## The Coincidence of the Twelfth Man

(Submitted by  blog reader, loyal Seahawks Season Ticket holder Bill Young)

Like everyone else here in Seattle, I watched the Superbowl and noticed more than a few coincidences.

• Of course Seattle is home of the 12th man.
• Superbowl XXLVIII (48)
• 4 + 8 = 48
• Seattle scored at 12 seconds into the game.
• Seattle’s first touchdown was at 12:00 in the second quarter.
• Seattle scored at 12 seconds into the second half.
• Russell Wilson passed for 206 yards (206 is Seattle’s area code)
• Seahawks final score 43 points
• 4×3 = 12

What are the odds?

_____________________________________________________________________________

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 230. Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast  for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

“The 12th man” refers to the fans. Teams are only allowed 11 players on the field at a time, but fans can affect the outcome of the game by cheering (it’s a subtle effect), so they call the fans “the 12th man”. I’m not sure how Seattle got to be known as “The Home of the 12th Man”.

The odds of all of those things happening are difficult to calculate, but not really worth examining. It’s a good example of post hoc data-mining and cherry-picking. He looked for things that relate to the number 12 and ignored all of the things that don’t. For example, what are the numbers of the players who scored? What was the score at the half? How many coaches were on the field? How many turnovers were there? Lots of numbers involved in the game don’t fit the idea that “12” is a special number that matches the Seahawk’s marketing campaign about the 12th man.

## The Ken Kesey Koincidence

(Submitted by friend of the blog Spencer Marks)

I was just finishing watching a movie with my son and as the credits were rolling, I got a text from a friend in Seattle. We engaged in a few back-and-forth messages, and to make a point about something, she told me to look up Ken Kesey, a name I had never heard before.

I turned to my laptop which was beside me, looked up Ken Kesey, and quickly found that he was the author of the book, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” My jaw almost dropped, as that was the movie I had just finished watching and whose credits were rolling!

My friend in Seattle could not have known that I had been watching that movie as I am in Los Angeles and there had been no conversation about it prior to that. Since the movie was made in 1975, and this story happened in August of 2013, it wasn’t like the movie was fresh on everyone’s minds!

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 217.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own sarcastic and hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog.

This coincidence is impossible to quantify for several reasons. Depending on how we frame the question, the probability of this occurring depends on the number of films one could have been watching at the time as well as the number of authors the friend could have mentioned.

However, there are things to take note of in this story. One bit that we often fail to consider when something like this happens is that the the author’s friend clearly knows the author well. She suspected that the author would enjoy Ken Kesey’s work and, apparently, she was right! That part is not a coincidence, but the timing surely is.

## Punk Through Time and Space

Years and years ago, I think while I was still in high-school, the punk show on my favorite radio station in Seattle played a set exclusively of early 1970s Australian punk.

Now that’s a pretty arcane sub-genre for you; but I really liked the sound of some of what I heard, so I dug around online and downloaded a bunch of music from a variety of the artists played. One group in particular caught my ear:  The Scientists.

The Scientists are actually pretty well known (as far as ’70s Australian punk acts go), but still, what are the odds I would ever see them live?

Five years later I’m living in Perth in Western Australia and my girlfriend’s father, who was a band manager back in the day, asks if we want to go to a show some old friends had put together. It was a sort of reunion party for the Perth music scene of the ’70s, all these old promoters and managers watching bands that hadn’t played together in decades. And who gets up on stage but The Scientists!

I was flabbergasted. The chain of events that was necessary to take me from hearing those songs on the radio to attending that show is so convoluted and improbable it would strain credibility in a piece of fiction.

[EDITOR: I like stories like this because they reveal the thought process we ALL go through in moments like this. We count every single twist and turn along the road that had to be just right to lead to a specific end result and see it as next to impossible. And indeed, when you start WITH the end result and look at all the details, the odds are, well… crazy. It’s the same argument you often hear against evolution, with comments about the odds of random mutations and natural selection leading to US as just too improbable. Had you planned for that end result from day one and it actually occurred, it would be mind-blowing.

But there’s a subtle flaw in the process that we usually miss: you can’t start from the precise end result because you’re biased by your perspective. You have to start from the beginning knowing nothing. An example starting from the end: What are the odds of YOU winning the lottery? Well, pretty darn slim. Starting from the beginning without a bias on the results: What are the odds of SOMEONE winning the lottery? Nearly guaranteed in most cases.

Applied to this story, if we started from the beginning, ignorant of the results, and we add in a tolerance of years to the equation, and said, “what are the odds of this person seeing a band he loves perform live in the town in which he now lives via invitation” the odds are suddenly a lot less spectacular, even if there’s a few factors that bump them up a notch. Take it a step further and make it “what are the odds of ANYBODY seeing a band they love…” and you’re in that range of a guaranteed event.

And yet when it happens to you, and you feel that sense of awe of everything coming together, not to mention combining it with the amazing power of music, the statistics and figures and likelihoods and other options and open-ended criteria fade away, and you’re instead left with a simple reaction: rock on! And I don’t know about you, but I really like that.]