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What a discovery

Monbiot discovers Bayesian Probability:

The chances of any one person being born were calculated by the life coach Dr Ali Binazir. He multiplied the probability of your parents meeting, mating and conceiving by the chances of a particular sperm and egg fusing; of all your human and hominid ancestors reaching reproductive age; and of all them successfully reproducing. He arrived at a figure of one in 10 to the power of 2,640,000. In other words, a 10 followed by 2.6m zeros. It’s an unimaginable, miraculous number. Yet here we are.

Wasn’t he originally a zoologist? Shouldn’t he know this already?

28 thoughts on “What a discovery”

  1. The odds of winning the Euromillions lottery are about 1 in 140 million. Yet someone wins it on a regular basis. OMG, they must be magic!

  2. Shocking, if you set tight conditions on an occurrence, probability is low. Monbiot should see the adjusted probability that accounts for your current body composition, health, skills, finances and molecular composition.

    Wasn’t he originally a zoologist? Shouldn’t he know this already?

    Other scientists frequently mock biologists’ mathematical aptitude. I suspect zoologists are worse.

  3. No, he does not.
    A Bayesian uses pre-exising knowledge to calculate the probabilities of the outcome/observation of an event. The probability of my existence is 1.00 (100%), not 1 times 10^264000.

  4. Thassa Nanny Ogg, surely? Which is one way of pointing out how well the characters are written……that one can recognise who said what.

    Unless I’m mistaken of course, in which case they’re terribly done…..

  5. David Wallace (The Emergent Multiverse) has a (hand-waving, back-of-the-envelope) estimate for how long it would take for random quantum fluctuations to recreate the universe exactly as we see it today. His answer is: 10^10^23.

    As a (very) little physics joke, he omits the units for the measurement, because (he points out) the difference between Planck time and the current age of the universe is only a factor of ~10^80. And 10^23±80, is still 10^23.

  6. Isn’t that called survivor fallacy or some such?

    There’s some puddle’s pothole in there, particularly if you add in all the hoops jumped for life to get going in the universe.

    Funny, George highlights we miracles but wants most of us ended to save the planet.

  7. Yeah.. Monbiot is a zoologist. Which means, in modern terms, he’s a super-generalist at academic level in “biology”. The plant variety is “botanist”.

    The people that graduate in those particular fields are … not scientists.. They avoid the hard math and sciencey stuff you need for any real understanding, and instead focus on Patterns and Trends, usually on gut-feeling and early 20thC philosophies.
    It’s basically the Management track within the science, and in Monbiot it shows. For him biology was a means t
    o an end, not a science he is actually interested, or remotely competent, in.
    A degree in “Natural Philosophy” from a Good University for him to leverage into a Career.

  8. And yes, it’s a fallacy of some sort. A dangerous one in statistics…

    The chance of you having been born is exactly one. You’re here..
    The cumulative probability of the factors leading up to that fact is, at that point, moot.
    It’s a simple, and crucial, basic concept governing proper statistics.

    Since sirPTerry is already invoked: Science of Discworld Part 1 : The discussion of the math involved, and its implications and applications is right there. With references.

  9. I think his mistake is actually a variation of The Prosecutor’s Fallacy. In it’s simplest form it goes “The chances of you winning that lottery were 14 million to one, you must have cheated, you’re going down” without considering all the people who didn’t win. I can’t find a reference to it quickly but there is a sad story of a mother who was (nearly) convicted of double murder because it was so unlikely that she’d suffered cot death twice in a couple of years. Thankfully someone with some maths showed that it happening just once since records began was exactly what we’d expect.

  10. “I can’t find a reference to it quickly but there is a sad story of a mother who was (nearly) convicted of double murder because it was so unlikely that she’d suffered cot death twice in a couple of years. Thankfully someone with some maths showed that it happening just once since records began was exactly what we’d expect.”

    Sally Clark. Wrongly convicted on the ‘expert’ evidence of ‘Professor’ Roy Meadows. Served 3 years of a life sentence before her conviction was overturned.

    Meadows of course was protected by the establishment who eventually let him off with just a slap on the wrist, pension undoubtedly intact. Another of our university educated overlords who is a complete idiot, and an arrogant cunt to boot.

  11. Correct pendantry from Chester.. 😉

    From that point in 2011, given the continuing and increasing abuse of (bayesian) statistics, the general thrust of articles here on subjects pointing out such abuse, and classic examples of…

    Not “1” …. But a limit of probability approaching “1” with a >99% confidence? yes…

  12. @G: in my youth “Natural Philosophy” meant Physics. I attended lectures in a fine 19th century Natural Philosophy lecture theatre.

    When we were displeased we could stamp to make the whole room bounce. Once the lecturer was so bad we threw things at him. “Feedback” as we didn’t call it. It worked too: next lecture a new chap appeared before us. Them wuz the days.

  13. When it was happening I couldn’t believe what I was reading about the Sally Clark case. Surely anybody with any nouse would realise that having one child dying from cot death means it is *MORE* likely you’ll have another also die of cot death. There’s something wrong with your biology such that you produce non-viable offspring. Oh Noes! Shock Horror! That exact same biology has produced *ANOTHER* non-viable offspring! What’s the odds!?!?!?!

    The square root, actually, *NOT* the square. Each successive cot death *INCREASINGLY* *PROVES* the likelyhood.

  14. Sally Clark. Wrongly convicted on the ‘expert’ evidence of ‘Professor’ Roy Meadows.

    Well done if you retrieved that from memory. On reading rjb, I remembered the case and Meadows but had forgotten the name of poor Sally Clark.

    At the time I was amazed at how his evidence was allowed to stand. Years ago my stats prof began his course by warning about what he called “algorithmic superstition” – an unquestioning reliance on the numbers: if a coin is tossed and consistently comes up heads, don’t calculate the odds but inspect the coin, was the message.

    So, with Sally Clark the court should have explored factors predisposing to cot-death rather than extrapolating from the probability of a single cot-death on the testimony of an over-confident² bumptious expert.

  15. Meadows couldn’t have been right because if having two cot deaths in a family was as rare as he said it was then nobody in the developed world would have seen such a case. And therefore you couldn’t quantify how rare it was.

    I thought that a more powerful point than identifying his error of treating two events as independent when it was entirely unreasonable to do so. In other words, I had proven him wrong without any need to worry about why he was wrong.

    He really should have been jailed.

  16. Meadow is the man in the spotlight but his testimony was snatched from a draft of the report:
    “Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy: the CESDI SUDI studies 1993-1996”
    Fleming et al. HMSO 2000.
    Page 92.
    Unpublished at the time, it was a printer’s proof awaiting revision sent to him that he might write a preface.
    Not so very publicly available these days.

  17. The big number is *not* the calculation of the probability of your existence. It is the probability of your entire specific ancestral line existing, the narrative as it were. And even then the calculation is probably wrong because humans and their earlier ancestors lived in small groups so the probability of ancestors mating was limited to the small pool of peers available.

  18. On the subject of court evidence, there is another factor which is often ignored. Suppose a professional expert witness testifies every week from graduation at 20 to retirement at 60. That’s 2000 times (two weeks holiday a year). Assume that once in their career they make a mistake and give incorrect evidence. That means that in any one case the chances of them being wrong are one in 2000. That means that evidence of extremely unlikely things – such as a one in a billion DNA match – can never be accepted as genuinely meaning that something is so extremely unlikely. At that level of rarity we need to allow for the much larger chance that the evidence is wrong in some respect.

  19. The chances of being alive right now, as a member of one of the first generations to know the path it is on, and one of the last that can change it, must add several more zeros to this crazy number. The chances of being the president or prime minister of your nation at this critical moment…well you get the idea.
    And since being PM overwhelming requires one to be an Oxford graduate, a very large number indeed.
    Would have thought George would have known this. Since like so many of the idiotcracy he’s…guess what?

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