Statistical Myths

Debunking Myths About Statistics: The Professional Lottery Player.” Stats 485: Statistics Capstone Course. (Upper-Level Writing Requirement Within Concentration.) December 2013.

Are those who know probability theory more likely to get rich off the lottery? As far-fetched as it may sound, this myth is common enough that I devoted an entire homework assignment to debunking it. Written for my Statistics capstone class, this mock newspaper column considers a hypothetical lottery and one’s expected payout by ticket price. As winning tickets are selected randomly, expected payout is completely independent of one’s knowledge of probability. In other words, “A statistician familiar with probability theory may be able to calculate important quantities related to the lottery, but he or she cannot change them.” If anything, “knowing precisely how poor one’s chances are of winning the lottery often dissuades statistically-minded people from playing in the first place.”

This writing assignment is unique in that it does not include any of the major themes that characterize much of my other writing. However, it does show that I’m not completely crazy for combining a Statistics major with a Writing minor. Despite the quizzical looks I often receive when I mention my areas of study, Statistics and Writing are not just remotely related, but completely complementary and inherently intertwined.

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