Odds Defying Babies

I read an article the other day on the ABC News website that rattled my math-oriented sensibilities. Geetika Rudra wrote an article titled “Odds-defying Babies Born at 10:11 12/13/14.” My first response, aimed at the families and babies, was to think how cool that was. I have a nephew that was born on 8/7/87 and have always thought having a birth date with a pattern like that would be fun.

However, after thinking about it, I began to suspect the moniker “odds-defying” might be a bit of an exaggeration. So, I headed off to the CDC Website to get some data. The only data set I could find was from 2012, but I think it is probably safe to assume the numbers this year are in the same ballpark. According to the CDC, there were 3,952,841 births in the United States in 2012.

If you divide 3,952,841 by 365 days you get 10,830 births per day. If you divide that by 24 you get 541 births per hour. And, if you divide that by 60 minutes per hour you get 7.5 births per minute. So, according to the numbers, it would have probably been more odds-defying for there to be no births during that minute, than the two that were reported.

If you divide 7.5 births by minute by 60 seconds, you get .13; so the odds would have been against someone being born at exactly 9:10:11 12/13/14 and, as far as I know, there was no baby born at that exact second in the U.S. Although it is quite possible one may have been born somewhere in the world.

I bring this up to highlight a common misconception about statistics, which is the belief that something with a small chance of happening to someone means there is a small chance of it happening to anyone. The lottery makes a perfect, concrete example. There is a minuscule chance of any given individual actually winning a large state lottery. However, there is actually a pretty good chance that someone will win. There are lottery winners all the time. A minuscule chance times a huge number of attempts gives us a fair chance of someone winning.

If these kinds of patterns are interesting to you, I suggest you check out the page on timeanddate.com. They have a huge list of patterns by day; just enter the month and year and click the button, and you get a complete list of fun patterns (repeating numbers, increasing numbers, palindromes, etc) by day for the requested month.

See you next time…