That’s the headline we were looking for…but didn’t see.
Instead, in the midst of the excitement around the US Powerball lottery jackpot - odds of hitting the $550m (£344m) jackpot were calculated at one in 175 million – statisticians were reported as saying that you have more chance of getting struck by lightning or dying from a bee sting than scooping the jackpot.
Comparing winning the lottery with the risk of dying may be intended to get us to consider our tendency to underestimate the chance of something bad occurring and to overestimate the chance of something good happening even when the odds are infinitesimal… but maybe best not to spoil the hope-fuelled spirit in which most lottery tickets are purchased. The audience is not really going to be that receptive and a focus on death, illness and tragedy in this situation characterises stats as being about risk aversion rather than celebrating chance and action (informed action, of course).
Richard Dawkins says that “the essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale”. Agreed. In fact, life more generally is full of wonderful highly improbable events… so let’s stay upbeat, comparing winning the lottery with other random positive things that could happen e.g. comparing the chances of winning the lottery with… scoring a triple hat trick at Wembley perhaps?. Other ideas?