Review – Colin Beveridge – A Snowball’s Chance: Why million- to-one shots come up nine times out of ten

This was a brilliant show from the beginning. Colin was introduced as a Yatzee champion and mathematician, having a background in Topology and Solar physics. His experience included ‘Saving the world from solar flares’ (for which we can be grateful!) and authoring mathematical books in the ‘Dummies Guide’ series. The theme of the evening was to put ‘Small probability events into context’, which is not something that comes naturally to us, mainly for evolutionary reasons. Colin included a lot of good humour in his talk, making the mathematical concepts easier to follow and more memorable

Starting off discussing ‘miracles’ (and noting the lack of expected booing at this word in a room full of Skeptics!), he worked through the logic that you’re more likely than not to see a ‘1 in a million event’ at least one a month. The reasoning goes, if you’re awake for 16 hours a day, and see one thing a second for a month then that’s 1.7 million seconds – therefore plenty of scope for a ‘miracle’ at those odds! The point being, you see a good number of remarkable/memorable things, simply because you see a large number of things. He also illuminated the ‘Infinite Monkey’ theorem, confirming the probability of one monkey randomly typing ‘HeyHeyWe’reTheMonkeys’ is around 10 to the power 30. The same logic applied to of Rick Astley’s song ‘Never going to give you up’ is a little lower at 10 to the power 300 (…so Stock, Aitken and Waterman to deserve some credit for beating those odds!)

Finally, the entire British library comes in at 10 to the power 10-trillion. There was also some mathematical history, including fascinating biography on Italian Gerolamo Cardano, who wrote more 200 works covering medicine, mathematics, physics, philosophy, religion, and music(ref: Wikipedia) Cardano’s gambling interest led him to formulate some elementary probability rules, making him a founder in the field. The event finished with an interesting Q&A, the subject is great for discussion.

Colin did very well throughout the evening as the microphone decided to stop working at the start, which was of course unlucky. In fact, an empirical/experimental probability of 1 in 29 if the only “Skeptics on the Fringe” event where it happens this year! I definitely look forward to future events from Colin. I also apologise in advance for any errors I made in the numbers quoted here!