Monday, February 10, 2014

Startling statistics and The Book of Odds

If you are searching for startling statistics to use in the opening of a speech, consider looking in The Book of Odds, which was published last month. It is subtitled From Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, The Odds of Everyday Life. The blurb at Amazon claims:

 “Drawing from a rigorously researched trove of more than 400,000 statements of probability, based on the most accurate and current data available, The Book of Odds is a graphic reference source for stats on the everyday, the odd, and the outrageous—from sex and marriage, health and disease, beliefs and fears, to wealth, addiction, entertainment, and civic life. What emerges from this colorful and captivating volume is a rich portrait of who we are and how we live today.”

The book came from a web site with the same name that launched back in 2009 and currently is at Facebook.

There is more than one definition for odds. The one used in this book is the chance that an event will happen, stated as 1 in something. That’s the reciprocal of a probability, which is how I prefer to think about things (as shown above via a line). A probability can range from zero (won’t happen) to one (it certainly will). Taking the reciprocal to get odds is another almost equivalent way to view things. The exception is that that you can’t quite get down to zero unless you divide by infinity.

What’s interesting is that you can compare odds (or probabilities) for very different events. From the book’s introduction:
“For example, the odds are 1 in 8.0 a woman will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer in her lifetime, about the odds a person lives in California, the most populous state.”


“1 in 12.5: the odds an email will contain pornography, also the odds a person lives in Texas.”

The book is divided into eleven chapters:

1. Sex
2. Singles and Dating
3. Love, Marriage, and Divorce
4. Pregnancy and Birth
5. Infancy and Childhood
6. High School and College
7. Health and Illness
8. Looking Good and Feeling Fine
9. Mind, Psyche, and Addiction
10. Beliefs and Fears
11. Accidents and Death

I eagerly turned to Chapter 10 to see what they had to say about fears. Their last section, What Scares Us? Fears by Gender, just referred to the well-known 2001 Gallup poll. It didn’t reference the study of social fears I used in my November blog post, How scary is public speaking or performance? Also, their section on flying didn’t discuss the 2007 Stinson et al article about specific fears I mentioned in my March 2012 blog post, How many folks in the U.S. are freaked out about flying? So, what are the odd that I’ll buy a hard copy of this book? Less than 1 in 10.

The image of dice being thrown was adapted from an old poster, Don't gamble with syphilis.


Jeremy Hammel said...

'you can’t quite get down to zero unless you divide by infinity' - that line is poetic ha. I personally own this book and it's my go-to for any public speaking event that involved a crowd greater than 10 people.

Using statistics in your presentation does more than just highlights your care for a particular topic, it engages your audience to think on their own and ask questions. It's a stimulator of conversation where give and take is needed. Great recommendation here!

Richard I. Garber said...

I'm glad to see that someone else enjoyed that book.

You have to watch for what time period they specify though. For example, surveys of fears often ask either if you remember being scared about something happening in the past year, or ever during your life.