AUG 9, 2011 9:14am ET

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Thinking Statistical Bias


Two Septembers ago, families of students at our suburban Chicago high school received an email from the principal detailing school performance over the previous 12 months. His note chronicled the considerable accomplishments of individual students, student organizations and school athletics. He also made special mention of the school's large number of new semi-finalists from the National Merit Scholarship program, a whopping 50 percent increase from the previous year.

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Comments (3)
The odds of Death in Any Given Year from all External Causes of Mortality: 1,756 to 1

Buying a lottery ticket is not related to the odds of winning. It's based on the experience of playing to win just like going to Las Vegas. People are paying for the entertainment experience. It should be called "gamblers fantasy" not fallacy.

The probability of becoming a millionaire as a stock broker or trader is based on how much you love money, not hard work or capabilities. Using statistics to rationalize human behavior is entertaining and amusing but should always be prefaced with the note: these statistics are subject to the random, unexplained, irrational and frequently silly behavior of humans. These statistics have been compiled by humans who likewise suffer from these same fallacies.

Posted by Richard O | Wednesday, August 10 2011 at 1:30PM ET
Steve: In the Bayes disease-testing example, I think you meant to write 0.6%, not 6%.

I enjoy your writing. Thanks.

Posted by Rama R | Wednesday, August 10 2011 at 5:38PM ET
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