What are the odds?

Let’s multiply together a bunch of numbers which are less than one and see how small they get!
If that sounds like fun, then you’ll love this sleek new infographic (of which the above is just the teaser) posted this morning at BoingBoing. The graphic is based on this blog post by Dr. Ali Binazir, who apparently has an AB (same as a BA) from Harvard, an MD from the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and an M.Phil. from Cambridge.
I’ll save you the effort of clicking through: the good doctor estimates the probability of “your existing as you, today”. His estimate consists of (what else?) multiplying a bunch of raw probability estimates together without conditioning! And I’ll give you a hint as to the conclusion: the odds that you exist are basically zero! Astounding.
I should add that it seems he was forced to add a disclaimer that “It’s all an exercise to get you thinking…” and (obliquely) admit that the calculation is bogus at the end of the post, however.
Is there any branch of mathematics which is abused so extravagantly as probability? I think these sorts of abuses are beyond even the most egregious statistical claims, no?

Tiger Versus the Theoreticians

David Brooks, has an op-ed in the New York Times about Tiger Woods and his astonishing string of triumphs in the golfing world (including last weekends U.S. Open which I watched the end of on both Saturday and Sunday: my wife was right he did make that last put.) Brooks piece waxes on and on about the Tiger’s ability to concentrate

And for that, in this day and age, he stands out. As I’ve been trying to write this column, I’ve toggled over to check my e-mail a few times. I’ve looked out the window. I’ve jotted down random thoughts for the paragraphs ahead. But Woods seems able to mute the chatter that normal people have in their heads and build a tunnel of focused attention.

Now Tiger’s concentration level is definitely astounding (and his combination of hard work, athletic talent, and mental toughness is certainly unmatched in golf), but I wonder if David Brooks every seen a theoretician or mathematician working?
Continue reading “Tiger Versus the Theoreticians”

No Dice?

From a New York Times article describing the Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s production of “No Dice:”

“Poetics,” for example, was choreographed using dice. Each face on the die represented one of six possible gestures, and each appendage — two arms, two legs and the head — got its own roll of the dice. Dice determined where the actors stand and for how long. There are four actors in “Poetics,” but, alas, no such thing as a four-sided die. So, to determine who did what, the directors used a dreidel.

No such thing as a four sided dice? Obviously no one among the choreographers has played Dungeons & Dragons: