The Observer’s Distribution

Sunday 28 May 2006 at 6:36 pm | In Articles | 1 Comment

The front page of today’s Observer features the Poisson distribution. Why? Because some company uses it to predict the result of the World Cup. The paper seems to believe this is a newly discovered formula; in fact it was discovered by Siméon Denis Poisson in 1837. The headline says:

    P(n)=\dfrac{\lambda^n e^{-\lambda}}{n!} (…so, that’s how you find the World Cup winner)

It then spoils it all by explaining the formula with:

    For those with a degree in statistics: in the equation, ‘n’ is the number of goals scored, ‘lambda’ is the expected number of goals, ‘e’ is a natural logarithm and the exclamation mark is ‘factorial’, a function of ‘n’. P is the probability distribution of goals scored. Well, we said you needed a degree.

Er, no you don’t need a degree, as the Poisson distribution is well-known to A level students; the explanation of factorial is useless but as for the definition of e, I’m speechless (for a change!).

You can find the full story here, though the headline is a mess – they should use \LaTeX!

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  1. Great spot on the article; I went ahead and yanked it for my own blog.

    Comment by Daniel McLaury — Sunday 18 June 2006 2:00 pm #

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