Thursday, August 13, 2015

Is there anyone in sports commentary who understands probability?!

I just heard an announcer pick Jason Day to win the PGA Championship because "No American has won all four majors since 1982."

And naturally, to his way of "thinking," if Americans have won the first three majors of this year, this raises some sort of probabilistic barrier to their winning the fourth one: the god of probability will swat their tee shots out of the air and push their puts off course.

The odds of hitting the lottery four times in a row, starting from having hit it zero times in a row, are miniscule. (For Powerball, it would be about 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or one in one duodecillion.) But if you've just hit the lottery three times in a row, then the odds of hitting the lottery four times in a row are just the odds of hitting the lottery once. (For Powerball, about 1 in 175 million.)


  1. Yes. If anything, probabilities (a misnomer here) of nonrandom events work in there opposite way. If no American has won all four for a while, maybe Americans just aren't up to it.

    Or, in supposedly random events, if I watch you toss a coin and you get heads ten times in a row, it's not rational to expect toss eleven to come up tails because it's "due." I'm more likely to suspect a two-headed coin.



"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb