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### Fear

Course: STATISTICS 6011, Fall 2009
School: CSU Mont. Bay
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Word Count: 668

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Logic Fear, and Tragedy, Looking for Meaning in Coincidence LEAD STORY-DATELINE: ABC news, November 1999. Four airplanes crashed off the East Coast in recent years. Has this become the US version of the Bermuda Triangle? Humans often look to discover patterns in purely random events, especially events as disastrous as airplane crashes. We want to attribute meaning to coincidences. When the only survivor of a plane...

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Logic Fear, and Tragedy, Looking for Meaning in Coincidence LEAD STORY-DATELINE: ABC news, November 1999. Four airplanes crashed off the East Coast in recent years. Has this become the US version of the Bermuda Triangle? Humans often look to discover patterns in purely random events, especially events as disastrous as airplane crashes. We want to attribute meaning to coincidences. When the only survivor of a plane crash is a grief counselor, it is easy to explain this as a "grand paradox" when, in fact, this is just one of many possible "oddities". In terms of probability, when large numbers are involved, even events with a small chance of occurrence happen. If there is a one in a million chance of something happening to someone in America, it will happen to 260 Americans by chance alone. Even though the random event has a small chance of occurring, the number of Americans is so large that some are bound to have the event occur. A similar case can be made for events surrounding a disaster. When an airplane crashes there are so many details involving people, times, dates, locations and survivors that there are almost a limitless number of possible coincidences. When one of these coincidences surfaces, we are apt to assume a cause and effect explanation rather than simple randomness. When four planes crash on the East Coast it is maybe more exciting to think of the cause being location (Bermuda Triangle effect), rather than a simple coincidence. Based on actual safety records, statistically, passengers on American Airlines could fly every day for 19,000 years before dying in a plane crash, no matter where they fly. TALKING IT OVER AND THINKING IT THROUGH! 1. 2. 3. How do you think the author came up with the estimate of 19,000 years? How did the author come up with 260 events if each event has a probability of 1/1,000,000? Have you ever met a friend at a place where you least expected to recognize anyone (maybe in Disneyland on the Bucket Ride or at Soldier Field during a football Bears game?) Have you ever won \$100 or more in a lottery or some other contest? Which event would you suspect has a grater probability of occurring? Ask several friends which of the two events has happened to them to help you answer this question. THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE! Many people drive because they are afraid to fly, even though statistically they are safer in an airplane than in an automobile. By believing that random events are actually causes, we end up making decisions based on coincidence rather than fact. It is important to understand random events and not to make a case when none exists. SHARING THE NEWS WITH THE GROUP: The purpose of this exercise is to think about probabilities of specific events. In groups or teams search the net or other sources for the actual probabilities of plane accidents, car accidents, bike accidents, lightning strikes or any other disastrous events. Try to guess the probabilities and discuss some of the misconceptions surrounding the coincidences associated with these events. DIGGING DEEPER! John Paulos has written several books on the subject of mathematical illiteracy. Innumeracy, arguably his most famous, has a chapter devoted to "pro...

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