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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Letter of the month: Back to Y-fronts

I have just read the engrossing editorial in December’s issue regarding the actuary who rotates his underwear to ensure that each pair is washed an equal number of times and placed at the front of the drawer when it is due to be worn. This is apparently done in order to “ensure a speedy dressing process and cut down on shopping time, as all pairs should need replacing at the same time”.

I am truly disappointed to find that, after so many years of studying statistics, there are still actuaries putting so much faith in deterministic processes for their daily routines. The same objectives set out above would be achieved with far less effort by some genuine randomisation, such as by throwing all pants in the drawer as carelessly as possible when they come out of the dryer and picking them blindly in the morning before being fully awake. That would firstly ensure a speedy dressing process, as in the method above, and secondly make sure that each pair of pants is picked the same number of times on average.

Admittedly, there will be some significant random variation in the number of times that each pair of pants is worn but this is an advantage. The accumulation risk of most pairs needing replacing at an inappropriate time for shopping, for example during policy renewals, is avoided, and purchase of a new lot can be postponed for a few weeks.

Furthermore, deterministic algorithms are dangerous. Even a small flaw in the process might have catastrophic effects; a pair of pants may end up never being worn, although off the top of my head it is difficult for me to think of how that could actually happen. Finally and most importantly, if the stochastic element is removed from the life of the actuary then what way is there for us to distinguish our profession from that of deterministic,

pants-rotating accountants?


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