Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fascinating and not so fascinating

I just perused, and by perused I mean read thoroughly; not the way it is currently used in common vernacular. But I digress...

Three professors from Stanford collaborated on "Dynamical Bias in the Coin Toss" was quite a dry but worthwhile read. I had not read a paper with physics and calculus in it since I was but a lad in high school, so it took a while for the vector analysis to sink in, but I grasped the gist of the argument. But no matter, for all is provided in the abstract.

Abstract: We analyze the natural process of flipping a coin which is caught in the hand. We prove that vigorously-flipped coins are biased to come up the same way they started. The amount of bias depends on a single parameter, the angle between the normal to the coin and the angular momentum vector. Measurements of this parameter based on high-speed photography are reported. For natural flips, the chance of coming up as started is about .51.

Ahh the random coin flip is no longer. So is this just another instance where as Nassim Taleb like to point out where we are fooled by randomness, or rather we believe it to be random and we are fooled into thinking it is so. I would love to hear his thoughts on that.

However, as the abstract points out this only garners a person a one point advantage, thus the caller would need to be able to view the coin from its initial position to win on average more than he should in theory. So at the next SuperBowl or National Championship game look for the referee to cover the coin before he tosses it, otherwise Stanford, and its alumni, may be at an advantage.

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