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Posted by on in Rajan Sambandam
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What are the Odds?

One of the painful experiences of my life occurred in early 1991 when I was a student at SUNY in Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo Bills were in their first Super Bowl playing the New York Giants and the game was down to the last seconds. Trailing 20-19 the Bills depended on their kicker Scott Norwood to kick a 47 yard field goal to win it all. I was one of those who was crushed when the kick sailed wide right by a yard. That was perhaps their best chance even though they went back to the Super Bowl (count ‘em) three more times and lost each one.  

The question I have is would they have been more likely to win if that game was played today? 

Yes, says an interesting site called the Book of Odds. You can read about it herebut they use data to show how the odds of a successful field goal are higher today than back in 1991. Scott Norwood would still not have been a lock from 47 yards, but I’ll take a 72% chance (1 in 1.38) over a 62% chance (1 in 1.61).

Which brings me to the definition of “odds”. The term “odds” is used in the colloquial manner in this website rather than in a probabilistic manner. What’s the difference? Usually small, but consequential, especially if you are a gambler. For example, if you are choosing a day in a week randomly, the odds that it will be a Friday is 1 to 6 for (or 6 to 1 against). But the probability that it would be a Friday is 1 in 7. The latter is often easier for non-mathematicians to understand and that is usually what people mean when they talk about it in everyday life. In deference to that, this website uses “odds” in the everyday usage.            

Take a look at the site. You will find all kinds of, shall we say, oddities there. Such as, what are the odds:

An airline passenger will be involved in an air crash in a year - 1 in 10,790,000

A reported murder will result in an arrest - 1 in 1.57

A white man 20 - 54 years will die from a drug overdose in a year - 1 in 6632

Enjoy!

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