Monday, February 14, 2005

"Laws of Chance"

One would think I would let this pass without comment, but oh well...

A recent /. post links to an article on RedNova News about a "Random Event Generator" that purports to predict world events:
One of these new technologies was a humble-looking black box known was a Random Event Generator (REG). This used computer technology to generate two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence, rather like an electronic coin-flipper.
Now it's all very well to generate randomness from a computer, and in fact there have been suggestions that certain kinds of electrical fluctuations on a chip can be recorded and used for randomness generation. But to claim that this is "totally random" by virtue of using the magical "computer technology" is a bit of a stretch.

But wait, it gets worse:

The pattern of ones and noughts - 'heads' and 'tails' as it were - could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Any deviation from this equal number shows up as a gently rising curve.

I presume they mean that they plot |H-T| against n. But as any book on probability will tell you, you do expect to see random fluctuations (this is after all a binomial process), and the standard deviation is around sqrt(N), so bumps are to be expected: a flat line is what would be suspicious.

During the late 1970s, Prof Jahn decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings. He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails.

It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.

Well it sounds like the results haven't been stated either. What exactly were these "stunning" results ? Ah, here we go:

Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.

According to all of the known laws of science, this should not have happened - but it did. And it kept on happening.

"All the known laws of science" can't explain an unequal number of heads and tails. In other words, if I just managed to get a streak of 10 heads with a coin, I'm psychic ?

Aieee......