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Practical Probability — Part X

Independence Day

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jun 11, 2009


I ended my last column in this series by mentioning a type of erroneous thinking about probability known as the gambler’s fallacy. Basically, this is the mistaken belief that a series of deviations in one direction will result in the next few results tending to balance out that abnormal sequence. When flipping a coin, have you ever seen a lot of heads in a row and felt that tails was due? If you have, you fell into the trap known as the gambler’s fallacy. Since heads or tails is an independent, random outcome, its probability is unaffected by what has just occurred. This leads us to a discussion of independence. When the term independence is used in a discussion of probability or statistics, it has nothing to do with the United States breaking away from the British Empire or your ability to pay the bills without any help from mom ...

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