Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Statistically Famous

I avoid TV news whenever possible, but that's tough at the gym. Today during my lunchtime workout Fox News featured a man who has been struck by lightning four times. "Your chances of being struck by lightning are just 1 in 3,000," breathlessly intoned the anchoress. "And your chance of being struck twice is only 1 in 9 million! I'm not even going to try to calculate the chances of being struck four times like this man!" Don't worry ma'am we can do that heavy liftin' for you. A specific person has just 1 chance in 3,000 x 3,000 x 3,000 x 3,000 (or 81 trillion) of being struck by lightning during his lifetime. That's pretty unlikely. However, the chance that someone, somewhere in the United States will be struck by lightning four times so Fox News can fill 10 minutes of air time is significantly higher--about 1 chance in 270,000. Why? Because there are roughly 300 million people in the US which gives us 300 million chances in 81 trillion that one of them will score the quad. And the chance of this happening to someone in the world rises to roughly 1 in 13,500 (six billion chances in 81 trillion). Further, the 1 in 3,000 chance we started with is averaged across a mostly risk-averse population. If you enjoy watching thunderstorms from the top of the Empire State Building you're guaranteed to be struck more than four times--a lot more! This guy lays steel water pipes for a living, which seems like a more strike-prone profession than most, especially if you don't know when to knock-off!

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