of a war plane in plan and on it a constellation of colored dots »

Credits: Texts, Design and Illustration Aftermath Laika® / Buenos Aires 2021

During the Second World War, the North American Ministry of Defense contacted experts from the Naval Analysis Center. The war was very harsh and the material casualties discussed their own ethical and commercial protocol. They needed to strengthen the war planes that were ultimately the main players in the war. Even with good operational results, many devices did not return. They needed advice. They looked for him and found a mathematician.

Abraham Wald was Romanian, but he had come to the United States in the late 30s, fleeing Nazism from Vienna, the city that had trained him in statistics and sequential analysis. His Theory of estimate1 I had linked it to the economy and in turn contribute to the discussion of the Decision Theory: The idea of ​​the expected value warns about the multiple results associated with a different probability, the chosen action being the one that provides the highest expected value. Castoriadis2 He has argued about the paradoxes, finally the subjectivities of a selector: the applicant's capacity is his own capacity to be selected.

But it was the vicissitudes of the war and its military circumstances that led Wald to delve into the selection bias and finally establish a theory applied in any area of ​​development and production in the future: survivor bias. The meeting between Wald and the naval experts consisted of observing a graph. You could understand the silhouette of a war plane in plan and above it a constellation of colored dots.

For defense experts, some of these models were essential; in fact they were historically recognized for having shot down thousands of enemy ships. However, the Mitsubishi A6M23 designed by the Imperial Japanese Navy and used interchangeably by the shaft Berlin-Rome-Tokyo, were more versatile due to their excellent maneuverability, their enormous firepower and their long range. This represented a problem facing the arms industry with defense issues in an organic and urgent review. The fighter planes were designed for close air combat and their operational base was eminently naval, as long as they were shipped, they did not return to land but to the sea. On both sides - and not only in weapons - the devices ended up evolving during the war. Space aluminum and certain alloys provided greater resistance to the structure of the ships that, under certain loads, often broke, generating fatal fires in flight. These improvements made it possible to protect the fuel tanks housed in the wings. Finally, flight autonomy was significantly improved through the development of more powerful engines, also achieving greater take-off weight-resistance.

From 1943 until the end of the war, multiple improvements and redesigns were considered, but even so, the Japanese Zero type fighters would spoil the history of their high performance by not being able to access both a new generation of engines and the renewed armament that the Allied industry had incorporated to face them: the Browning M2, machine gun that is still in progress in the present. Wald listened to the story but watched the drawing. Perhaps it was a generic aircraft, perhaps it illustrated the valuable Hawker Hurricane from the British Royal Air Force; maybe it was a Grumman F6F Hellcat, precisely the plane that would defeat the Japanese Zero relegating its operations solely to honor kamikaze4.

The scattered colored dots on the graph detailed the shrapnel hits received on each air mission. Meanwhile, an engineer indicated on the plan, they revealed the areas with the highest probability of hits from the enemy artillery. The concern of the North American Ministry of Defense was concrete: they needed to develop improvements, especially reinforcing the areas indicated at the points of impact. That is, to shield the aircraft and make it invulnerable.

What is the solution, Mr. Wald? The mathematician was not impatient. He had detected immediately that the precise information they offered him left out an equally important series of data. In any case, the image showed a damaged aircraft whose breakdowns could have put both the plane and the pilot at risk. However, the device had returned to the base and this curiosity meant two things: the first, that the points marked as weak only considered the areas where the shrapnel had reached, therefore there could be potential vulnerable points in the areas that did not present impacts. : the graph then, had to be read backwards. The second question was equally problematic: there was no sample available that could determine the ultimate cause of the planes downed at sea.

Wald's concern determined a radical change in the reading and study of control cases, statistics should then review the control cases without discounting those that could be considered exceptional or whimsically invisible. The optimism of the space engineers was only concentrated in one sample: those that had passed the selection tests. Of course Wald noted that failures measured in fatal accidents did not count for engineers; evidence buried in the sea. This he called survivor bias5 and it is a variable used both in economics and finance and in medicine and quality selection.

Obtaining information is always retrospective. Around the same time, the North American contractor Lockheed Aircraft Company Design and build a fast and powerful dive bomber fighter by competition. Its shape is very particular: the Lockheed P-38 Lightning6. The baptism of flight dates from 1938, but it remained active and powerful until the end of the second war. The main feature was its double fuselage. The two-tailed devil, as it was known by the Air force, gave the ghostly appearance of being two airplanes handled by a single pilot. Thus, in addition to the fuselages joined transversely in the aluminum laminated tail and its two powerful engines, a third centrally isolated ship contained the bubble-shaped cockpit and the armament control - precisely a Browning M2 machine gun - in the same nose. of the device.

By 1941, Lockheed engineers made countless improvements on many deficient areas. The main one, they needed to solve the blockage that the device suffered in dive flights. After various proposals, the improvements were expressed in an instructive affixed to the instrument panel of the sophisticated cabin of the P.38. Pilot Ralph Virden was commissioned to read and fly those high-speed tests.

There were two flights, the first, satisfactory; in a second attempt the device fatally crashed. “Lockheed's design office was naturally shocked, but all the design engineers could do was declare the servo-assist solution for loss of control in a dive as unsuccessful. Lockheed had to solve this problem; the USAAC [United States Army Air Corps] claimed that it was a structural upheaval, ordering Lockheed check the tail much more thoroughly7»
Still, this terrifying bomber was so effective that it managed to end the power of the Japanese fighters. On April 18, 1943 during a secret mission they shot down one in particular: the admiral's Mitsubishi fighter. Isoroku yamamoto, - the commander and ideologue of the attack on Pearl Harbor- who would not survive the ambush and crash into a Pacific jungle.

After the end of the war, in 1956, the Soviet Space Program under the rule of Nikita Krushev, built the satellite Sputnik II8. Its predecessor, the Sputnik I it had been the great forerunner by conducting several unmanned subspace flights. The new ship was the first space rocket destined to orbit the earth transporting diverse scientific instruments and fundamentally biological material. When the spacecraft took off from Soviet soil, precisely at 7:22 am on November 3, 1957, it was carrying a kind of strange commander in a special compartment; a bitch with no name that they baptized Time9, mestizo and street that was observed and chosen among hundreds of applicants.

For the applicants, there was no interview, they only tried to point them out during their morning walks through the cold Moscow streets in October. The selection included three specimens: Albina, Mushka and Laika. The animals did not detect anything abnormal, but the choice included them in a new experience from which one of them would not recover. Although the pressurized capsule was a kind of laboratory and the animal was surrounded by assistance systems - its body was monitored by electrodes and it could even lie down with some comfort - the Sputnik II design contemplated orbiting the planet for a few weeks, where at after that time, it would disintegrate in space.

Laika and her friends endured the rigorous aerospace tests designed by Soviet scientists: confinement, centrifugal forces, invasive connections, temperature changes, laxatives, and diets. Perhaps the gel food was not so bad compared to that training, although not for all stages of the journey: there was poison in the form of food as a kind of programmed euthanasia.

In that time of the space race and scientific immunity, the Soviet researchers had some final gestures of genuine affection, but completely useless since the space program had prepared the first launch without attending to their return. Vladimir Yazdovsky, the architect who prepared Laika's training even understood that perhaps he could give her a break and meet her children. Before the launch, he took her home: "I wanted to do something nice for her, since she had very little time left to live."

Before Time there were another 57 dog launches into sub orbital space. All by means of missiles and at a distance that did not exceed two hundred kilometers. Many more would then be dispatched to complete the technique required to advance human launch into space. The program of the Sputnik II considered the collection of data and behaviors of living things in space. Time had the tragic honor of becoming the first space bitch and succumbing to the infernal temperatures inside the steel corset that controlled her. Beyond the countless versions, government documents and press reports only delayed the reality for public opinion. One way or another Time he would not survive the consequences of the experience. The firmer version accounts for a failure in the thermal system that only allowed him to eat his space gel and then suffer to death, a few hours after launching it into space.

Even when missions often failed, US President Dwight Eisenhower paid attention to events in his distant neighbor: the myriad hits and the inevitable mistakes. The Soviets were sending living beings into space and tragedies were nothing more than one of the possible ways to advance in the conquest of the cosmos. It was time to move quickly. On the near horizon, the most important point was the obligation to strengthen the space programs launched up to now. Immediately the North American space agency promoted the creation of NASA.

In January 1958 the United States sent its first space flight, the Explorer I. Today, after several refoundations, the American contractor Lockheed Martin maintains the power and lineage of the former Lockheed Aircraft Company since its historic foundation in 1910. Today it supplies the world with missiles, radars and various space technology. In 2009, 74% of the company's income came from sales of military equipment. In 2016 they obtained sales of US $ 47.248 million. The Lockheed Martin It is also a supplier of aerospace supplies and technology for the largest defense contractors in the world.

Aftermath Laika, Buenos Aires, June 2021