5 curious statistics facts

Statistics seem boring, but much of what happens in life depends on it, from elections to the lottery. Facts and patterns that are directly related to real life.

Even if you don’t like arithmetic and you don’t like numbers, you will definitely be impressed by the facts and patterns that Charles Whelan, the author of the fascinating novelty “Naked Statistics”, talks about - a man who hates calculations, dislikes mathematics and is not delighted with formulas that have no practical application. Unlike statistics, which have the most direct relation to real life. Why? Now you will find out for yourself.

1. Stupid lottery

Buying an instant lottery ticket is absolutely stupid. This is one of the most important lessons in probability theory. Good decisions—as measured by the probabilities that lie behind them—might not be so good in reality. By the time you spend as much as $1 million on lottery tickets that cost just $1, your winnings will be very close to $560,000.

This is explained by the law of large numbers. However, as well as the fact that casinos always win in the long run. The probabilities associated with all games played in the casino favor the latter (assuming the casino is able to prevent blackjack players from calculating cards).

Thus, buying a lottery ticket is a completely worthless way to spend $1.

2. How to catch cheaters

In certain cases, the concept of probability can even be used to catch cheaters. Caveon Test Security specializes in so-called data forensics, which reveal patterns that suggest fraud. For example, this company will draw public attention to the results of exams in a particular educational institution if the number of identical incorrect answers found is extremely unlikely (usually this is a picture that is less than one in a million).

At the same time, she is guided by the following mathematical logic: when a large group of students correctly answers a question, it is impossible to draw an unambiguous conclusion from this. Two options are possible here: either they unanimously copied the correct answer from one of their comrades, or all as one very smart guys. But when a large group of students answer a question incorrectly, it is alarming: everyone cannot answer the same wrong - at least the likelihood of such a scenario is extremely small.

This suggests that they copied the wrong answer from one of their classmates.

3. Breaks or cigarettes?

Consider the following hypothetical news item from the internet: "People who take short breaks from work during the day are much more likely to die from cancer." According to a very impressive survey of 36,000 workers (a huge amount of data, isn't it?!), those who left the office for regular ten-minute breaks during each working day were 41% more likely to get cancer in the next five years, than those who did not leave their offices. It is clear that, having learned such news, we are obliged to somehow react to it: perhaps, to conduct a nationwide campaign to ban short breaks during the working day.

Or maybe we should approach the problem from the other side and think about what exactly employees usually do during such ten minutes? It's not for me to tell you that many crowd near the entrance to the office building, smoking cigarettes (and creating a cloud of smoke through which those who enter or exit the building are forced to pass). I dare to suggest that it is cigarettes, and not short breaks in work, that are the main cause of cancer.

It means only one thing. If there is not enough input data or statistical methods are used incorrectly, there is a risk that our conclusions can not only mislead us, but also be potentially dangerous.

4. Insidious Hollywood

Hollywood film studios are the most egregious example of inflation's disregard for movie revenues over time. What, for example, does the top five highest-grossing (US domestic) films of all time look like in 2011?

1. Avatar (2009) 2. Titanic (1997) 3. The Dark Knight (2008)

4. Star Wars. Episode IV (1977) 5. Shrek 2 (2004)

Doesn't this list seem a bit suspicious to you?

These are all decent films - but Shrek 2? Was Shrek 2 a bigger commercial success than Gone with the Wind or The Godfather or Jaws? No no and one more time no! Hollywood would like to give us the impression that each of its next blockbuster is bigger and more profitable than the previous one.

But it's just that the current dollar and the dollar as it was ten years ago are far from the same thing: the purchasing power of the current dollar is much lower. As a result, any comparisons without adjusting for changes in the value of the dollar are not accurate.

Perhaps the film studios do this on purpose. But in fact, for everything to be fair, you need to take into account the price of a movie ticket, which is now higher than 10 years ago. And that's it. That's why Avatar and Shrek 2 are on the same list.

5. Gifted Terrorists

There is a scientific literature on terrorists and suicide bombers, a topic that would be very difficult to study in real life using volunteers as guinea pigs. Here is one of the important conclusions made by Princeton University economist Alan Krueger: “Terrorists are not always from the poorest strata of the population or poorly educated people, on the contrary, they usually belong to the middle class; their level of education is also quite high.”

What's the matter? Since terrorists are motivated by specific political goals, those who are most educated and wealthy are driven by a strong desire to change society. They especially resent the suppression of freedom, another factor associated with terrorism. And countries with a high level of political repression have a higher level of terrorist activity (provided that other factors remain unchanged).

Alan Kruger even wrote a book - How a Man Becomes a Terrorist.

The paradox of statistics is that they are ubiquitous—from so-called averages to presidential votes—but they have a reputation for being uninteresting and obscure. Charles Whelan finally solved this problem. Each time he asks himself: “Why do I need this (calculations, data)?”. And finds the answer.