Statistics 24, Section 1. CCN: 32923

Freshman Seminar: Probability, outside the textbook (Fall 2016)

Selected student talk slides

Class 12: November 18: Student talks:

no class November 25

Class 13: December 2: Student talks:

Class 14: December 9: Student talks:

Instructor: David Aldous
Class time: Friday 11:00-12:00, room 1011 Evans Hall.
Office Hours: Friday 9.30 - 10.30 in 443 Evans Hall.

Courses in mathematical probability teach you to do certain mathematical calculations, but are often far removed from broader questions about the the role of randomness in the ``real world" of human affairs. This Freshman Seminar course is aimed at students with wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, and is intended as an introduction to such questions using minimal mathematics. I will talk about topics such as

This course is a lightweight version of a upper division course, and I will use material from that coures. The next link goes to all the lectures from that course.


There is no text, but to get into the spirit of the course I suggest you look at one of the 100 books on my page Reviews of non-technical books relating to Probability, for instance I have a copy of (almost all) of these books, which you may borrow.

Student responsibilities

The student's responsibility is to carry out a small project, write it up and present it in class (10 minutes) during one of the final 3 Fridays (November 4, 18 and December 2). In choosing a project you are encouraged to pursue your own interests. Here are some suggestions for types of project.

1. A topic report. Choose a topic from one the the books on the list Reviews of non-technical books relating to Probability , or a book of your own choice. Best to seek one interesting idea to discuss; don't try to summarize a whole book.

2. A project finding data to confirm or refute some general idea in probability, or just some interesting statistical data. We'll see examples as the course progresses..

Talk with me before seriously engaging any project.

Topics and activities from each class

Class 1: August 26: Topic: Everyday perception of chance. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Class 2: September 2: Topic: The Kelly criterion for favorable games: stock market investing for individuals. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Class 3: September 9: Topic: Risk to Individuals: Perception and Reality. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Class 4: September 16: Topic: Coincidences, near misses and one-in-a-million chances. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Class 5: September 23: Topic: Predicting the future. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Class 6: September 30: Topic: Psychology of probability: predictable irrationality. Link to STAT 157 lecture

Relevant books are

  • Kahneman Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Ariely Predictably Irrational
  • Nickerson Cognition and Chance. The psychology of probabilistic reasoning

    Class 7: October 7: Topic: Science fiction meets science. Link to STAT 157 lecture

    Interesting Wikipedia pages are Fermi paradox and The Great Filter and Near-Earth object and Technological singularity. Interesting books are

    And some interesting papers are
    Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system (2015) by the UK-US Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience, The Global Food Security programme, UK.
    Preparing for Future Catastrophes. International Risk Governance Council, Lausanne.

    Class 8: October 14: Topic: Game theory. Link to STAT 157 lecture

    Links -- Dice City Roller



    Introducing Nash equilibria via an online casual game which people actually play. Extended write-up of lecture.
    Testing game theory in the field: Swedish LUPI lottery games by R. Ostling et al.

    Class 9: October 21: Topic: Gambling with unknown probabilities: sports and politics. Link to STAT 157 lecture


    On the wisdom of crowds (my experience).
    Advanced Football Analytics.

    Class 10: October 28: Topic: Bayes rule and other little probability examples.

    Class 11: November 4: Topic: Miscellany and some slides from Luck.

    no class November 11