Archive for February, 2017

If you finish reading this headline, your attention span beats a goldfish

Jo Craven McGinty in her column The Numbers in today’s Wall Street Journal, debunks this report by Statistic Brain that our attention span has eroded to below that of a goldfish, presumably due to so many distractions nowadays.

My feeling is that the average person truly can only concentrate on one thing for 8 seconds. Where Statistics Brain goes wrong is by overestimating the attention span of a goldfish. I put my pet Pancho (pictured) to the test with a very attractive lure. He came nowhere near 9 seconds of focus, despite me yelling “pay attention!” repeatedly. In fact, he never stopped long enough for me to get a good photo—notice how it’s out of focus.

OK, hold on, I’m getting a text message…

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Reject love at first sight until you achieve sufficient sample size

Ok, this headline is a bit misleading. It’s not how quickly you fall in love that’s the problem, according to statisticians, it’s falling for the first potential mate that comes along. In other words, they calculate that only fools rush in. ; )

The optimal process for finding the love of your life is this:

  1. Estimate the number (“n”) of people you will date in your life.
  2. Take the square root (√) of n. This is your minimum (“m”).
  3. Keep records on the first m people you date and rank them by attraction—this is your benchmark (“b”). (I advise a 1-9 scale—the odd number allowing for those who are so-so, them being rated a 5.) Dump every one of them.  (Statisticians have no heart when it comes to algorithms like this.)
  4. After you dump m dates, settle down with the first one who exceeds b. Ideally they will rate 10. (Yes, I know this goes above the scale but that is true love.)

I credit the Wall Street Journal last Friday (Feb. 10)* for alerting me to this recipe for finding a soul mate. However, this 2014 article by Slate breaks it down a bit better, IMO. They report that out of a choice of 10 people (n), the √n method (dictating you dump the first 3-4 potential partners) will get you someone that’s three-quarters (75%) perfect. Not good enough? Then go for 100 candidates (ditching the initial 10 suitors) and increase your score to around 90 percent.

Still not satisfied? Revert to the original benchmark of 37% rejection (the reciprocal of Euler’s number e—the base of the natural logarithm) based on the first calculations for the marriage problem that came out in 1960. However, I suggest you make it easier on yourself (and those who desire you but have no shot) by opening up your search sooner by the square root rule. Just keep reminding yourself after settling down that it could have been a lot worse if you had been a fool by rushing in on your first love.

“If you end up marrying the second best person, life is probably not going to be rotten.”

– Neil Bearden, Decision Behavior Laboratory, University of Arizona, author of “Skip the Square Root of n”, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 9 June 2005.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

* “In Love, Probability Calculus Suggests Only Fools Rush In”.

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Patriots make a mockery of 249 to 1 odds against them

Check out this Super Bowl win probability chart by ESPN Stats & Info.  It remains bottomed out at an Atlanta Falcons victory from halftime on to the end of regulation, after which the Patriots ultimately prevail.  When New England settled for a field goal to cut their deficit to 16 points (28-to-12), the ESPN algorithm registered a 0.4% probability for them to win, being 9 minutes and 44 seconds left in the game.  That computes to 249 to 1 odds against a Patriot victory. Ha!

I am not terribly surprised that a team could overcome such odds.  The reason is that on December 29, 2006 I attended the Insight bowl in Tempe, Arizona where the Red Raiders of Texas, after falling behind 38-7 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter, rallied to score 31 unanswered points and ultimately defeat my Gophers in overtime.  At the time it was the greatest comeback of all time in a bowl game, matched only after another decade passed with the 2016 Alamo Bowl victory by the TCU Horned Frogs, who trailed the Oregon Ducks 0-31 at halftime.  But they had more time than the Gophers to throw away their sure victory.  I entered our 2006 chances of victory in this football win probability calculator.  It says 100.00% that Minnesota must win.  Ha!

The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular.

– Edward Gibbon

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