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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Statistical Probabilities

O'Brien: “No, that's not what I meant. I was talking about when you had to decide whether or not to meet with the Dominion. Can't have been easy for you. I know you wanted to try to save as many lives as possible. It's probably what makes you such a good doctor.”
Bashir: “Fortunately this doctor is also a Starfleet Officer. We thought we were so smart. We thought we could predict the future. It's my fault, not theirs. I should never have let things go so far. If I hadn't been so bent on trying to prove to the world that they had something to contribute.”

We follow up on Bashir’s confession that his DNA was enhanced via banned procedures, by having him work with four other victims.

The show opens with four “mutants” who are staying on the station so that Dr. Bashir can work with them: Jack frenetic, resentful, dangerous; Patrick, clingy, emotional; Lauren, oversexed, always lying down unless dancing; Sarina, locked in her own world. The episode does an excellent job of defining them quickly.

Bashir’s initial interaction with them doesn’t go well, which is necessary, because if they get along immediately, where’s the challenge in the episode? After they misbehave and reject him, he goes off to have dinner with friends (emphasizing that he has friends, and is free to move about). Captain Sisko is entertaining the senior staff. This gives a chance for the actors with less to do in the episode a chance to make an appearance as well as the opportunity for some necessary exposition.

One of the subjects being exposed is a speech by Damar, the new head of Cardassia. This is another reason the senior staff has gathered in Sisko’s quarters, so they can watch it together. However, thanks to a high-pitched whine, Bashir and O’Brien are in the cargo bay with the mutants when Damar gives his speech (which for some inexplicable reason is shown to the mutants, as if the Cardassians were able to hack every screen for the transmission).

The mutants are fascinated by Damar, and this fascination is what brings the various plot lines together. The mutants quickly and insightfully analyze the speech. Even though they knew nothing about Damar and the conflict before, they quickly figure out that Damar is feeling guilty about having killed the princess (Ziyal) and that he is being jerked around by a Dark Knight (Weyoun). It’s a brilliant scene, and it also leads to the mutants behaving like responsible members of society (for a while). They are intrigued by the situation and so are willing to cooperate. The Federation welcomes their input.

At first the alliance between the mutants and the Federation is productive, as the mutants watch a holo-recording of the meeting between Damar and Sisko et al. They determine that what the Dominion wants is a particular planet, which they can use to manufacture ketracel white (which keeps the Jem’Hadar from going mad and murdering everyone).

This episode covers two major dilemmas. The first is what to do with people who have been genetically engineered. This is no longer a question for the distant future; genetic therapy exists in many forms today and more will happen. Worf and O’Brien are against the mutants being allowed to do everything. Is it fair to punish people who had a procedure done to them as children? Presumably, it was not their choice. (For a political equivalent, consider the Dreamers, people who were brought to the United States as children so were not born there and are not citizens, but know no other country.)

The episode does not answer this question, but maybe the series does. Dr. Bashir has been allowed to stay in Starfleet. The mutants are kept at an institute, not because of the law, but because their problems are too severe to allow them to operate in society. The Federation may not even know how many others are out there, doing rather well, as they hide their genetically engineered status and simply appear to be over-achievers. I think we’re going to see something similar in our own populations.

The second major dilemma concerns dealing with inconvenient truths. Now, the analysis done by Bashir and the mutants was obviously flawed (more on that in a moment) but the prediction was extremely serious, a prediction of 900 billion deaths in their quadrant. They start by having Bashir go to Sisko. He refuses to accept the result. Even O’Brien refuses to accept the result. But their refusals to accept this prediction appear to be based more in the fact that they don’t like the news and they are horrified by the idea of “surrender,” rather than in any pushback on the actual prediction.

If you think your quadrant is about to suffer 900 billion deaths, isn’t that a good reason to break the law? (Although I think they were too hasty and made too many assumptions.) I am reminded of Greta Thunberg, who stopped going to school because she thinks protesting the climate crisis is more important.

Three of the mutants decide to take matters into their own hands and to bring strategic information to Damar and Weyoun, because they determine that will lead to 2 billion dead instead of 900 billion dead, and why not save 888 billion people? At this point Bashir decides to follow the law, and with the help of Sarina, stops the mutants before they reach the Dominion representatives. I wasn’t crazy about the reason Sarina helped Bashir – because she is in love with Jack, and because she doesn’t want him to go to prison – but I guess, given their odd living arrangements, it’s not that implausible. Despite their treasonous intentions, the mutants are not arrested, but they are sent back to the institute. Still, they offer to continue looking for a solution, and so all ends well.

Confession: I am an actuary, a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society. The mathematical flaw in the calculations was obvious to anyone who has done scenarios, and should have been obvious to anyone who deals with scenarios. The mutants are applying assumptions with confidence levels that should weaken, not strengthen, over time.

Title musings. “Statistical Probabilities” is a great phrase. The flaw is that the model with the prediction of 900 billion dead is based on a deterministic, not a stochastic approach. Still, in the end, statistics and the beauty of randomness wins out. I like the title.

Bits and pieces

I have great sympathy for the others with respect to the sound that O’Brien cannot hear. We have an appliance that is supposed to repel birds by sending out periodic high frequency chirps. When we eat at the table near it, no one else can hear it, but I have to turn it off, because it drives me mad.

Jack learns Dominionese in a single morning, which seems rather far-fetched, but I could just be suffering a case of linguistic envy.

Similar mathematics is used in Asimov’s Foundation series, but Asimov does not make the same mistake. He recognizes that interventions are needed to keep a long-term scenario on track.

You have to wonder how Jack, Lauren and Patrick got out of the cargo bay so easily. Aren’t they being monitored? If they are not, why haven't they gone on explorations before?

We don’t hear much about cloning these days. I wonder if any humans have been cloned? I suspect it has happened, somewhere, anyway.


Bashir: Did any of you know who Damar was before today?
Jack: No, no, no, but it's obvious who he is. The Pretender who killed the king and seized the throne.
Lauren: Not the king. He's still alive.
Patrick: The queen, maybe, or a princess.
Bashir: Yes, Ziyal. That's Gul Dukat's daughter.
Jack: And now the Pretender finds himself in league with a, a Dark Knight that he can't control.
O'Brien: Weyoun?
Jack: It's not a bad story. Epic, really. What else can you tell us?
Note how the writers compliment themselves in that last conversational beat.

Bashir: Thank you, sir. The way our statistical analysis works, the farther into the future you go, the more accurate the projection. It's based on a kind of non-linear dynamics, whereby small fluctuations tend to factor out over time. The net result is...
The attempt to paper over mathematical nonsense. There is such a thing as reversion to the mean, but for their scenarios, there are no means. I prefer the butterfly effect myself.

Lauren: It's all right, Julian, go play with your friend. We'll be fine.
Bashir: You want me to play with you, do you, Chief?
O'Brien: No!
Lauren: Yes, you do.

O'Brien: I can see two possible explanations for it. Either I'm more feebleminded than you ever realized, or you're not as smart as you think you are.

Quark: Why are you trying to spoil everyone's good time? Look around, these people are enjoying themselves. Half of them know the odds are against them, but they don't care. They're here because they want to believe they can win. Is that so bad?
Bashir: They're fools.
Quark: Why don't you just take your winnings and call it a day?
Bashir: Because I'm trying to prove a point. There is no way to win.
Quark: Stop saying that.

Damar: This is ridiculous. Sneaking into a storage bay for a secret meeting. I'm not some agent of the Obsidian Order, I'm the leader of the Cardassian Empire.
Weyoun: Don't let it go to your head. You serve only at the Dominion's pleasure. Besides, I think it's exciting.
I love how Weyoun takes pleasure in absurdity.

Jack: Not so fast. There's one thing I need to know, Doctor. If we can come up with a way to beat the Dominion, will you listen?
Bashir: I can't think of anything I'd like better.

Overall rating

A solid, entertaining episode. Three and half out of four annoying high-pitched whines.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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