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Ask Professor Rosenthal 2 – By the Numbers, Boys and Girls: Happenstance and Chance of the Everyday

2022-05-07

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/04/27

Dr. Jeffrey S. Rosenthal is a Professor of Statistics at the University of Toronto. Here we talk about the statistics, life, and quality of life.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are some everyday examples of statistics, chance, and luck in action?

Professor Jeffrey Rosenthal: There are so many!  Randomness arises whenever we’re not sure what will happen next.  Will it rain?  Will we get a job?  Will the stock price increase?  Who will win the election?  Will we fall in love? 

All of these questions can be modelled, in various ways, as a random phenomenon where we don’t know the actual outcome, we just know various probabilities and can try to base our actions and understandings on that.

Jacobsen: How could knowledge of the nature of chance improve our livelihoods and quality of life – not simply thinking critically about bunk claims?

Rosenthal: An understanding of randomness — what I call the “probability perspective” — allows us to make better decisions in many ways.  We can avoid worrying about very low-probability bad events, like airplane crashes or kidnappings by strangers. 

We can stop counting on low-probability successes like winning the lottery jackpot.  We can also decide whether to walk or wait for the bus, whether to accept medical treatment, and so on. 

Best of all, we can better understand the world around us, such as news items claiming dramatic “similarities” of two long-lost relatives, or great “surprise” at certain coincidences which were bound to happen eventually by chance alone. 

In short, the better we understand randomness, and the more probability perspective we have, the better we can understand and react to our uncertain world.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Rosenthal.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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