Risk assessment, masks, vaccines, and cleaning parts with gasoline

In a bicycle mechanics’ group I read, someone posted a correct warning not to use gasoline to clean parts:

Screen shot from a Facebook post warning people not to use gasoline to clean bicycle parts

A heated argument ensued. More than half the commenters were saying things like; “I’ve been doing it for years and I’m fine, and you’re stupid to bring it up, grampaw.” Here’s a sample:

  • “How about mind ur own business . We are adults . Great first post lol 😆
  • “Hahhahha live in fear I’ll do what I am experienced in”
  • “actually works pretty well and evaporates quickly soo [the risk] is minimal.”
  • “Pretty much all solvents are as flammable as gasoline 🤦‍♂️ welcome to the group, you fit right in.”
  • “I use gasoline and have for more than 30 years. But then, I’m not a toddler and recognize flammable products, even those other than gas, need to be handled with care.”
  • “I’m sure without researching it, more cycles get hurt or killed by gasoline propelled vehicles than gasoline itself?…. might be wrong though”
  • “Gotta stop you there pal, gasoline or petrol as we call it here, isn’t actually combustible, the vapour is , so provided you have no ignition source around you or in your shop you’re not at any more of a risk than you would be cleaning paint brushes with turpentine …”
  • “Gasoline and kerosene have been used as degreasers for many years. To suggest that gasoline is too dangerous to use because it is so flammable is ignoring that many other cleaning products are flammable too.”
  • “You’ve never thrown gasoline on a fire? It’s not the vapors that explode into an inferno!”

(Suffice to say these comments are both logically and technically wrong on multiple levels. It was still going when I started writing this post.)

The OP was one hundred percent correct; gasoline is in a whole different class of flammability from most other solvents, and in particular, from made-to-purpose parts cleaning solvent. Using gasoline to clean greasy parts is risking a catastrophic outcome for no reward when there are better options. Many commenters weighed in to try and correct the stupidity. I commented:

  • “Astounding all these people gassplaining how they’re OK using petrol, which is literally refined to be super-flammable. There are risks in life but some of them are fun and some of them are just stupid. His first post is excellent advice.”

So what does this have to do with masks and vaccines?

Just this: most people have not been educated to look beyond the statistical universe of their personal experience and the anecdotal legends of their tribe. It absolutely cripples them at assessing risk, and especially compound or social risks. Whether it’s speeding, not using a mask in a public place during a pandemic, or washing a derailleur with gasoline, if they did it once and nothing happened, it’s fine.

How this translates into voting habits would be one of those social risks.

UPDATE: The post was removed, so I messaged the author to thank him for trying, and who knows? he might have saved someone’s life. He said it appears he’s been booted from the group.

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Older technology guy with photography and history background