Odds-Defying Babies With Numerical Superpowers!

So this Good Morning America piece showed up in my Facebook feed the other day touting the sensational headline “Odd-Defying Babies Born 10:11 12/13/14″.

Now, I think it would be adorable to have a baby born on 10:11 12/13/14 (in America, of course. In Europe, that would be 10:11 13/12/14, which just doesn’t hold the same cuteness). Human beings love the symbolism that comes from conventions such as labeling and ordering. My good friend and fellow Skeptic, Ani Aharonian (Insight blogger and guest blogger here) was married on 5/8/13 for a reason (can you guess?). But “odds-defying”? No. These babies defied no odds.

Odds are a property of something that is yet to be. They are really only valuable as a means of predicting something and have no value after the event has occurred. This is a bit like post-hoc (after-the-fact) thinking about lottery outcomes. Did your next-door neighbor defy the odds when they won the lottery? Well, it depends on your perspective, especially in time.

A given individual has an extremely slim chance of winning the jackpot of a lottery. For a Powerball lottery, a single ticket has a one in 175 million chance of winning. However, if 525 million tickets are sold, there’s a pretty good chance that at three, much less one, will be winners. Is it “odds-defying” that your next-door neighbor won? Well, perhaps from your perspective, but not to a total stranger in another state.

Similarly, the question of predicting the odds that any given child is born at that time is quite different from the post-hoc consideration of the odds. The prediction actually changes whether you are predicting the birth from before or after conception. Clearly, if you are carrying a child whose due date is around 12/13/14, the chance are much, much higher than if you have yet to conceive (especially if it’s already April 2013). But nobody even thinks much about these things until after the fact, probably because they are more concern about having a healthy child and mother at the end of it all. Post-hoc, we are really not talking about odds anymore, so unless someone predicted a very different outcome for one of these births, there was no defying of odds.

Well, except this:

Approximately, on average, eight babies are born in the U.S. every minute, so there should be around eight babies in the U.S. right now with the “lucky” birth time of 10:11 12/13/14. There are, according to the article, only two. It’s entirely possible that the author missed some, but let’s say she didn’t. That’s an unusual event. Probably not *very* unusual, as I’m sure the number of children born each minute varies a great deal, but still quite different from what we would predict given what had happened in the past. It’s also a bit interesting that both were born in the mid-west–one in the city of Cleveland, Ohio and the other in the relatively small city of Billings, Montana. Cleveland is not a small town, but why are the biggest metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and New York not represented? For that matter, they are both girls, yet averages tell us that one should be a boy. Probably because the variability in these events is very, very high and while averages are the best predictors we have, “best” isn’t always very good.

But the reason I wanted to talk about the piece wasn’t just the sensational headline. The contents are pretty eye-rolling, too.

“We knew she was going to be born today [Saturday], we just didn’t know it would be at 10:11 a.m.,” Campbell said in a statement. “Everyone is telling us we should play the lottery. We feel this is a lucky day and are excited to get family photos with Santa.”

It’s a number. It’s cute and all, but really, it’s just a number. It won’t help you win the lottery. It won’t help her succeed in life.

These conventions don’t care who you are. They don’t care where you live or what you ate for breakfast. So don’t complain about the lack of diversity in this sample, either. The universe is colorblind. Sort of.

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3 comments to Odds-Defying Babies With Numerical Superpowers!

  • Bob Bramel

    I like your insight into the baby birthday. It is one thing for the show producers to have fluffy little human interest stories, but they seem intent on making complete soup out of the human intellect. The story is just as interesting without mentioning probabilities at all, or mentioning any of your statistically interesting observations.

    Also, I enjoyed your Monty Hall piece and had to agree with one commenter who lamented not being able to grasp the answer. Some people, for whatever reason, cannot gain needed understanding. More than a decade ago I presented a colleague, a masters level engineer, with a variant — He picked a number from one to ten, told me the number and agreed that there was a one in ten chance that he had picked the number I’d previously written down. I then eliminated, slowly and with some drama, the other 8 numbers and wasn’t too surprised when he thought his odds were now 50/50. No amount of discussion persuaded him that his odds were still one in ten, so we set up a fast way to try this about 50 times. In the end, although his wins were essentially 1 in ten, he was convinced that the results were just a statistical fluke and that with more attempts it would return to 50/50. I don’t think he ever changed. (He also was convinced that a long series of “black” on the roulette wheel made “red” an ever increasing certainty.)

  • eastnorfirestarter

    Not a continuing fan of Facebook (as they asked for my phone number to continue with them), the impulse to further read your future entries in Skeptics (with the extra of commenting back as well), brought down the odds that I would be at this site eventually (though it be not in Solstice, nor the clever, 1:15 1/5/15),…still, miraculous.
    The ego bolstered by such searches for “hedging of edge”, the monumental piling of exact lasting monoliths overwhelmingly timed and spaced…The Liver Building in Liverpool was the first of the large structures in England, the largest in Europe at the time, built in the latest reinforced concrete. It’s clocks (on female side of building–25 feet dia.– still the largest in the land), started on the exact moment King George V was crowned…these weighted stations give solidity in an otherwise seemingly Brownian living condition?

  • eastnorfirestarter

    It’s harmless married people conversation chatter. “Everyone is telling us we should…”
    It worsens with the additional consideration of stimulants, mood enhancers, and libido.
    (Perhaps three aspects of Paul Frampton’s behavior we take leave to explore for later).