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Sep 13, 2019

It's Friday 13th! What does that mean? Is it an unlucky day? According to science—no, it means absolutely nothing. But there is one exception: the date has meaning if we think it does. As meaning-machines, we impart significance everywhere we look. We don't want to live in a world where randomness reigns. So what traps have we set?

Ben has a fascinating chat with University of Toronto Professor Jeffrey Rosenthal, statistician and author of "Knock on Wood: Luck, Chance, and the Meaning of Everything".

About the Guest

Jeffrey Rosenthal is a professor of Statistics at the University of Toronto, and author of Knock on Wood: Luck, Chance, and the Meaning of Everything. Born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada in 1967, he received his BSc in Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science from the University of Toronto at the age of 20, his PhD in Mathematics from Harvard University at the age of 24, and tenure in the Department of Statistics at the University of Toronto at the age of 29.

For his research, Rosenthal was awarded the 2006 CRM-SSC Prize, and the 2007 COPSS Presidents' Award, the most prestigious honour bestowed by the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies. For his teaching, he received a Harvard University Teaching Award in 1991, and a University of Toronto Outstanding Teaching Award in 1998. He was elected to Fellowship of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 2005, and to the Royal Society of Canada in 2012, and was awarded the SSC Gold Medal in 2013, and a President's Impact Award in 2019.

Rosenthal's book for the general public, Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, was published in sixteen editions and ten languages, and was a bestseller in Canada. It led to numerous media and public appearances, to his work exposing the Ontario lottery retailer scandal, and to a President's Impact Award. Rosenthal has also published two textbooks about probability theory, and well over one hundred refereed research papers, many related to the field of Markov chain Monte Carlo randomized computer algorithms and to interdisciplinary applications of statistics. He has dabbled as a computer game programmermusical performer, and improvisational comedy performer, and is fluent in French.

Despite being born on Friday the thirteenth, Rosenthal has been a very fortunate person.

Learn more about Jeffrey at his website or follow him on Twitter (@ProbabilityProf).

Mentioned in this Episode

The Quote of the Week

"Luck has a way of evaporating when you lean on it."
- From Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull