What Are the Odds?: The Chances of Extraordinary Events in Everyday Life

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Amherst, New York, U.S.A. 2002 Paperback New 1573929336. FLAWLESS COPY, PRISTINE, NEVER OPENED--264 pages--DESCRIPTION: Every day we are barraged with statistics about the ... chances of success and health risks, but to most of us all these numbers and percentages mean very little. If you're curious about how statistics can significantly impact your life, this lighthearted whirlwind tour of probability has everything you need. Not only will you be amused by Jefferson Hane Weaver's many entertaining examples, but you'll actually learn how statistics work. Even the most math-phobic individual won't be able to resist delving into the many provocative topics covered, including the chances of: getting into an Ivy League school, finding the perfect mate, winning the lottery, engaging in a menage a trois, being audited, becoming a star, or dying on the job. Weaver proves that statistics can be fun and that knowing the probabilities for any given situation can help you avoid risks and increase your chances of a succes Read more Show Less

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Overview

How often have you wondered about the probability of winning the lottery? Maybe you'd like to know the odds of marrying a millionaire, or of just finding matching socks when fumbling around in a dark dresser drawer. We're barraged with statistics every day about health risks, life expectancy, and the chances of success, but to most of us all these numbers and percentages mean very little. If you're curious about how statistics can significantly impact your life but don't want to wrestle with the equations in a dry-as-dust textbook, this lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek, whirlwind tour of entertaining statistics has everything you need.

Not only will you be amused by J. H. Weaver's many entertaining examples, but you'll actually learn something about how statistics work. Even the most math phobic individual won't be able to resist delving into the many provocative topics covered, including:
DatingùWhat are the chances of finding your perfect mate?
HealthùWhat are the odds that you will have surgery performed this year?
SuccessùWhat is the likelihood that this book will be a best-seller?

Weaver admirably succeeds in proving that statistics can be fun, while showing that knowing the probabilities for any given situation can help you avoid risks and increase your chances of a successful and enjoyable life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What could be better than a book on probability that doesn't bother with lots of pesky equations? There are only a few sentences here on those dreaded "standard deviations" and even then, only to dismiss them. Weaver purports to examine the probability of (mostly) improbable phenomena, such as the likelihood of getting hit on the head by a meteor, of having simultaneous multiple sex partners, of writing a bestseller and getting murdered on the job. Since probability theory has little to offer in the evaluation of such phenomena, Weaver is freed from having to calculate much of anything, leaving plenty of space for his opinions on such topics as why we have violent crime when the government gives financial assistance to poor people, or whether nursing home injury rates are high because old men are trying to have sex with old ladies who might not be their wives. Now and then, Weaver does throw in some numbers (although he doesn't discuss his sources), e.g., that Americans have sex an average of 59.1 times a year so what's that one tenth, Weaver wonders rather predictably, kissing, hugging, fondling? But then again, as Weaver himself says, "Statistics are tools and they are admittedly of limited effectiveness, particularly when used by persons of limited effectiveness." (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573929332
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Jefferson Hane Weaver (Fort Lauderdale, FL) is the highly acclaimed author of many popular science books, including Conquering Statistics, The Story of Physics, and The Story of Mathematics.
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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


IN SEARCH OF

ROMANCE


PERFECT MATES


Have you ever sat alone in the dark after your most recent romantic relationship crashed and burned like the Hindenburg dirigible? Have you wondered whether you would ever find that certain person who would be the perfect match for you? Do you often wake up in the morning after a drunken night of carousing on the town and gaze into the peaceful face of a person whom you have no recollection of having met and no desire to ever see again? These are the dilemmas that confront those wanting to find true love.

    Love, even though it may be offered over the phone for $3.95 a minute, is among the most difficult and fleeting of things to find. And finding that certain perfect person in a cacophonic world strewn with dysfunctional personalities and neurotic behavior is a Herculean task. Fortunately, we can pick ourselves up off of our barstools, cast aside our feelings of self-pity, and grab the arm of the nearest statistician to reduce this quest for true love to a more definable (and, hopefully, solvable) mathematical problem. After all, we are living on the threshold of a new millennium in which our sciences have tamed a chaotic world and enabled us to bring rational analysis to bear on even matters of the heart.

    So what would this statistician tell us about our likelihood of finding our perfect mate? He would first demand payment for services to be rendered and then he would proceed to ask us some questions about thepopulation in which we wish to carry out our search. Do we want to confine our search for true love to our town? Our state? Our country? Or do we want to go for broke and open our search for that perfect person throughout the entire world, whether it takes us to the huts of the Serengeti or the bathhouses of Bangkok or the lumber camps of Siberia? If we opted to take on the entire world, our statistician would notify us that there are about 6 billion people whom we would need to consider in our search. This type of quest poses enormous logistical problems because it is very difficult to meet 6 billion people, even if one devotes all of his or her waking hours to this task. Moreover, there are expenses—plane fares, hotels, room service, bribes to customs officials—which cannot be ignored. Fortunately, we can reduce this search by defining the type of person we would like to meet. First, we can limit our search to a single sex (say, men), thereby cutting the potential pool down to 3 billion people. Second, we can focus on a particular age group such as those men between 30 to 40 years of age because we may not be very interested in dating men who ride around in baby carriages or those who take their teeth out at night before they go to bed. As a result, we would be considering no more than 600 million men. Now we might want to further qualify our search, perhaps by eliminating those who do not speak our language, those who have disfiguring diseases, and those who belong to terrorist cells. We might thus find ourselves considering no more than 50 million men. This is certainly a much more promising approach than simply buying a book of plane tickets and rushing around to the world's capitals in a furious attempt to find Mr. Perfect. But it still presents a challenge to us because finding true love requires such things as meeting potential perfect mates, dating potential perfect mates, and actually taking the time to get to know these potential perfect mates. When you are trying to court 50 million men, time is at a premium. Given the fact that the average woman lives to be 75 years of age, and is an adult for fifty-seven of those years, then the average woman has, at most, fifty-seven years of possible dating time or approximately 20,800 dating days. This of course ignores those times in which that woman is ill, recovering from jet lag, or simply sick of men. Broken down further, we see that if a woman devotes her entire adult life to dating, beginning her dating from the time she gets up in the morning to the time she goes to bed, then we might be able to count on a total dating time of 332,800 hours (assuming sixteen-hour dating days). For such an endeavor to be successful, it is very helpful to be independently wealthy because such a rigorous dating schedule will preclude gainful employment in all but the highest levels of the federal government.

    Assuming that we are still enthusiastic about the task at hand, we may want to focus on the efficiency of our dating arrangements. If we are trying to root through some 50 million men, we cannot afford to spend hours and hours getting to know them and learning about their hopes, dreams, and fears because the whole dating process will break down. Moreover, we want to be able to determine early on whether our potential soul mate is the perfect match. This may be accomplished by mailing each man a detailed questionnaire before the start of the first date which he can fill out while you are driving to the restaurant. You can then mark his test while waiting for the appetizers to arrive and, if he fails to make the grade, you can then make a hasty exit before having to order the entree (perhaps offering the excuse that you must attend a wake for your recently deceased grandmother—who can serve as a convenient excuse for short-circuiting many dates in the future). For those who find computerized tests to be too cold and impersonal, you could devise a series of questions which you could mix with the small talk over drinks in a very subtle manner:


He: This is a lovely restaurant.
She: Yes, it is. Is there a history of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes in your family?
He: No, I don't think so. Oh, look at the beautiful moon outside the window.
She: It's very nice. Have you been sexually active in the past three months?
He: That is a rather personal question—
She: By the way, have you ever had been tested for a sexually transmitted disease?
He: I don't know what to say—
She: By the way, did you remember to bring your prior three years of personal and corporate tax returns?
He: But we are on a date!
She: I'll take that as a yes. And what about your mental health? Have you ever been committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation?
He: I have never been so insulted in my life!
She: Now, now, I'm just trying to find out a little bit about you! Why waste a lot of time on meaningless chitchat when you can go straight to the heart of the matter and find out whether you are impotent—
He: (indignantly) Impotent! I should say—
She: —and if so, if you have found E.D. pills to be a successful treatment—

He: I can't believe this conversation! I'm leaving! (He exits.)


    Although this type of probing dialogue is not for the faint of heart, it enables our protagonist to determine very quickly if her date is emotionally unstable, quick to anger, and therefore unlikely to be that perfect life partner. The need to carry out dating activities in an efficient manner requires that one avoid the "happy talk" that causes so many dates to bog down and drag late into the night. To further increase dating efficiency, one could schedule fifteen-minute dating slots at the same restaurant and arrange for prospective dates to come in for preliminary screenings. Your turn-out rate will likely be much higher if you do not inform any of your dates that they will be "interviewed" along with twenty or more other men over the course of the evening.

    So if you are able to perfect the fifteen-minute date, spending all of your adult waking hours dating men, you could conceivably develop deep, meaningful relationships with about 1.2 million men before you were due to leave this world. But that would still exclude some 48.8 million possible matches from your dating process. This is completely unacceptable because it could render the results of your exhaustive search meaningless. One possibility would be to get the pictures of all 50 million men beforehand and flip through the photographs to see who might strike your fancy. If it takes two seconds to look at a photograph and decide after deep contemplation that the subject may or may not be the perfect mate for you, then it would only take about 100 million seconds to go through the entire collection of photographs of all the world's eligible men. As there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year (of which you would be devoting all of your waking hours or sixteen hours a day or approximately 21,024,000 seconds to reviewing photographs), then you would be able to look at about 10,512,000 photographs each year. At that rate, you would make short work of the entire pile in about five years. Assuming that you are very selective and pick 50,000 photographs for further consideration, then you will be way ahead of the game. Of course this process ignores the fact that some of these men will be aging out of your 30- to 40-year group and new ones will be joining it at the same time but these are the messy details which we must finesse when we are involved in important scientific matters.

    Having narrowed your choices down to a select few tens of thousands, you could then utilize a variety of more selective techniques, ranging from impromptu telephone calls to showing up on a whim at the front doors of your more reluctant prospects. Whether they open the door gladly or urge their bull mastiff to bite your leg is an unknowable risk that you will not be able to ascertain beforehand but it is a hazard that one must consider when seeking the perfect mate.

    So what are the odds that you will meet the man of your dreams, the one charming and handsome fellow who causes your heart to pound and your blood to race, the divine masculine hunk who dumb-founds your very senses? Our brief excursion has revealed that if you assume that there is only a single person in the world who is your perfect match, then you have quite a tough road ahead of you. After all, you are betting that you will succeed when you have only about a 1-in-50-million chance, assuming that you decide to focus on your desired age group. If you are unsure of your preferences, wondering aloud whether you might indeed be happier with a 95-year-old leper who lives alone on a Tibetan mountain or perhaps a 22-year-old "roadie" who feeds lions in the Barcelona circus, then there is scant hope that you will find that perfect someone because you will not yet have made up your mind about the type of man with whom you wish to spend your life and you will have little more than a 1-in-3 billion chance of success. And pity the poor bisexuals who must grapple with the entire human population, feeling enamored with muscular men one day and shapely women the next, completely overwhelmed at the prospect that the perfect match is lost somewhere in the 6 billion souls of humanity. Of course the bright side of the poor bisexual's dilemma is that he or she may have double the chance of finding that perfect someone.


But is it truly realistic to propose that there is only one perfect person for any single individual wandering around somewhere else in the world? It is hard to imagine why the human race would not have died out many centuries ago if everyone spent all of their time looking for that one person who was the perfect match. But the fact that we are here today is a testament to our having abandoned the notion that we must find the perfect person. Most of us have decided that we can love more than one person, sometimes at the same time. But modern convention, hot-tempered spouses who carry sidearms, and ravenous divorce attorneys have joined together to deter all but the most suicidal of us from actually acting out those fantasies of multiple bed partners. Most of us have managed to compromise instead of insisting on blindly pursuing an image of flawless beauty. Instead, we have set our sights on finding someone with whom we can be compatible and comfortable. This does not guarantee a perfect match but it does help to ensure that the human race will survive for yet another generation. Because it is difficult to be indescribably happy about anything for any great period of time—whether it be the local baseball team winning the World Series or a despised boss who sexually harassed you falling off a cruise ship—perhaps it is folly to think of a perfect mate. After all, you can be married to the most handsome man in the world but the novelty of his beauty will eventually wear off. He will become somewhat less extraordinary in your eyes while the youthful, heavily biceped gardener who pours herbicides on your next-door neighbor's rosebushes may seem increasingly exciting. So while the idea that there is a single perfect person somewhere in the world is an appealingly romantic notion, it is probably without any kind of evidentiary support. People's tastes change over time and even those few who are fortunate enough to stumble across that perfect mate may not realize it at the right moment or fail to remain enamored with that once perfect person for all time.


THREE IS NOT A CROWD


Most people involved in romantic relationships eventually move beyond the kissing and hand-holding stage, where they feel obligated to pretend to be interested in each other's deepest thoughts and desires, to a more physical stage in which they engage in a variety of activities with puzzling Latin names. For most of the population, however, their venture into the world of sexual intimacy is made with but a single partner at one time. Two people with active imaginations can offer literally thousands of creative activities and positions which will provide them with the stimulation, satisfaction, and exercise that they so desperately crave.

    However, there are some people who find a single partner to be too pedestrian and, frankly, too dull for their tastes. This is not to say that most people have not fantasied at one time or another about having two, three, or even four members of the opposite sex cavort with them in a vat of whipped cream. But the reality is that most of us do not have such "open-minded" groups of friends or vats filled with whipped cream. Moreover, those of us who are married do not usually find that our spouses are terribly keen on the idea of sharing us with another person or two and will in fact express their displeasure by threatening to cut off our legs or some other handy appendage with a machete if we dare suggest the idea again. This sort of hostile response will deter most people from bringing up the topic again but there are a few hardy souls who do not believe that they should have to suffer the isolation and loneliness of having to engage in sexual relations with a single person at any given time. For these people, the mattress is a canvas on which bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors can become entwined in a quivering mass of sweaty flesh.

    Because society is so inundated with sexually oriented advertising, magazines, movies, books, and television programs, we would not be surprised that there are many people who engage in threesomes, foursomes, and even moresomes. But to try to determine the odds that you will become involved in a threesome is precarious at best. First, we do not have enough voyeurs on the payroll to sweep through the country's neighborhoods late at night and peer through open windows to get a head count as to how many persons are jumping into flesh piles. Sadly, there are no blank spaces on the U.S. Census forms whereby one may state the frequency and the number of multiple partners he or she may enjoy.

    If we cannot use official surveys of the population to determine the percentage of the entire population engaged in sexual activities with multiple sex partners, then we must rely on our own surveys. This is unfortunate because it means we must not only mail out our own surveys but that we must try to make sure that the survey is sent to a representative sample of the population. If we want a true idea as to the odds that you or I will become involved in a ménage à trois at some point in our adult lives, then we want to make sure that our survey is received by an accurate cross section of the population. We would not want to send all of our surveys to the subscribers of American Swingers magazine because these readers are more likely than the general population to share a box of cornflakes with two or three naked adults, never mind the sexual activities. Their responses would presumably be much higher than those of the general population regarding their sexual activities with multiple partners. Similarly, we would not want to send all of our surveys to the local convent or monastery which we assume, due to the vows of celibacy taken by the members, would reflect a much lower rate of participation in sexual activities with multiple partners than the population as a whole. So the trick is to send a few to the swingers, a few to the nuns and monks, and distribute the rest in a representative manner among the other groups which make up the entire population.

    Even if our mailing goes well and we receive enough responses from each group (something which only happens in the wet dreams of statisticians), we are still going to have to consider whether or not the results are worth the paper they are printed on. Many people like to brag when asked about their sexual history, adding a few additional partners to the résumé or a few additional minutes to tales of their endurance. If we are asking someone whether they have ever engaged in a threesome, we need to keep in mind that this is a very common fantasy, particularly among males, and that they may say they have participated in a ménage à trois when in fact they may not know the difference between a ménage à trois and a coup de grâce. So the social scientist who must go through these surveys and draw some type of meaningful conclusions from his results may not feel very comfortable with the results due to this tendency by most persons (particularly men) to exaggerate all things sexual. Indeed, the statistician may be surprised at the percentage of people who respond positively to such a question, reasoning that neither he nor any of the other statisticians with whom he plays poker and factors prime numbers for fun has ever said anything about being involved in a threesome. But, like it or not, there may be no alternative but to accept the results of the survey, assuming that the sample adequately represents the population, and report the findings.

    What have national surveys said about the chances that even very ugly people will become involved in a threesome? Although the political pollsters do not typically ask households about their sexual activities, there are a few published surveys that have tried to uncover the frequency with which people like you and me have sex with multiple partners at the same time. These surveys typically utilize small samples and may therefore not be representative of the entire population. Yet the Kinsey Institute has collected the results of several of these surveys together in June M. Reinisch and Ruth Beasley's The Kinsey Institute's New Report on Sex (1990) to try to bring some clarity to the subject.

    After being informed by the authors that the phrase ménage à trois translates to mean "household of three" the authors then proceed to discuss some of the findings that have been derived from surveys purporting to examine the frequency in which people engage in group sex. Of particular interest is that the traditional form of the ménage à trois is something of a family activity—with the three people in question consisting of a married couple and the lover of one of the spouses. Whether this lover comes along on cross-country trips with the rest of the family is not discussed but it appears as though the lover is accepted almost matter-of-factly in such situations. Moreover, such situations do not necessarily involve all three persons engaging in sex together—the spouse without the lover often watches his or her spouse be seduced by the third person. But this does raise the question as to how frequently married people become involved in ménage à trois affairs. According to the Kinsey Institute, only 3 percent of married men and 1 percent of married women admit to having sex with another person while their spouse is present and most of these respondents would admit to having only done it once. Of course one has to wonder about the truthfulness of the responses in general because this is not the type of activity for which Congressional Medals of Honor are awarded. Indeed, we might wonder not only whether a greater percentage of the respondents had dabbled in group sex but also whether they had actually discontinued the practice after only one attempt. Because this is an activity for which some people might harbor feelings of shame, we can be skeptical about the accuracy of such responses. But the nature of the subject matter and the reluctance of most people to discuss such matters in any detail with pollsters and social scientists would probably preclude more forthright admissions of such unconventional behavior.

(Continues...)


Excerpted from WHAT ARE THE ODDS? by Jefferson Hane Weaver. Copyright © 2002 by Jefferson Hane Weaver. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Preface 11
1. In Search of Romance 13
Perfect Mates 13
Three Is Not a Crowd 20
Living Together 25
2. Sex in America 33
More! More! More! 35
Flesh Pile 41
Money for Sex 45
Extramarital Sex 47
3. Death, Disaster, and Mayhem 51
The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling! 51
Up, Up, and Away! 58
Born to Be Wild 62
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? 64
Stairway to Heaven 67
The Thrill of the Hunt 68
Conclusion 71
4. Going to War 73
5. Striking It Rich 91
Probabilities for the Gambler 94
Winning the Lottery 99
Tips for the Casino 108
6. Dangers in the Workplace 115
Violence in the Workplace 116
Injuries in the Workplace 120
Drinking and Drugs in the Workplace 129
Some Closing Thoughts 134
7. Working on the Chain Gang 137
Unemployment Numbers 141
How Old Are Your Workers? 144
Work Stoppages 149
8. Doctors and Lawyers 155
My Child, the Doctor 157
Lawyers, Lawyers, Lawyers 164
9. Who Wants an Audit? 173
10. Crime and Punishment 181
11. To Your Health! 197
Organ Transplants 198
Common Surgeries 203
Infectious Diseases 210
12. Getting into an Ivy League School 215
13. Becoming a Film Star, Rock Star, or Best-selling Author 231
The Silver Screen 231
Music 237
Books 244
Final Words 254
Epilogue 255
Index 259
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