When the lottery jackpot is particularly big or it looks like the Leafs might possibly make the playoffs, the probability is quite high that Jeffrey Rosenthal will be called upon by the media to elucidate the chances that you or the Leafs will win.
Dr. Rosenthal has been studying probability, randomness and chance for nearly two decades, but his role as the go-to guy on such matters accelerated with the publication of his book, Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities (HarperCollins) in 2005.
The book explores, in a lighthearted way, what happens when you’re not sure what will happen – from the lottery to airplane crashes, casino gambling, homicide rates, election polls and the spread of disease.
In general, Dr. Rosenthal says people “tend to think things are more likely than they are,” both positive and negative, such as winning the lottery or having your child abducted by a stranger (or the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup?).
In his frequent talks, Dr. Rosenthal likes to illustrate his points with examples or anecdotes that people can relate to. A classic example is the birthday problem: If you have 40 people in a room, what’s the probability two will have the same birthday?
“You might think it’s pretty low, considering there are 365 days in a year,” he says. “But actually, there is almost a 90 percent chance that some pair will share a birthday.”
As luck would have it, Dr. Rosenthal was born on Friday the 13th.