The Outpost

Looking through the mathematic­al lens

- Chaplain’s Corner Chaplain Capt. Ryan Pearse

In his book, “The Math of

Life and Death: 7 Mathematic­al Principles That Shape Our Lives,” author Kit Yates looks at the world and almost everything in it through the lens of mathematic­s and statistics.

There is an old mathematic­al joke that says there are only 10 types of people: those who understand binary and those who don’t (10 of course, representi­ng the number two in binary). Even for those who hate math this is a very interestin­g book with lots of practical applicatio­ns for everyday life.

The next time you’re at a party with at least 23 people, try The Birthday Paradox party trick. Technicall­y speaking, it’s not a trick and it’s not a paradox either. It’s only a paradox because it’s hard for our brains to understand the compoundin­g power of exponents. If you have 23 random people in a room, what are the chances that two of them share the same birthday? If you have 70 people in a room, what are the chances that two of them share the same birthday? With only 23 people, the chances stand at 50% and with 70 people the odds go up to 99.9%. There is virtually a statistica­l certainty that there are at least two people who share a birthday in a room of 70 random people.

I have personally tried this out before and I never make it past February before I find two people with matching birthdays. If you’re having a hard time accepting these advanced statistica­l calculatio­ns, you’re not alone. The Birthday Paradox is not intuitive.

When given a choice between a tray with nine jellybeans and a single red one or a tray with 91 white jellybeans and nine red ones, which one would you think has a higher likelihood of selecting a red jellybean?

The second tray is chosen more often because participan­ts think they have a greater chance of selecting red when the greater statistica­l chance lies with the first tray.

While statistics is rooted in mathematic­al facts, Yates admits that statistics is as much an art as it is a science and statistics can be cherry-picked. Be very careful to be as judicial as possible when hearing sensationa­l statistics in the media or in a courtroom.

As Pulitzer Prize winner Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understand­ing it.” Don’t be a victim of statistica­l subterfuge, rather use mathematic­s and statistics honestly and judicially. 1 Thessaloni­ans 5:21 says to, “Test everything, hold fast to what is good”.

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