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I hate math, but there's this statistics problem that has me geeking out.
It's a question that seems really, really simple, but it's stumped me.
And not just me, it has stumped thousands of people around the world including math professors and leading statisticians.
But before we dive in, I'm going to introduce you to Zachery Crockett.
He first introduced me to the puzzle, and I called him up to talk about it.
My name is Zachery Crockett, I'm a writer for Priceonomics.
Zachery and his girlfriend were stumped by the problem too.
We just sat there debating the answer to this problem for two hours, and I don't think any of us really understood it.
The puzzle we were all stumped by is called the Monty Hall Problem, named after the host of the game show that made it famous.
You see the problem goes like this: there's a brand new car behind one of three doors.
Behind the other two are goats.
Say you pick door number one.
Monty then shows you the goat behind one of the doors you didn't choose - say, door three.
Now here's the question: you're allowed to change your answer to Door two.
Do you switch? Or do you stick with your original choice?
But yeah, I got interested in the Monty Hall Problem, did a little research, and then I found out there was this whole second angle to the story.
You've never met a man who feared you a little bit because he thought you were much brighter than he was?
That's Marilyn Vos Savant in 1988 being interviewed by Joe Franklyn.
Well, yeah maybe I've met a man or two, maybe a couple a hundred like that.
Marilyn is very intelligent.
In fact, back when the Guinness World Records actually kept track of this, she was the world's highest IQ.
She now writes for Parade Magazine and has for the last 20 years.
So the premise of the column was of course, like, here is the person with the world's highest IQ, here to answer your challenging math questions.
This brings us to September 9th, 1990, when a reader submitted to Marilyn... the Monty Hall Problem.
Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?
Now, if you're like me the obvious answer is no.
There are two doors so the chance of getting a car and not a goat is 50/50.
Bing. Bang. Boom.
But that's the wrong answer, and Marilyn knew that.
She replied: “Yes; you should switch.”
And here's why.
Here are three doors.
There's a goat behind two and a car behind one.
In a blind test, you're more likely to pick a goat than a car.
In fact, you're two-thirds likely, so let's use that as our main scenario.
You pick door one.
So now, Monty Hall, who knows what's behind all the doors, is forced to reveal a goat regardless of the door you pick.
Since, in the most probable scenario you've also picked a goat, the only door left is the one with the car.
So, now Monty Hall asks, "Would you rather keep the door you've picked, or would you switch?”
Well, you should most definitely switch.
If you do you get the car two-thirds of the time.
Turns out when Marilyn correctly answered the Monty Hall Problem, she received thousands of letters from across the world telling her she was flat out wrong.
I think part of her was a little bit surprised that she received 10,000 letters calling her an idiot.
There was, without a doubt, a little bit of sexism at play here.
Not only was her answer right, it wasn't anything new.
The first time the Monty Hall problem was really conceived was in 1975.
So, this guy named Steve Selvin at Berkeley presented this problem in The American Statistician.
He contested that the odds were two out of three, and no one argued with him.
You know, over the next 15 years multiple other academics reiterated the same problem, and no one ever told them that they were wrong.
Then in 1990 Marilyn answered the same question correctly, and people went bananas.
Marilyn ended up tallying up what percentage of the 10,000 responses claimed she was wrong.
Only 8% of readers actually agreed with her, and after subsequent columns, she was able to raise that to 56%.
And among academics: It was 35% among academics initially supporting it.
Around 70% of academics ultimately decided to agree with her.
The only way she managed to get people on her side was by asking them to do the experiment themselves.
Elementary, middle school, and high school teachers from all over the country wrote in, astounded that their students were able to prove her right.
It's easy now to do a simple google search of this little sucker of a problem and get a million explanations on how to arrive at the right answer.
There's something about this problem that really strikes a chord with, not only statisticians, but just everyday problem solvers and people.
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The math problem that stumped thousands of mansplainers

878 Folder Collection
Mackenzie published on December 3, 2019    Mackenzie translated    Steve reviewed
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