General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


What is the law of very large numbers?

Formulated by Persi Diaconis (1945–) and Frederick Mosteller (1916–2006) of Harvard University, this long-understood law of statistics states that “with a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is apt to happen.” Therefore, seemingly amazing coincidences can actually be expected if given sufficient time or a large enough pool of subjects. For example, when a New Jersey woman won the lottery twice in four months, the media publicized it as an incredible long shot of 1 in 17 trillion. However, when statisticians looked beyond this individual’s chances and asked what were the odds of the same happening to any person buying a lottery ticket in the United States over a six-month period, the number dropped dramatically to 1 in 30. According to researchers, coincidences arise often in statistical work, but some have hidden causes and therefore are not coincidences at all. Many are simply chance events reflecting the luck of the draw.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Science Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App