Excerpt from “CHAPTER TWO: What Probability Can Explain”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER TWO: What Probability Can Explain”:

Everything in life is a gamble. We muddle through life making both
good and bad decisions constantly. However, if we can develop the
habit of thinking consciously about probabilities, we can improve our understanding
of the world around us and be more successful in this world.

In Chapter Four, we will explore how to calculate event probabilities.
First, however, in this chapter we will examine how the knowledge of probability
can impact the decisions we make in various aspects of our lives. For
example, if you buy a Mega Millions lottery ticket are you likely to become
rich? Do you ever complain when meteorologists predict a 50% chance of
rain? Why can’t they just make up their minds? Suppose you are playing
Texas Hold’em with one card left to turn over. You need one particular
card for a straight flush, and your opponent appears to have a full house
and goes all-in. Should you call or fold?

Excerpt from “CHAPTER EIGHT: Horse Racing—A Probability Game You Can Win (With a Lot of Work)”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER EIGHT: Horse Racing—A Probability Game You Can Win (With a Lot of Work)”:

Unlike casino games and lotteries, horse racing is a probability-based
gambling game that can be won—it is also the most difficult gambling
game to truly master. The number of factors that must be understood
to handicap horse racing successfully is much greater than the
number of factors to consider when playing poker, roulette, blackjack,
craps, or lotteries. It is a game that can be understood quickly on a superficial
level, but requires many years to truly decipher.

The probability aspects of other gambling games differ considerably
from those of horse racing. In horse racing, multiple variables—the
weather, the medication a horse has received, whether the horse has a hidden
injury, the strategy of the jockey, the strategy of the other jockeys, and
many, many other things—can affect the outcome of a race. The single
biggest difference between other types of gambling games and horse racing is that,
in horse racing, you can simply refuse to make a wager. You can pass on the race.

For example, you might want to bet on a horse if it’s odds of winning are 5
to 1, but not bet on it if the odds fall to 3 to 1.

Excerpt from “CHAPTER SIX: Probability Sampling and Survey Research”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER SIX: Probability Sampling and Survey Research”:

In Chapter Four, we discussed the Law of Large Numbers and used the
illustration of drawing repeated samples of white and black balls from
an urn to estimate the overall distribution of those colors in the urn. The
more balls we sampled, the more confident we grew in our ability to estimate
the total distribution of white and black balls.

The Law of Large Numbers is the basis of the logic used in the public
opinion polls that are so common today, as well as many types of scientific
research. This chapter explains the probability logic of sampling for
surveys. Probability-based sampling is fundamental to survey research and
to all the fields of research mentioned in Chapter Two.

Excerpt from “CHAPTER SEVEN: Is There a Way to Win Common Games of Chance?”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER SEVEN: Is There a Way to Win Common Games of Chance?”:

We’ve used examples from gambling in this book to illustrate probability
concepts. Now let’s examine several of the most common
forms of gambling in more detail. Achieving success in these games means
beating the probabilities. To have any chance of winning, you must understand
the probabilities involved.

Poker

There are many forms of poker, but they all have one common characteristic.
In all of its various forms, poker is a game in which you must
understand probabilities as well as the possibility of bluffing. Poker is a direct
competition among people as well as a probability-based game. A gambler
cannot influence the behavior of horses, a roulette wheel, or dice on a craps
table. However, through his or her play, a poker player can influence the
behavior of an opponent in ways that can have a significant effect on the
outcome of the game.

Excerpt from “CHAPTER NINE: Getting it Wrong Can Have Real-World Consequences”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER NINE: Getting it Wrong Can Have Real-World Consequences”:

Applying probability thinking to real-world situations sometimes
appears to be simple when, in fact, it can be deceptively difficult. The
topics we have covered in this book only scratch the surface of some of the
complications that can be encountered in probability thinking. Here are
some real-world examples of what can happen if we interpret probability
logic incorrectly.

False Positives on Health Tests

Suppose you take a blood test that is correct 99% of the time for a
particular problem, and you receive a positive result. What are the chances
that you have the illness? If you answered 99%, you were wrong.
Your chances
of having the disease depend on how common the disease is.

Excerpt from “CHAPTER FIVE: Applying Probability Concepts in the Real World”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “CHAPTER FIVE: Applying Probability Concepts in the Real World”:

Now that we have explained some of the basic concepts of probability
theory, let’s apply these concepts to concrete examples. In some
cases, the results are easily predictable while in other cases there can be surprises.
We can explain these basic concepts in simple terms, but their
application can be quite complicated in certain situations. The statistical
application and explanation of difficult probability problems is beyond the
scope of this book, but here are a few unusual yet easily understandable
applications of these ideas.

Concept #1. The Probability of a Single Event – Beating Monty Hall

Let’s see how these ideas can increase your chances of beating Monty.
Let’s Make a Deal was a television show that originated in the 1960s; several
versions aired on different networks for almost 50 years.

About Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

About Dr. Robert A. Hitlin:

Dr. Robert A. Hitlin has taught research techniques and statistics, and conducted sample surveys, statistical research projects, and focus groups for over 45 years. He was a professor of Political Science at Georgetown University and American University, and has taught part time at Vanderbilt University, George Washington University and The University of Maryland. He was voted the “Teacher of the Year” by the graduating seniors at Georgetown University. As President of Robert Hitlin Research Associates, Inc. he has directed and conducted hundreds of research projects for organizations in private industry, national associations, and federal, state and local governments. He has been Chief Data Scientist at The DotCom Group, Inc., Director of the Survey Research Division of Human Sciences Research, Inc., a pollster for the DSG Campaign Fund, directed the American University Poll and the Georgetown University Poll, been a guest lecturer for visiting Fulbright Scholars and the Meridian House International, and has appeared frequently on radio and television as a commentator on elections and politics. He has a B.A. from Brooklyn College and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Vanderbilt University. He also plays softball, poker, handicaps horses, and works in his woodshop. He lives with his wife in Reston, Virginia.

Excerpt from “Conclusion”

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Excerpt from “Conclusion”:

Gamblers started it. Statistical insights developed by gamblers—who
were primarily trying to win money—450 years ago have transformed
every aspect of our world. Although their goal may not have been
to contribute to textbooks, they initiated an entirely new branch of mathematics.
Their discoveries enabled the world to experience revolutionary
progress in science, medicine, math, engineering, technology, and many
other fields. As a result, we know that, as individuals, we can influence our
future. We know that we are not simply pawns in a game determined by
forces beyond our control.

This book ties together a lot of seemingly unconnected things: public
opinion surveys, horse racing, poker, business proposals, flu shots,
atomic theory, baseball, and more. If you have stayed with it to this point,
you should have an understanding of how probability relates to the subjects
we covered, and even to subjects we did not cover: the orbits of space satellites,
the maintenance of bridges, fertilizing your lawn, recovery from natural
disasters, war gaming, the architecture of the Internet, and many
more. All of these subjects can be better understood if we view them
through the prism of probability theory. The more you apply this prism,
the easier it becomes to understand the world around you.

Book Summary

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

Book Summary:

The purpose of this book is to change how you view the world. The effects of probability have always been there but you may not have been fully aware of them. As an organizing concept it explains almost everything that you do, the decisions that you need to make, and what happens to you. We all use probability throughout the day without being fully conscious of how and why we are doing it. Harnessing that understanding on a conscious level can increase your success and your happiness, and can improve your life.

The book is intended for people who realize that probability theory is an important subject, but who shy away from formulas and mathematical symbols. It is an explanation of the concepts behind probability theory in plain English. Einstein famously once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

It is possible to understand the basics of probability theory with nothing more than simple logic, our own experience, and the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The book explains the thinking behind those decisions and provides tools to improve how those choices are made.

This book ties together aspects of life that at first glance may not seem to be related at all. Gambling, surveys in elections, DNA evidence in court trials, life insurance, the Higgs boson, satellites falling on you, the stock market, point spreads in sports, punting (or not) in football, evolution, college admissions, marriage, law enforcement, bullets shot into the air, and many, many more things. Once you realize how probability affects everything, you may wonder why it never occurred to you before.

Modern mathematicians, scientists and philosophers have developed tools to understand and harness the apparent randomness in our lives in a way that manages risk, and gives us a degree of control over our lives that was unknown in pre-modern civilizations. After you become comfortable with these ideas and use them for a short while they will begin to seem quite obvious. Your decisions will begin to seem so obvious to you that you will wonder that you ever thought any other way, or that other people still do. You’ll begin to see everything in these terms, and your decisions will be easier, quicker and more successful. No one gets them all right, but there is a way to get more of them right than you used to.

More Questions from the Author

How to Explain Almost Everything: The Power of Probability in Everyday Life by Dr. Robert A. Hitlin

More Questions from the Author:

What is the likelihood of life on other planets?

How can credit card companies afford to pay for the large amount of credit card fraud?

Do dating websites work?

When playing 5 card draw poker, should you keep a kicker (high card) along with a pair?

Do SAT and ACT scores predict success in college?

What is the best strategy for investing in the stock market?