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The Improbability Principle: Why coincidences, miracles and rare events happen all the time Hardcover – 27 Feb 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 27 Feb 2014
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press (27 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0593072812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593072813
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 579,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A hugely entertaining eye-opener about how misuse of statistics can skew our view of the world" (Daily Mail)

"Lively and lucid . . . an intensely useful (as well as a remarkably entertaining) book . . ." (Salon)

"In my experience, it is very rare to find a book that is both erudite and entertaining. Yet The Improbability Principle is such a book. Surely this cannot be due to chance alone!" (Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist)

"An elegant, astoundingly clear and enjoyable combination of subtle statistical thinking and real-world events." (Andrew Dilnot, co-author of 'The Numbers Game')

"As someone who happened to meet his future wife on a plane, on an airline he rarely used, I wholeheartedly endorse David Hand’s fascinating guide to improbability, a subject which affects the lives of all, yet until now has lacked a coherent exposition of its underlying principles." (Gordon Woo, catastrophist at Risk Management Solutions)

Book Description

Why coincidences, miracles and rare events happen all the time...

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Clearly written, very accessible account of what should really be considered crucial basic information for understanding the world, i.e., why many improbable-seeming events are in fact not terribly unlikely and may even be inevitable -- as well as why you can pretty much forget certain future possibilities because you're so unlikely to see them that they are effectively impossible.

I have a couple of minor beefs, one of them probably overly pedantic and the other one perhaps more substantive. The first is that, for a guy who's trying to introduce some intellectual rigor into our day-to-day analysis of what's going on, he's a little bit loose with his language sometimes. Possibly the most egregious example is that he uses the Law of Selection in two completely different ways. This law is introduced as a kind of hindsight bias, where we remember everything that fits our theory and conveniently forget things that contradict it. For example: "it always rains when I forget my umbrella" is based on only the times when it rained and you forgot your umbrella, ignoring all the times you either didn't forget your umbrella or it didn't rain. It is a retroactive and psychological law, a subjective failure in looking back at history. Then suddenly he uses the same phrase, the Law of Selection to apply to phenomena like Darwin's natural selection, which is a forward-looking, future-determining practice. Both are real phenomena, but it seems to me different concepts ought to have different names, otherwise we begin to lose faith in his precision, which strikes me as important in this subject area.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book will 'do yer 'ed in' - but in the best possible way. I feel it has been written with both the academic professional and the layman in mind. Being a very definite layman I struggled at times to grasp at first some of the ideas and principles involved. But at the end felt that I had an understanding of why my toast lands butter side down, and other such improbably coincidences. Well worth both the money to buy it and the effort to read it.
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Format: Paperback
The message in this book is very short.

But the book isn't very short; it's actually quite long.

The constantly underlined and highlighted idea is this:

1 - Borel's Law says (paraphrased) "sufficiently unlikely events are impossible" (in practical, macroscopic or human terms)

2 - Things that LOOK impossible KEEP HAPPENING every day somewhere on Earth

3 - 'Impossible' things keep happening not because Borel's Law is necessarily wrong, but because the things that LOOKED impossible actually were NOT impossible

The events ('things') seemed to be impossible because they were not correctly understood (the probabilities against or for). Once other established mathematical or statistical laws were brought to bear on the 'impossible' event, the impossibility became not just infinitesimally possible, but actually INEVITABLE given enough 'runs' or time -- that is the law of very large numbers. Other laws, when applied correctly, did the same thing.

An obvious, and discussed, event is lottery numbers being the same in successive draws. It seems, in a human time frame, impossible. But consider how many lotteries there are in the world and how many draws and the sheer number of opportunities that this has to occur means that, if not inevitable, it nearly is.

I list some of the quoted and used laws in the next paragraph.

Hand seems to want to coin a new phrase in mathematics or statistics -- "the Improbability Principle" -- whereas what he has actually done is to use that term as an umbrella term for several mathematical laws that are already established. Such as [the laws of] inevitability, truly large numbers, selection (including anthropic principle), the probability lever, and near enough.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you can't stretch yourself to reading 'Thinking Fast Thinking Slow' you could do worse than this.Its basically an idiots guide to statistical analysis and dispels the curse of magical thinking effectively, by combining several probability theories.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book is great for introducing everyone to the logic of probability and why it matters in real life. I found it to be a bit dull at times so it is probably a little longer than it needs to be but otherwise its a fine book. Though I am not sure who would be interested in the theme(the construction of theme, improbability principle), its not ground breaking by any measure and its something I know I read somewhere else.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Systematic run through of the improbability rules. Essential reading if you do any form of analysis, and heartily recommended if you don't
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent book, relating the principles in an innovative fashion
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