Long Odds: The Science Of Probability

What are the odds? Nobody won the perfect March Madness bracket billion. We’ll look at the science and emotions of probability.

Stanford's Josh Huestis, left, and Dwight Powell, right, celebrate as Kansas' Tarik Black (25) watches in the background after in a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. Stanford won 60-57. (AP)

Stanford’s Josh Huestis, left, and Dwight Powell, right, celebrate as Kansas’ Tarik Black (25) watches in the background after in a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis. Stanford won 60-57. (AP)

All you had to do to win a billion dollars was pick the winners in college basketball’s March Madness.  Fill in a perfect bracket.  Warren Buffet made a billion-dollar bet that nobody would do it.  And Warren Buffet was right.  We live in a world of probabilities and odds.  Of winning lotteries.  Winning the U.S. Senate.  Finding a downed airliner.  Picking the perfect bracket.  And yet, the reality of probability often eludes us.  It’s often just beyond our intuition.  Our quick assessment.  This hour On Point: from March Madness to Nate Silver’s political picks, to a lost airliner – the science and emotion of odds.

— Tom Ashbrook


Peter Keating, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Runs the Giant Killers blog. (@PKStatsBlog)

Charles Wheelan, professor in economics and public policy at Dartmouth College. Author of “Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from Data” and “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science.” (@CharlesWheelan)

Colleen Keller, senior analyst with Metron Scientific Solutions.

Eliot Tatelman, owner of Jordan’s Furniture.

From Tom’s Reading List

Five Thirty Eight: Having It Both Ways — “Our forecasts could be wrong in November. In fact, they probably will be wrong — it’s unlikely that Republicans will win exactly six seats. But we think it’s equally likely that our forecast will be biased in either direction. If Democrats retain just one more seat, they’ll hold the Senate. Or Republican gains could grow to seven seats, or quite a bit more.”

Vanity Fair: Nate Silver vs. the “Experts”: the War of Words Over FiveThirtyEight — “Of course, FiveThirtyEight is still in its infancy. Silver and Klein have promised revolutions in the way their companies will cover the news and thus set the bar almost impossibly high. It’s clear that Silver’s many critics don’t think he’ll reach that bar any time soon. Luckily for Silver, he probably thinks most of them are full of it. ”

Slate: Don’t Take Warren Buffett’s Bracket Challenge — “There is a chance, but the chance is so vanishingly small that it’s actually more rational to say there’s no chance. As Yahoo and Quicken note in the fine print of their rules page: ‘odds of winning the Grand Prize are 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808.’ That’s 1 in 9 quintillion and change. “

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