Interview on Newstalk

Coincidences do happen. But what do they mean to us and just what are the chances? In this special feature episode, we find out…

This was fun to take part in! Futureproof is a science programme on Newstalk hosted by @jonathan_mccrea. A special issue on Chance and Coincidence was recorded with input from Prof. Brian Hughes (@b_m_hughes (Professor of Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Galway ) and I.

Brian explained why we seek out patterns and how this can lead us to apply meaning where there is none. I then attempted some rough calculations to estimate the odds of some coincidence stories sent in by listeners. Naturally, the marginal odds of any sequence of events is astronomical when you include exact timings and other extraneous details so I approached it by simplifying until I had a version of each story that’s not worth telling. Once I have this no-coincidence version I calculate the odds of the parts that make the story worth telling. Sometimes these parts are independent, sometimes there’s an order to the conditioning. In any case, I naturally had to use some very rough guessing or use of proxy figures in order to get a set of odds. Hopefully it was entertaining, or illuminating, or perhaps even both!

  • Listen to the podcast and judge for yourself.
Michael Salter-Townshend
Michael Salter-Townshend
Assistant Professor of Statistics

My research interests include Statistical Genetics, Network Analysis, Climate Reconstruction, Computational Statistics, Bayesian Statistics.