Sunday, 13 September 2009

Area Illusionist Plays With Numbers, Viewers

A few days ago illusionist Derren Brown announced he was going to predict the results of the UK national lottery.

Here’s how it went down.


When the explanation came out for how it was supposedly done, it was laughably silly.

Brown claims he had a panel of 24 people write down their predictions, and he took the average. It’s the “wisdom of the crowd” theory, don’t you know.

Like all good scams there’s an element of truth to it. This “wisdom of the crowd” idea is real.

If you have a group of people guess (for example) a person’s age or the size of an object, then the average of the crowd’s guesses tends to be reasonably accurate. And the more people in the crowd the better it is.

Here’s why that won’t work for lottery numbers: the crowd can see the person or the object about which they’re guessing. And a person’s age and an object’s size are not random numbers generated after the guesses were made.

The lottery is random. Random guesses are random. The average of random guesses is still random.

If this method worked then you’d be able to pick the winning number each week by looking at previous results. There are any number of “systems” already based on this idea, for which any number of scammers will happily relieve you of your money. And none of them work.

So what does this mean? Not much. It means that Brown’s a clever illusionist and this was a clever illusion. And it means he hasn’t really revealed how he did it.

What he has done is create a market for scammers to take advantage of gullible people, by selling them number sets supposedly generated using this method. Expect to see those appearing in your spam filter very soon.

But I’ve got a better idea. Brown has apparently been told he’s not allowed to play the lottery anymore. If that’s true, and if he really thinks he can do this, then I’ll personally submit his next ticket for the modest fee of $100,000.

How about it, Derren?


Rob said...

I'm actually surprised that you felt the "explanation" was even worthy of a call of shenanigans. I would be surprised if ANYONE believed it.

But then I suppose I'm constantly surprised by what people will believe.

Here is one guy's home made, and quite plausible explanation, done via the tubes'o'you

Matt said...

I think a lot of people will believe that explanation. A little hand-waving and a mumbled "complex mathematics" can make some people believe just about anything.
The same goes for quantum physics and "energy" ... for an example look at any website selling homeopathy.
(By the way, his explanation is not nearly as ridiculous as homeopathy, and that's a multi-billion dollar industry.)
I liked the video, too. Very nice and succinct explanation. And it's probably right.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...


I don't have your faith in human intelligence :)

Rob said...

And THAT's why skepticism will be forever perceived as cynicism.

Matt said...

Why? You said yourself that you're constantly surprised by what people believe.

Rob said...

Yeah, but I said it nicer, like. :-)

Dave ~ said...

The only saving grace on this is when I caught it on one of the Sunday breakfast shows each and everyone one of them called bullshit. If even the morning crews are sceptical, then maybe there's hope out there after all.

I bet Oprah believed it....

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

@rob :P


Now if only they could see the magicians in every church around the country