University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

What Are the Odds of That?

In his new book, math prof Jeffrey Rosenthal gives us the tools to assess life's chances

In September, a group of 13 Faculty of Engineering staff members won $1.75 million in the 6/49 lottery – a windfall of more than $134,600 each. Arlene Fillatre, the faculty’s business officer and lottery-pool organizer, also struck lucky with a quarter-million-dollar jackpot in 1992. What are the odds of having Fillatre’s good fortune – just once?

In his new book, Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, U of T prof and ace statistician Jeffrey S. Rosenthal gives us the mathematical tools to assess life’s odds – whether it’s winning the lotto, being involved in an airplane crash, beating the house at cards or – of course – getting zonked by lightning. He also provides a hefty dose of reality through the “Probability Perspective,” offering real-life examples for comparison – what those odds actually translate into.

You know the chances of winning the 6/49 aren’t good, don’t you? But don’t let us ruin your day. We’ll let Rosenthal do that for you, in this Struck by Lightning excerpt:

“A typical commercial lottery might involve selecting six different numbers between 1 and 49. If your six numbers match those selected, you win (or share) the big jackpot. For such a lottery, the probability is about one chance in 14 million. This is an extremely small probability. To put it in context, you are over 1,000 times more likely to die in a car crash within the year. In fact, you are more likely to die in a car crash on your way to the store to buy your lottery ticket than you are to win the jackpot. Indeed, if you bought one ticket a week, on average, you would win the jackpot less than once every 250,000 years. When picking seven numbers between 1 and 47 [for 7/47], the probability is one chance in 63 million. It may be true that someone is going to win the lottery jackpot this week, but let me assure you: that someone will not be you.”

Recent Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *