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understandinguncertainty.org was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

Many of the animations were produced using Flash and will no longer work.

What are the chances?

In Why coincidences happen we saw how the chance of a rare event occurring to someone, somewhere, depended on the number of opportunities for it to occur.

Maths of coincidence

In What are the chances? we saw how the chance of a rare event occurring could be calculated for specific problems.

Why coincidences happen

birthday cakeWhen we experience a surprising event and wonder about the likelihood of such a coincidence, we may be able to use probability theory to work out the chance of it happening. And whether the coincidence happens to us or to someone else, we need to take into account how many opportunities there are for it to happen.

Born in the same minute

We recently heard about a couple who have two children of
different ages, but who were both born on the same date, and in exactly the same minute - say 7.32 am on September 30th. What is the chance of this happening to them, or to any family in this country?

Will it be a rollover?

Suppose there are $aN$ lottery tickets sold, each with a chance $1/N$ of winning.

Why does anyone win the lottery?

lottery ballsConsider a lottery in which there are $N$ possible number combinations - in the UK Lottery $N $= 13,983,816. Each ticket therefore has a $1/N$ chance of sharing in the jackpot. Suppose we sell $N$ tickets, what is the chance of nobody winning the jackpot? What if we sell $2N$? The chances are shown in the table below, and hold whatever $N$ is, provided it is large!

20 People Picking

In Pick a Number - Level 1 we showed there is a 13% chance of a duplicate if 20 people choose a number between 1 and 100.

Give method for calculating that all different numbers chosen, for particular numbers, like 20 out of 100.

N People Picking

In Pick a Number - Level 2 we calculated the probability of a group of 20 people all picking different numbers between 1 and 100. Here we derive a general algebraic approximation.

Three children with the same birthday?

A recent news story featured a family whose three children had all been born on January 29th. But is this so remarkable?

Maternal death coincidence?

Two women admitted to the maternity unit of the Royal Hampshire hospital on December 21st 2007 died of Streptococcus A infections within two days, one on December 23rd and one a day later. In a BBC News article the hospital said "their deaths appear to be coincidental".
So what is the chance of such an event happening by chance alone?


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