Thursday, October 21, 2010

The lottery of life. And death.

In law there are two burdens of proof [1]: The ‘balance of probabilities test applies in civil cases. The ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ test, which applies in criminal cases, is more stringent. As it should be. And it should ensure correct verdicts. But the recent advent of DNA testing’s shown that the 'beyond reasonable doubt' test is fallible [2]. Indeed I wonder if legal outcomes are much more predictable than a lottery. Israel’s state lottery, for example. Last 21 September the winning numbers were 36, 33, 32, 26, 14 and 13. Then 25 days later – on 16 October – the winning numbers were 13, 14, 26, 32, 33 and 36. Not only the same six numbers, but in precisely the reverse order [3, 4]. And in sequential order too. The equipment and balls checked out okay. An Israeli statistics professor put the chance of two identical sets at one in four trillion, i.e. 0.00000000000025. But this ignores that the two sets were in reverse order, and in sequential order. Whatever the true chance is, it’s only a tad above zero. Also remarkable, and astounding, is that on 16 October there were three winners – which is the highest number since 2006. I’d love to know if these three chose those numbers because they’re the winning set from 25 days earlier. Whether they did or not, the chance of the same set winning twice within a few weeks is tiny. Human nature’s a strange phenomenon. Which is cold comfort if you’re an innocent on death row.

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