Blog: What are the chances?Musings on everyday probability

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Is the NY Times right about college diversity?

August 24th, 2017

The New York Times reported today that “Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresentated at top colleges than 35 years ago.”  Is this correct? The short answer is yes with respect to blacks and no with respect to hispanics. The Times presents a series of graphs that show the raw percentage difference of underrepresentation.   For […]

What are the chances of three snow days in one winter?

May 4th, 2017

Any time there is even a ghost of a chance of snow, my three kids get very excited (ok, let’s face it, being a southern transplant to NY, so do I).  We go to in the hopes it will gives us some idea of how likely it is that school will be canceled.  Here in […]

Super Bowl Coin Toss

January 14th, 2016

Is there any advantage to calling the coin toss in the Super Bowl?  It doesn’t appear so, as in the 49 games to date, tails has come up 25 times and heads has come up 24 (see for detail).  This is not surprising, given the conventional wisdom that a tossed coin comes up heads […]

Bridge splits re-visited

October 21st, 2015

A couple years back, I wrote on the chances of various “splits” in bridge (and explained why this is something bridge players care about) in this post, which also explains the math behind the chances. Here are the chances of the different splits of 7 trumps that are out, between the other two players. 4-3 split: […]

Going to College: what are the chances?

May 28th, 2015

The NY Times answers it today ( ).  It seems they have done a simple linear regression of percentile of income vs. college attendance ( not graduation).  You can go to the site and guess the relationship (spoiler alert: below is how I guessed in purple against the actual in grey).  It seems I did […]

What is a p value and why do you care?

February 16th, 2015

I feel like I’ve written this too many times, but here we go again. There was a splendid article in the New York times today concerning Bayesian statistics, except that, as usual, it had some errors.   Lest you think me overly pedantic, I will note that Andrew Gelman, the Columbia professor profiled in much of […]

Past posts can be found here…

February 16th, 2015

For the last year or so, I used my other site for blogging.  You can find those posts at .  

To Huck or not to Huck?

February 16th, 2015

I play a lot of Ultimate Frisbee, a game akin to football in that there are end zones, but akin to soccer in that there is constant action until someone scores.  In Ultimate, you can only advance by throwing the disc (so-called because we generally do not generally use Wham-O branded discs, which are called […]

Citibike Rides–what are the chances?

January 13th, 2014

I have been working with Joe Jansen on the Citibike data in the R Language.  Citibike is New York’s bike sharing program, which started in may and currently has more than 80,000 annual members.  The R Language is a freely available object oriented programming language designed originally for doing statistics at Bell Labs. Joe has downloaded all […]

What are the chances of different “splits” in bridge?

August 13th, 2013

If you know how to play bridge, skip to the fourth paragraph! In bridge, 13 cards are dealt to each of 4 players (so all 52 cards are dealt).  Players sitting across from each other are partners, so we could think of the two teams positions as North and South and East and West on […]

Simpson’s Paradox

April 29th, 2013

A North Slope real estate broker (named North) is trying to convince you that North Slope is a more affluent neighborhood than South Slope.  To prove it, he explains that professionals in North Slope earn a median income of $150,000, versus only $100,000 in South Slope.  Working class folks fare better in North Slope also, […]

The Worst Graph

November 12th, 2012

One reason for quotes like there are “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” is because of graphs like these:   This was on the front of this morning with the caption: “Huge US Oil Boom ahead: The U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer before 2020.” I was shocked […]

Election Polls

September 21st, 2012

With the upcoming election, I have been following my favorite prediction site:  That site has a big map showing current predictions state-by-state as well as the overall electoral vote prediction.  It also shows the senate predictions.  It has been amazing accurate in the past (though, of course, this doesn’t mean that the sites predictions […]

Born to Run?

November 11th, 2011

About a year ago, I read a book called “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, who last week wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine on the same subject.   McDougall’s basic premise is that we were faster and less injury-prone before we started wearing all these fancy running shoes and that they […]

Detecting cheating

March 30th, 2011

In my professional work, I like being the statistical sleuth, trying to figure out whether a person or company cheated, and how much they cheated. Thus it was with a lot of interest that I read a recent article in USA Today describing suspicious activity that went on some standardized tests in DC schools.   […]

Throw away your cold medicine again?

September 28th, 2010

A couple years ago, I wrote about a study that looked at the effect of a seawater nasal spray on the health of children (see that post).   Yesterday’s New York Times, explored a very similar claim. Anahad O’Connor’s column, “Really? The Claim: Gargling With Salt Water Can Ease Cold Symptoms,” looks at a study […]

You asked for it, you got it. Toyota!

March 15th, 2010

I think that’s how the ad line went. When? maybe 25 years ago.   Well, it seems to apply now. Sudden acceleration. Mention a problem with a car, any problem with any car, and people will start crawling out of the wood-work with the complaint. Why? It’s a numbers game. There were more than 100,000 […]

More germs = less disease?

December 9th, 2009

So says an article in today’s Science Daily, which reports on a recent study at Northwestern of children from the Philippines. The study finds that children from the Philippines have much lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates better resistance to disease. Exposure to germs was much higher for the children in the Philippines. […]

Why Swine Flu is not a bunch of hogwash

October 29th, 2009

This updates my previous blog: “Why Swine flu is a bunch of hogwash?”   Things have changed a bit in the months since that blog, and the hysteria I cited has leveled off. President Obama did declare a swine flu emergency a couple days ago, but I think that was a good idea.   Here […]

Redskins are lucky to play bad teams, but how lucky?

October 15th, 2009

A recent article in Yahoo Sports pointed out that the Washington Redskins are the first team in history to play six winless teams in a row. Here is their schedule so far (also according to the article cited above):   Week 1 — at New York Giants (0-0) Week 2 — vs. St. Louis Rams […]


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