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The Times
  • Gary Brown: Finish your plate- Odds aren’t in your favor

  • My father read a couple of newspapers a day and he liked repeating some semblance of the facts from science articles he stumbled upon. But, mostly, I suspect he said it because he just wanted us to shut up.

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  • “What if I get hit by a meteor?” I remember asking my parents at a dinner during which I dawdled over a side dish. “Do you want me cleaning up my plate to be the last thing I do?”
    Since the effectiveness of mom’s starving children in India was wearing off, my dad had to shut down the discussion.
    “The odds of that happening are astronomical,” he said, pausing for his children to giggle at the pun before dramatically estimating, “probably a billion to one.”
    He said that partly because my father read a couple of newspapers a day and he liked repeating some semblance of the facts from science articles he stumbled upon. But, mostly, I suspect he said it because he just wanted us to shut up.
    “So, don’t worry about it. And eat your peas.”
    I whined and pushed little green pellets around on my plate as I sat in the shadow of a giant space rock.
    The Real Odds
    The odds are not a billion-to-one we could be hit by a meteor, as it turns out.
    David Spiegelhalter, in an online article for The Guardian in the United Kingdom, said it was closer to 1 in 20 trillion.
    “That’s the same chance as flipping a coin 44 times in a row and it coming up heads every time. Or slightly better than the chance of winning the lottery twice in a row,” wrote Spiegelhalter.
    He added because there are 6.7 billion people on Earth the chance of anybody’s being hit is 1 in 3,000, before noting that “the chances of hitting anyone is so low because people don’t cover much of the Earth.”
    That’s a safe thought, but hardly reassuring. Ask the people of Russia who were covering the part of the Earth that their meteor recently hit.
    Changing The Odds
    According to a newspaper article I read, scientists estimate that the meteor exploding over the region of Chelyabinsk weighed about 10 tons, and was traveling at least 33,000 miles per hour over the Ural Mountains last week, before it shattered at 18 to 32 miles above the ground. Those are statistics impressive enough that my dad likely would have brought them up during many dinner discussions.
    Granted, the fact that 500 people had to seek medical attention because of injuries they suffered from the meteor also seems to change my father’s “billion to one” odds. But, I suspect my dad would have adapted to the reality that we actually can get hit by a meteor and he would have used the new facts to his advantage.
    “If you get hit by a meteor before you finish what’s on your plate, you won’t come running to me for dessert.”

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