Looking through the mathematical lens
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”.