Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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The Importance of Probability

Generally I like this article about teaching kids probability because I agree that it’s a concept more people need to understand. (Plus I think it’s funny that I ran across two unrelated quotes — the other from a commencement speech — about the importance of probability in a week.) With that said, one quote from the article in particular stood out: “One must think all the time of what is not being reported – the dog that didn’t bark. When we see a hole-in-one video on YouTube we are sensible enough to know that this has been selected out of millions of shots that missed. We need to think the same way every time we hear of someone claiming that some new treatment has cured them.”

I’m not sure any of us take this into account often enough. I was actually just thinking about this the other day when chatting with a friend about Whopper Sacrifice. While I think it was a funny and kind of interesting idea, it gives people a kind of false hope that it’s easy to do this sort of stuff: That every Facebook campaign will come with the kind of buzz this one received. How many campaigns just like this fell on their face, never getting enough people to even notice their failure? But we don’t think or talk about that, rather we focus on the single success (wow, this is starting to sound a little like The Black Swan).

January 19, 2009