# Difference between revisions of "Chance News 111"

July 1, 2017 to ...

## Quotations

“In my darkest moods I follow what could be called the ‘Groucho principle’: because stories have gone through so many filters that encourage distortion and selection, the very fact that I am hearing a claim based on statistics is reason to disbelieve it.”

-- David Spiegelhalter (president of Royal Statistical Society), quoted in:
'Exaggerations' threaten public trust in science, says leading statistician, Guardian, 28 June 2017

"Aside from ruining the rest of the 21st century, the 2016 U.S. election inflicted spectacular collateral damage on the subject known as statistics."

-- Paul Alper, in: Occom, Mencken and Cohn, Higher Education Review, vol. 49, no.2

## "Random" seat assignment

Ryanair's 'random' seat allocation not random - scientists
by John von Radowitz, Irish Independent, 30 June 2017

Ryanair is an Irish low-cost airline. This Wikipedia entry reports that they have repeatedly faced criticism for misleading advertising.

The Irish Independent article concerns a recent controversy. When customers book Ryanair flights, they can pay to make a seat selection or else opt for "random" seat assignment, which is free. Advertising on the airline's website says, "Can't stand the middle seat? Don't leave it to chance, take your pick from a choice of seats. Get up to 50pc off reserved seats with prices starting at £2."

But is it up to chance? In light of customer complaints, the BBC consumer affairs show Watchdog sought expert opinion from Oxford University. To test the claim, researchers had four groups of four passengers book travel on four separate flights, all under the random seating option. On every flight, all of the passengers got middle seats. The odds of this happening were estimated at about 1:540,000,000. Compare this to the 1:45,000,000 odds of winning the UK National Lottery jackpot. The director of Oxford University's Statistical Consultancy, Dr. Jennifer Rogers, is quoted as saying, "This is a highly controversial topic and my analysis cast doubt on whether Ryanair's seat allocation can be purely random."

The article concludes with the following explanation from Ryanair, which qualifies as an extended Forsooth!

We haven't changed the random seat allocation policy.

The reason for more middle seats being allocated is that more and more passengers are taking our reserved seats (from just £2) and these passengers overwhelmingly prefer aisle and window seats which is why people who choose random (free of charge) seats are more likely to be allocated middle seats.

Some random seat passengers are confused by the appearance of empty seats beside them when they check-in up to four days prior to departure.

The reason they can't have these window or aisle seats is that these are more likely to be selected by reserved seat passengers, many of whom only check in 24 hours prior to departure.

Since our current load factor is 95pc, we have to keep these window and aisle seats free to facilitate those customers who are willing to pay (from £2) for them.

Submitted by Patrick O'Beirne

## Sense and Sensibility and Statistics

From The Word Choices That Explain Why Jane Austen Endures
by Kathleen A. Flynn and Josh Katz, New York Times, 6 July 6, 2017.

Jane Austen' popularity has endured, and there may be something in her language that explains this. A principal components analysis of the words used by a large number books published from 1701 t0 1920 show that Austen's novels were unusual in her use of words related to time (always, fortnight and week) or emotion (awkward, decided, dislike, glad, sorry, suppose).

Jane Austen also uses a large number of intensifying words: quite, really, and very. These words are normally avoided by authors, but Austen uses them to develop a sense of irony. This fits in well with some non-statistical assessments.

Traditional literary approaches to Austen have long focused on this aspect of her work: “the incongruities between pretence and essence, between the large idea and the inadequate ego," as the critic Marvin Mudrick put it. A look at passages where words like very are used frequently often finds the stated meaning conceivably at odds with the real one, the exaggeration subtly inviting doubt."

A nice interactive plot shows the first two principal components and you can hover over individual data points to see the book title.

Submitted by Steve Simon