The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘gambling’

Sports and Skeptical Activism: Vax Your NCAA Bracket!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2012

The Women Thinking Free Foundation, an organization of which I’m a board member, has come up with a great idea for skeptical activism: setting up NCAA tournament brackets and giving the proceeds to the promotion of vaccinations via the Hug Me I’m Vaccinated campaign!  And how do I know this is such a great idea?  Simple: because I know little to nothing about sports (and I don’t really care about them much either), and this got me to sign up for a bracket!  Check it out and spread the word…

Vax Your Bracket! NCAA Tourney Challenge!

Do you like basketball? Do you hate deadly diseases? Have you been trying to find a way to use basketball to fight deadly diseases? Well, now you can by joining the Vax Your Bracket NCAA Tournament Pool. It costs a mere $10 to enter! Half of the proceeds go to the winner …and the other half go to Women Thinking Free Foundation to help us do things like run our Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated! pro-vaccination campaign. Check out see where the money will be going.That’s right! You can now combine sports with saving the world!

We’re using simple CBS Tournament rules and there will be prizes for the top 3 winners. Plus, did I mention that you’ll be helping to save the world by promoting vaccinations?

1st place: 1/2 of the $$ collected
2nd: Hug Me T-shirt or Hug Me bear
3rd: Money back

The directions are simple:
1. Go to and click on the “Buy Now” button on the bottom right.
2. Once we get your payment, we’ll send you an invite to the Pool at the email you provided. You’ll have to create an account with CBS Sports. The deadline for sending us payment to join the tournament is Wed March 14 at 9am.
3. Starting on March 11, you can log on to CBS Sports and make your bracket. You must make your bracket before the first tournament game is played on Thursday night.
4. Log into CBS Sports during the tournament to see where your standing is compared with all the other players. We also approve of trash talk.
5. Save the World!

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Media Fail & Lotteries

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 22, 2011

This past December 17th, I saw a headline in my local paper which stunned me with the level of irresponsibility it displayed.  Back then the Powerball lottery was getting a lot of attention because the jackpot was up to a potential $25 million, and when such numbers start getting thrown around, people’s critical thinking skills go right out the window.  And it doesn’t help when the media joins the chorus of unreason…

First, there is the fallacy that when the jackpots are high, more people play because they “feel lucky that they’re going to win the BIG one!”  Of course, when more people play the lottery it actually decreases the odds that any specific person will win, yet this doesn’t stop the gullible from scarfing up the lottery tickets.

Then, there’s this horrible headline:

Wanna win Powerball? Try these numbers

For 13 years, a red ball with the number “20” printed on it has been whirling around with its numerical counterparts in an enclosed Powerball kettle waiting to potentially make someone a millionaire. That No. 20 red ball has made its way out of the kettle 49 times, the most of any of the numbered balls. No. 20 also is the second most common number on the five white balls that are selected in each Powerball drawing as well, behind 26 and ahead of 32, 16 and 42, a Daily Herald analysis of the numbers shows. …

This headline and the leading paragraphs of the article play directly into the gambler’s fallacy of “lucky numbers” – in reality there are no more or less “lucky” numbers.  In fact, the past performance of the lottery is in no way, shape, or form a predictor of the next random drawing of numbers.  The article cited above actually does attempt to be at least marginally responsible by interviewing a mathematician, though their discussion is buried in the article…

… While some gamblers may see that information as an edge, mathematicians and oddsmakers say it’s all just luck.

“The numbers and the pingpong balls have no memory,” said Jeff Bergen, a mathematics professor at DePaul University. “So whether a given number has come up once or twice or 10 times or never, it is no more or less likely to come up today than any other number.” …

Exactly.  Unfortunately, the “news” article quickly followed up the math professor’s advice with some anecdotes from believers in these supposed lucky numbers.  So how did the Powerball drawing in question go?  Here were the results of the Dec. 18th Powerball drawing:

04-11-19-33-43 and 14 as the Powerball

And remember, the so-called “lucky numbers” referenced in the article were 16, 20, 26, 32, 42, and 20 for the Powerball.  Not a single one of these numbers appeared in the drawing – NOT… ONE. So much for “lucky numbers.”
So how should one win the lottery?  Simple: by not playing it at all.  To sum up the best way of dealing with this foolishness, I like this comment which appeared in response to the article:
You have much better chances of most things than of winning the lottery–getting struck by lightning, dying in a plane or car crash, etc. The odds are astronomically low of winning the big prize. Invest that money instead, and you’d end up with far more in the long-term, even with the low interest rates.
As for the “news” paper which so irresponsibly reported this article, I can only say one thing…

Posted in mathematics, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Las Vegas: A Town Based on Bad Math & Gullibility

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2009

During my recent trip to Las Vegas for TAM7, as with all my previous trips to “Sin City”, I noticed the large number of people gambling.  Now there is a certain social aspect to gambling, but a lot of people play these games of chance hoping that they’ll win it big.  They literally believe that, through some lucky charm or prayer, that they’ll hit the jackpot, and that’s exactly what the casinos want them to believe…


Of course, the casinos in Vegas are banking on a combination of people’s lack of critical thinking & skepticism, innumeracy (misunderstanding of math), susceptibility to the gambler’s fallacy, and basic gullibility – and based upon what I’ve seen, the casinos have been quite successful at cashing in on all of these things.

That’s because in addition to knowing basic human nature, the casinos also know the mathematical odds. They don’t say “the house always wins” for nothing, folks.  Even if someone occasionally wins it big (which will eventually happen by the law of large numbers, just as when someone wins the lottery), there are way more people who are losing money.  In the end, these casinos make much more money than they pay out.

Ironically, I saw the following slot machine sign while in Vegas…


In order to make this sign a more accurate reflection of reality, one of the O’s should be crossed out, because chances are that if you’re playing these games you’ll end up a loser.  So, statistically speaking, how does one win in Vegas (without cheating)?  The answer is simple, folks: you don’t play the game 🙂

Posted in mathematics, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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