Few things annoy me more than when people insist that an outcome must be attributable to some easily-identifiable cause. Life is full of randomness, why can’t people admit this? It may not satisfying answer, but it is frequently the correct answer.
A few weeks ago I was watching a baseball game, when a historically-bad relief pitcher entered the game. Instead of giving up a walk and a few hits, capped off with a homer, he recorded three straight outs. No doubt, this performance was well within the range of expected outcome for this pitcher: outs are common in baseball, and even the worst pitchers frequently record three straight outs. But, this couldn’t have been the answer to the announcer, oh no. “That extra side-work he’s been doing with the pitching coach must have paid off,” we were told.
As I was restraining myself from yanking my hair out in tufts, I glanced over at my copy of The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow and thought of sending it to the offending announcer. It was recommended to me by a blog reader, and I have enjoyed reading it. Mlodinow, coauthor of A Brief History in Time with Stephen Hawking, uses his own life experience to explain the mathematical history of randomness while explaining its practical applications.
While it’s the type of book that I like, it may have some additional attraction to baseball fans. Mlodinow is clearly a baseball fan as he uses some baseball historical events to explain randomness. For example, he estimated likelihood of the Braves blowing the 1996 World Series to the Yankees….like I needed reminding. Though the baseball examples are few, they are appreciated.
One of the nice book features is the explanation of difficult concepts through simple examples, without resorting to typical mathematical notation. You may been exposed to these concepts before in a probability and statistics class, but the answer was difficult to grasp among the lines and symbols. In fact, if you know someone taking such a class, the book should clarify and reinforce many of the concepts learned in the course. If you’re a fan of pop-science books, then I think you might like as well.