Introducing: The Book of Odds
What’s more dangerous: a playground jungle gym or your office chair? As it happens, one in every 3,759 fatal accidental falls starts from a piece of playground equipment. You’re 85 times more likely, meanwhile, to fall to your death from a chair. That’s one of the many odd pairings waiting to be discovered in The Book of Odds, an online statistical encyclopedia launching tomorrow.
Some other probabilistic tidbits I found digging through the site:
- The average American is more likely to live without ever visiting a dentist than to live without a TV in her home.
- A married man is about as likely to cheat on his wife as he is to experience a flight delay.
- You’re eight times more likely to have your ashes abandoned at a crematorium than to see a new book on personal finance be published in a given year.
The Book of Odds is a searchable online database of “odds statements,” the probabilities of everyday life. You can search it by keyword or by the odds themselves — for instance, how many things stand a 1 in 142 chance of happening to to you. As a special treat for Freakonomics readers, you can try the beta version of the site by clicking here and entering the username “brownian” and password “motion.”
The site’s founder, Amram Shapiro, says he wants to create a reference tool for better understanding the endless stream of odds that confront us:
For people to understand a probability, they have to find something they can relate to. Our ambition is that anyone should be able to look up any probability and find something in the list of equal probabilities which they’ve personally experienced and therefore can relate to their own empirical sense.
In the midst of this kind of gigantic outpouring of data that surrounds us, there are a lot of interesting things to be found if you only look for them. If you ask an interesting enough question, you have a reasonably good chance of finding data to help you make some sense of the answer. To me that produces a kind of optimism. It means we’re not just drowning in data.
Sifting through the Book of Odds to find intriguing pairs of odds statements (say, the likelihood of drowning in a pool versus being killed by a handgun) can be fun exercise. Shapiro likens it to punning or metaphorical poetry: “You find a subterranean relationship between two unlike things you had never thought of before.”
We hope you’ll share your favorite finds with us in the comments here. It might even spark some interesting research. Shapiro says that’s his secret desire: “I would love someday to discover there were a whole lot of PhD theses triggered just by somebody wandering around Book of Odds and saying ‘wait a minute, that gives me an idea … .'”