A webcomic of romance and math (and some other things)

Some of you may know the webcomic xkcd. I’ve compiled a (possibly incomplete) list of probability and statistics-related comics from xkcd. A lot of these seem to also have something to do with love, which is appropriate for today; but that may not be more than you’d expect from a random sample. xkcd calls itself “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

Data mining with jellybeans. I put a story adapted from this on a final exam last year, and for zero points extra credit asked my students where I borrowed the story from. None of them knew.

Sustainable extrapolation (although shouldn’t this be fit to a logistic curve, not an exponential?)

But not even a better curve-fitting model will save our intrepid hero in extrapolating number of husbands.

How do we really know that statistics courses teach that correlation does not imply causation? Maybe the sort of people who take statistics courses just know that anyway.

Boxplots can be used to identify your statistically significant other. (See also Language Log.) If you don’t have one, you can take part in statistical voyeurism — someone near you is having sex. (And in Paris, Amélie Poulain tells us that fifteen couples are having an orgasm right now.)

What’s the conditional probability of dying by lightning strike, given that you stay out in a storm?

Sports as weighted random number generators should be required reading for all sports announcers. (Sometimes I have to watch baseball games muted.)

Probability used to be my favorite branch of math because it had so many real-life applications. (But see Stephen Jay Gould, The median isn’t the message.

Schools are still teaching the null hypothesis.

My normal approach is useless here. (Not really about probability or statistics, but this was posted on a bulletin board at Penn for a while before I knew the source. May or may not have been published on february 12, 2007.

Psychic reminds me of the stockbroker’s coin flip scam.

Analyzing the size of dating pools, based on the “half your age plus seven” rule for the youngest person you can date without things seeming sketchy. Oddly enough, I caught myself actually doing this math a couple days ago. And not for practical purposes; the person I’m sort of seeing right now is a few months younger than me. Someone’s actually done the analysis (found via reddit). However, I’d posit that the “half your age plus seven” rule is just a linear approximation and shouldn’t be extrapolated like this.

And if you’re at a loss for what to get your statistically significant other today, don’t do this.

(Andromeda Yelton has an index to science topics in XKCD which was useful in compiling this post.)

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