George Carlin — Stupider than Average

George Carlin makes a simple statistical error (unless he’s talking about a symmetric distribution) in describing the intelligence of the average person. Typically, the measure he is describing refers to the median, which would place half of the sample above the value and half the value below. Many students assume that the median and the mean are the same thing and will often describe them similarly, but averages can be prone to outliers. In this case, a really dumb person in a room full of genius can pull the average way down, but won’t change the median.

Thanks to Jeff Wooldridge on Twitter for the recommendation:

Manifest — Selection Bias

Manifest is the story of a missing plane that shows up over 5 years late, but the people on the plane don’t experience any time change. Saanvi was a researcher whose work has been used to treat pediatric cancer while she was away. One of the boys on the flight qualifies for treatment, but allowing him to join the study puts the study at risk since they don’t know what happened on the flight. Selection bias occurs when people are selected (or not selected) into treatments in an unrandom fashion. The young boy qualifies to be part of the study but is excluded on the basis that it’s not clear what happened on the flight.

Thanks to Alfredo Paloyo for the clip recommendation!

The Simpsons — MoneyBART

The local little league team has a new coach, and she plans on using statistical analysis to improve their chances of winning. She tracks player tendencies and digs into the work of Bill James to bring a Moneyball approach to the Isotots. Bart laments that she has taken the fun out of the game, which begs the question of the team’s objective function. Are sports teams win-maximizers or should some teams focus on having fun?

At the end of the segment, Bart has a choice to make. Should he take the statistical approach to win the game or should he swing and try to preserve his hot streak. The hot hand fallacy is the belief that previous observations are correlated with upcoming observations. This fallacy leads us to believe batters “get hot” even though the probability of the next hit is independent of the previous ones.

Brooklyn 99 — Moneyball

Captain Holt and Lieutenant Jeffords want to streamline the department and improve efficiency across the precinct. Jeffords is concerned that Capt. Holt is getting to greedy and can’t make many more improvements, but Capt. Holt believes he’s taking a Moneyball approach to the department. The film is his favorite and he finds the statistical analysis beautiful.

While he may be improving efficiency through his new statistical approach, the two should be concerned about diminishing returns. Productivity can increase with revised strategies, but additional productivity may require a significant increase in cost. In order to determine the optimal outcome, the two should focus on marginal analysis.

Seinfeld — Half a Can of Soda


Jerry is tired of how much food Kramer eats and doesn’t pay for, but Kramer has offered to keep a tab for himself and will write down every time he consumes something so he can pay Jerry back. Jerry discovers a half full can of soda in the fridge and asks Kramer if it’s his, but Kramer believes he can purchase just half a can of soda. Jerry has to explain to him that items like soda and fruit have to purchased in discrete units, not continuous units.

Thanks to Daniel Stone for the suggestion!

Horrible Bosses 2 — Probability of a Locked Door (NSFC)


Nick, Kurt, and Dale head to Rex Hansen’s house with a plan to kidnap him and hold him for ransom to pay for a past business deal gone awry. When they get to the door, Kurt and Dale try to open it, but are surprised to find it locked because they believed the probability of it being locked was only 50/50. While there are only two possible outcomes, it doesn’t mean the probability of each outcome is the same.

This concept has been mistaken in other shows like Corner Gas and Young Sheldon.

Brooklyn 99 — Monty Hall Problem


Kevin and Ray haven’t seen each other in a while because of their scheduled change and come to a disagreement on the famous Monty Hall problem. Captain Holt believes the probabilities should only be 50/50 since there are two doors remaining, but Kevin, correctly, informs him the odds are 1/3 that you selected the correct initially and 2/3rds that it’s in the other door.┬áThe Monty Hall problem has also been covered in the movie 21 and the TV show Numb3rs.

Thanks to James Tierney for the recommendation:

Superstore — Random Numbers

Cheyenne and Mateo are trying to pick numbers for the upcoming Missouri jackpot and are discussing how random their numbers are. While each combination is no more lucky than any other combination, there are particular numbers that people pick because they feel lucky. The odds of the lottery being 1-2-3-4-5 are just as likely as any other combination of five numbers, but the likelihood of sharing the jackpot with another person is probably pretty low.

Superstore — Probability of Success

When it comes to selecting numbers for a lottery, people tend to irrationally believe certain numbers are more important than others. Each number is just as likely to be selected as the other numbers, so placing a higher probability on one number being selected isn’t rational.

Young Sheldon — Probabilities vs Possibilities

In this clip from Young Sheldon, his pastor makes the claim that God’s existence was 50/50 and that people should bet on that coin flip. Sheldon is quick to point on that the pastor is confusing possibilities with probabilities, which is also a common mistake that students make in stats courses. A similar clip was posted before about a scene in Corner Gas involving a riot.

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