Last week we posed a question about the occurrence of multiple Latitude 38 Golden Tickets being won in close succession. While we thought it was perhaps some crazy esoteric phenomenon, we’ve now been presented with a theory that suggests it’s nothing more than chance. Sailor David Cohan aboard Tahu Le’a out of Westpoint Harbor, Redwood City, dug up his alter ego as a “Decision Analyst” and “Aspiring Polymath” (but seriously, David has a PhD in management science and engineering, and over 30 years of analyzing uncertainty, decision and risk) and presented an argument that on the surface sounds just as confusing as the situation in question, but after careful reading actually makes sense. Here’s what David has to say on the matter:
“This is in response to the question posed in today’s ‘Lectronic, asking if anyone has any answers to the ‘phenomenon’ you’ve observed in the pattern of discovery of Golden Tickets. As it happens, along with lots of cruising stories (we’ve only barely touched the surface …), I do. The answer is disarmingly simple, albeit counterintuitive to many — you’re just observing the outcome of a series of independent random events.
“Consider an analogy. Suppose you roll a single die dozens of times, in a game in which you only ‘win’ (e.g., find a Golden Ticket) if you roll a 6. It turns out that ANY pattern that, over time (e.g., lots of months), averages out to 1 ‘win’ every 6 rolls, is equally likely.
“So, for example, the following sequences are equally likely:
L L L L L W L L L L L W L L L L L W L L L L L W L L L L L
L L L W L L L L W L L L L L W L L L L L L W L L L L L L L
L L L L L L L L W W W W L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L L
“However, humans are inherently poor at processing and intuitively understanding uncertainty. So we tend to think that something that is ‘random’ should have ‘more variability’ in the pattern you observe — so most people would tend to intuitively think either of the first two sequences is more likely than the third (which is a slightly exaggerated example of the pattern about which you asked). But they are NOT more likely — all three patterns are equally likely.
“So it’s a simple matter of random chance, fully consistent with the laws of probability, that you observe people finding Golden Tickets two or even three months in a row, after long gaps.
“There’s another related but different psychological trait, which is almost universal, known as the ‘Availability Bias.’ So when you observe two Golden Tickets in a row, and recall observing the same before, your perception is that it’s happening more frequently than would be logical. But it’s almost certainly not and, perhaps, you may not recall as distinctly times where there was just one Golden Ticket (rather than a series). Hence, one tends to subjectively give more weight to the repetitions.”
David says this is a “very well-understood phenomenon in behavioral psychology, behavioral economics, decision analysis, and any field that addresses humans dealing with uncertainty in the real world.” And he’s happy to provide references upon request. Well, we’re happy to accept David’s information as correct, but if you have any questions or opposing ideas, drop them into the comments for us all to see.