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When NPR and iTrip Collide

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Charles Dahlheim

Back in the bad old days before bluetooth became common in automobiles people often used FM transmitters on their cellphones to listen to their music in their cars. These transmitters often used low FM frequencies and would override reception in nearby cars.

One day I was listening to a fascinating story about how some outstanding grade school science teachers were rewarded by being given a ride on NASA’s Vomit Comet. The teacher’s students had designed experiments for their teachers to perform under microgravity conditions and I was very interested to hear about their experiences.

Just as the story reached the part where the teachers were going to describe how it felt to be weightless, I suddenly heard music coming from my radio and Lionel Richie started singing “Ooo what a feeling, when you’re dancing on the ceiling”.

It’s a good thing I was pulled up at a stop light or I’d have driven off the road. The coincidence was awesome.


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 238.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

Hahaha! Very cute.

The odds are not as crazy as people might think. Lots of music might have been funny in that situation. A line from Space Odyssey, maybe, or any line about floating or feeling. I can think of several off the top of my head, some more fitting than others, but all pretty funny, like “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now”, “I can see clearly now”, “I’m hooked on a feeling, high on believing”, or “Up, up, and away”. And I’m sure there are many more that are even better.

But of course none of that reduces the humor of the story, and it was a low, if not crazy-low probability event.

The Candy Man Can!

(Submitted by Friend of the Blog and Skepticality listener Brian Hart)

As my wife and I turned on the TV to watch the latest episode of Nurse Jackie on Showtime, it was randomly on another channel.  The movie it was showing at that time was the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we switched over to Showtime.  The Nurse Jackie episode was called “Candyman”, and was about the death and funeral of the hospital’s news and candy vendor.  It featured the cast singing the song “Candy Man”.

Only one fly in this (chocolate?) ointment, that song only appeared on the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory back in 1971.  Who can possibly tie this coincidence together?

“The Candy Man can 
cause he mixes it with love 
and makes the world taste good”

Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 237 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

There might be more pop culture and media references to the beloved 1971 film than you realize. The classic Wonka film has had it’s fire rekindled after the advent of VHS home video, then with the DVD release, and again following the 2005 theatrical re-make (which does not include the song in question!) In fact besides Nurse Jackie, there are at least 17 different references, playings of the song, or parodies in recent media including films the Ice Age (2012 sequel), and TV shows including Futurama, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Gilmore Girls, and Malcolm in the Middle. The younger folks on the internet are also acutely aware of the Wonka image meme still widely used and circulated today.

Would it be considered a coincidence if you saw the movie playing after hearing a song by the band “Veruca Salt” on the radio or internet? The band is named after the rich, spoiled girl in the movie. How about when Wonka was quoted in the comedy classic Super Troopers? …The entire episode from The Office which revolved around Wonka’s “golden ticket” idea?

Still, Brian, the two references co-occurring and you just happening to see them seems pretty unlikely. Do you think it’s more unlikely than the runaway success of the film? A film about a creepy shut-in CEO using candy to lure a starving child into a “private tour” full of secret rooms, deadly machines, and fetish-geared pygmy slaves human-trafficked into his candy sweatshop? Maybe we’re better off not not knowing the odds, or what schnozzberries actually are.

The Anniversary Coincidence

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Arthur Lavigne

Me and my wife Amy decided to go out on a special brunch on our 28th wedding anniversary.  I made reservations at a very classy restaurant and we had a wonderful time. The they sat us next to the window and sitting behind us was another couple. About half way through I heard the waiter next to me ask if anyone was having their anniversary today, I looked up ready to answer that it was us when the couple behind us said proudly that it was their 28th anniversary today!  Two couples seated next to each other married the same day 28 years ago. I am sure the odds of this are high enough but this is not the first time it happened to us; something very similar happened before.

Three years ago our children gave us a 25th anniversary party but since our actual anniversary was on a weekday they did it on the weekend. So my wife and I went out to dinner at another restaurant that day (this time a not so expensive chain restaurant).  Halfway during dinner the servers made a grand announcement that a couple was celebrating an anniversary, but not just any anniversary but indeed a very special wedding anniversary with them tonight and they headed towards our table with a cake. My wife looked at me and asked did I tell them, “no” I said confused to what was happening. They passed us right by and went to the table BEHIND us as that couple was celebrating their 50thanniversary!

Two times:

One the same day and same years

The other the same day but x2 the years

So tell me what are the odds?


First, Wendy’s amateur analysis:

I can figure out part of it: I think people tend to go out and celebrate landmark events, 25th and 50th anniversaries, as well as the usual annual birthdays and anniversaries. It doesn’t seem that unusual to me to go to a high end restaurant for a special occasion and another group to be there also celebrating. But my analysis is strictly amateur hour…


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 236.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

You’re exactly right. There is no way to calculate the odds that there are multiple couples celebrating anniversaries at an upscale restaurant, but they very high. The higher you go in numbers of years married, less likely they will match, but there are a finite number of years to work from. So, if they said it was 5 years, the chances are better that they’d match than at 28 years, but in either case the odds are not outrageous.

On a side note, it’s nice to see that so many couples are making it that far. My own parents celebrated 50 years last October.

The Hot Hand

Are ‘Lucky Streaks’ Real? Science Says Yes

Maybe you’re not a gambler, but you probably have a grasp of the concept of a “hot hand” or a lucky streak. I’ve wondered before–is this a real phenomenon? My own experience suggests it could be, but one person’s anecdotes are just that. Luck-ily, a new study of online betting shows that the concept of a “hot hand” is real, but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect. The study found that when a person wins a bet, they become increasingly likely to succeed after each win. The converse is also true: Once you lose a bet, you become progressively more likely to keep losing.

The fascinating study looked at 565,915 sports bets made by 776 online gamblers in Europe and the United States, and found that, all things being equal, you’re likely to win or lose 48 percent of the time (draws presumably account for the remaining 4 percent). After a single winning bid, the chance of winning a second goes up ever so slightly to 49 percent. But here’s where things get interesting. After the second win, the chance of winning a third time increases to 57 percent. After that: 67 percent. Following a four-bet winning streak, the chances of scoring a fifth haul increase to 72 percent. The probability of a sixth win is then 75 percent, and finally, after six wins, bettors had a 76 percent chance of notching lucky No. 7.

What the heck is going on here? What probably explains this pattern is that after each win, people selected bets with better odds. Bettors appear to assume that after each win, they were more likely to lose–to regress to the mean, as they say–and so they compensate by making safer bets.

‘Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds. By doing so, they became more likely to win.’
The study, published this month in the journal Cognition, also found that losses can breed more losses. After losing twice, the chances of winning decreased to 40 percent. After four losses, the chance of winning was 27 percent. After six duds, you have only a 23 percent chance of winning. The explanation: after each loss, gamblers on average choose bets that are less likely to turn out, apparently assuming that they are more likely to win than before–and perhaps to make up their losses (although, on average, people gamble less after each loss). As you probably know, bets with a lower chance of winning have higher payouts.

The idea that one is more likely to lose after winning, or more likely to win after losing, is known as the gambler’s fallacy (in reality, all things being equal, one is just as likely to lose or win on any given bet, assuming one is betting on independent events that don’t effect each other’s outcomes, as is the case with the vast majority of sports bets). This stands in contrast to the “hot hand fallacy”: that one is more likely to win while on a hot streak. Bettors apparently don’t generally believe this to be true, or at least their behavior suggests they don’t.

“The result is ironic: Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds,” the researchers wrote. “By doing so, they became more likely to win. The losers expected the luck to turn, so they took riskier odds. However, this made them even more likely to lose. The gamblers’ fallacy created the hot hand.”

The researchers, Juemin Xu and Nigel Harvey at University College, London, conducted the study by examining the online betting activities of people on sports such as horse racing and soccer.

In Popular Science by Douglas Main


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 235.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog. This phenomenon was discussed on Virtual Skeptics, #90. Listen, watch and enjoy: It’s like Meet the Press, but with chupacabras.

You’re perhaps not understanding what they studied.

They didn’t study something with a consistent bet. It’s more like craps. The subjects were able to choose from among different odds. After winning, people made more conservative bets–bets with better odds of winning (and presumably lower payouts). After losing, people make riskier bets, probably because those bets would pay more if they won.

So, overall, you wouldn’t win more money. You’d just win more often.


 

Here are links to references John Rael made in the Skepticality episode.

  • A new study of online betting shows that the concept of a “hot hand” is real, but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.
  • ‘Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds. By doing so, they became more likely to win.’ The study, published this month in the journalCognition, also found that losses can breed more losses.
  • The idea that one is more likely to lose after winning, or more likely to win after losing, is known as the gambler’s fallacy  (in reality, all things being equal, one is just as likely to lose or win on any given bet, assuming one is betting on independent events that don’t affect each other’s outcomes, as is the case with the vast majority of sports bets).

 

Message in a Shark Tag

(Submitted by Skepticality listener Shawn Wilson)

A shark in Canada was tagged.  It never broadcast its information successfully to the satellite, but (the tag) came loose after a couple months and was found years later on a beach in Wales.  The person who found it recognized it for what it was, and after considerable sleuthing, found the researchers.  It turns out, the person who found it knew the cousin of the researcher’s wife.

CBC News – Windsor

A satellite tagging device a Canadian researcher attached to a Greenland shark in the Arctic in 2012 and used to record migratory data was recently found washed up on a beach 6,000 kilometres away.

The tag was found in Wales, just a short distance from where the wife of the researcher used to spend her summers.

Based on the data they recovered from the device, Nigel Hussey determined it must have come off the animal in December of 2012 in the middle of the Davis Strait, between Baffin Island and Greenland, and floated all the way to Wales.

The devices are programmed to release from the shark, float to the surface and transmit data to a satellite, which the scientists can access from their labs.

The data helps paint a more complete picture of the animal’s behaviour. However, not all the data collected by the tag is transmitted to the satellite, so finding one is extremely rare and could prove to be a potential gold mine, Hussey said.

“We’ve never got one back before. It’s really fantastic,” said Hussey, a scientist in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “We never would have thought that after putting it out in such a remote place that it ever would have been found.”

This tag is of particular interest because it never transmitted any data to the satellite.

Hussey said satellite coverage in the remote area of the Arctic can be spotty.

“It just seemed to disappear,” Hussey said.

Although it only stayed on for three months, it still contains a wealth of information.

“This is the most detailed data we’ve ever had for a Greenland shark,” said Hussey.

Mari Williams found the tag March 6 during a volunteer beach cleanup on West Dale Bay in Pembrokeshire.

Hussey’s wife Anna’s family originates from nearby St. David’s, and that’s where she spent her summers as a teenager.

“I’ve still got an aunt, an uncle and several cousins there,” Anna Hussey said. “In fact, Mari knows one of my cousins. They used to work on one of the tourist boats there together.”

Not knowing what the device was, but suspecting it might have been a shark tag, Williams, who has an undergraduate degree in environmental science, posted a picture of the tag on Twitter and tweeted it at the Shark Trust, a shark conservation charity.

Simon Pierce, of Marine Megafauna Foundation, recognized the device and recommended she contact Wildlife Computers, the device’s manufacturer.

She sent them the serial number, and the Seattle-based company traced it back to Hussey.

“I just find the whole thing amazing,” Williams said from her home in Wales.


Below are the extended notes for use in Skepticality Episode 233 provided Edward Clint.  Clint produces the Skeptic Ink Network and writes about Evolutionary Psychology, critical thinking and more at his blog Incredulous. He is presently a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA studying evolutionary psychology.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary.

Six Degrees of Canadian Bacon, or, The one that didn’t get away

There are two unlikely events in this story, though each is not quite a astronomical as you might think. First, what are the odds anyone would find the tracker, wherever it ended up? We can’t be sure how long the tracker was on that beach, but it must have taken a couple months to arrive. That leaves 6-9 months it might have been at the Westdale Bay Beach which is described as a “picturesque sandy beach” popular with surfers. Many hundreds of people might have seen the device, but only a person who recognized what it probably was, as Williams did, would have bothered to pick it up. Since Williams was part of a voluntary beach clean up activity, it’s no wonder someone policing the beach would take an interest in unusual bits that don’t belong there.

That being the case, what are the odds one UK dweller would happen to be related to another who knows the original researcher that placed the tracker? Not all that bad. The original “six degrees of separation” concept was popularized by psychologist Stanley Milgram. But in 2011 a University of Milan study determined any two people in the world are separated by an average of 4.7 acquaintances. (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/technology/between-you-and-me-4-74-degrees.html?_r=0) In Williams’s case, it’s about 2 degrees of separation from the researcher. But that’s only about three degrees more than you have. Or me. Or anyone.

Mosquito bits

(Submitted by reader Peter Jacobs)

I was recently driving home, listening to a Radiolab Podcast about mosquitoes, when I heard a statistic that was new to me. “Half of the people who have ever lived, have been killed by mosquito-borne diseases.” I was impressed.

Two HOURS later, I was watching an English T.V. show called “Q.I.” which is a comedy panel show about interesting facts. (“Quite Interesting”) To my surprize, the same fact was the answer to one of the questions on the show.


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 232.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

There are sometimes “facts of the day” – things that people mention on shows because they heard it somewhere else and it kind of gets a life of its own. So it’s possible that someone writing for QI also listens to Radiolab. But even if they are totally unrelated, we encounter many of these things every day without noticing.

Derek Does Digital Spring Cleaning

(Submitted by friend of the blog, Skepticality host Derek Colanduno)

So, this past Saturday Swoopy, my wife Susan, and I all jumped in the car to head out to a local restaurant for some dinner. On the way, Swoopy asked if I saw her last Facebook post. It was about the fact that she happened to be watching VH-1 in the background while studying for a test, and one of the videos that came on was by Nitzer Ebb. We both found that funny since we never knew that Nitzer Ebb had a video, let alone one which would make it all the way to VH-1. Heck, Nitzer Ebb wasn’t even popular enough in their ‘hay day’ to end up on TV of any sort. We had to tell my wife who the band was, not surprising since they aren’t much of a household name.

When we got home from dinner I went to check on my desktop computer. I had left it to do a full scan of all of my files so it could find all the ones which I had not looked at, or opened in over a couple years (just doing some digital spring cleaning).

Well, the file at the top of the list, the one which hadn’t been opened or changed the longest? That happened to be the .mp3 file for “Isn’t It Funny How Your Body Works”, the song by Nitzer Ebb. I have about 1.4 terabytes of files, .mp3 files take up about 400GB or so of that space. I had to make Swoopy come over to my screen so she could see what popped up at the top of my scan. She said, “Well, I DID say that the band is one that doesn’t get played much.”

Maybe the cosmos is telling the world to bring back strange 80′s metal-techno…..


Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 231.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

What makes this not a big coincidence is something that Derek shared in the story: they were surprised to see Nitzer Ebb because the band was obscure enough to be forgotten. One likely reason he hadn’t played that mp3 recently is that the band was obscure enough to be forgotten. It’s a cute story, but the odds are in the “sane” category. ;)

The Coincidence of the Twelfth Man

(Submitted by  blog reader, loyal Seahawks Season Ticket holder Bill Young)

Like everyone else here in Seattle, I watched the Superbowl and noticed more than a few coincidences.

  • Of course Seattle is home of the 12th man.
  • Superbowl XXLVIII (48)
  • 4 + 8 = 48
  • Seattle scored at 12 seconds into the game.
  • Seattle’s first touchdown was at 12:00 in the second quarter.
  • Seattle scored at 12 seconds into the second half.
  • Russell Wilson passed for 206 yards (206 is Seattle’s area code)
  • Seahawks final score 43 points
  • 4×3 = 12

What are the odds?

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Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 230. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

“The 12th man” refers to the fans. Teams are only allowed 11 players on the field at a time, but fans can affect the outcome of the game by cheering (it’s a subtle effect), so they call the fans “the 12th man”. I’m not sure how Seattle got to be known as “The Home of the 12th Man”.

The odds of all of those things happening are difficult to calculate, but not really worth examining. It’s a good example of post hoc data-mining and cherry-picking. He looked for things that relate to the number 12 and ignored all of the things that don’t. For example, what are the numbers of the players who scored? What was the score at the half? How many coaches were on the field? How many turnovers were there? Lots of numbers involved in the game don’t fit the idea that “12″ is a special number that matches the Seahawk’s marketing campaign about the 12th man.

Superbowl and a different kind of bowl

(Submitted by  blog reader John Hordyk)

What are the chances the two teams (from states) that legalized pot, both made it to the Super Bowl?

I came up with on in 509,600 to 1.

Fifty states could have legalized pot, if you assume two would, you have a 2450 to 1 chance it would be those two.

Twenty-two states that have football teams, so a chance that it would be those two, this will take a little longer to figure out.

Two hundred eight to one chances it would be these teams, so.

509,600 to one chance the two teams that legalized pot would be in the Super Bowl?

Is that right?

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Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 230. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

I think this is an interesting question, but I got a different answer from the author.

According to my calculations, there are 1225 ways to pick 2 from 50, so the chance of any two specific states legalizing pot (assuming that two would, which is a big assumption, but one we have to make) is 1 in 1225.If the Super Bowl teams were chosen at random (rather than performance), there are 231 ways to pick 2 from 22.We can then calculate the odds that both events will happen by multiplying them: .00082 x .00432 = .0000035.Pretty small! BUT… football teams making the Super Bowl and the passing of legislation like the legalization of pot are not random events. There are probably all kinds of factors which make these two things correlated, even if that correlation is extremely small. Even the smallest correlation can have a dramatic effect on the likelihood of the event.

Hockey Gods

(Submitted by  blog reader Joseph Gagne)

April is sports month at The Odds Must Be Crazy. In this entry, hockey pro Steve Sullivan gets heckled by a fan after an injury. A few minutes later, same fan gets smacked in the face with a hockey puck.

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[Ed. Note: Sometimes one video is worth a thousand words. - Wendy]