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What the Luck? : The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives – Gary Smith

Thoughts: A book about regression to the mean. Generally enjoyable, and I have a better understanding now of what regression to the mean is, why it happens, and where and when it is important. It was a bit repetitive at times: “And here’s a graph illustrating an example from a different sport!” Right, the points don’t lie along the x=y line… looks like another example of regression to the mean… “…and watch closely now as I switch the axes…” Cool, you printed another graph of the same data, that still looks like regression to the mean…

If you’re not familiar with regression to the mean, it’s an important concept, and this book is a fun and approachable introduction to the idea. Just maybe skim the second half.

(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)

Smith, Gary. 2016. What the Luck? : The Surprising Role of Chance in Our Everyday Lives. Overlook Press.


“There are a few statistical fact more interesting than regression to the mean for two reasons. First, people encounter it almost every day of their lives. Second, almost nobody understands it. The coupling of these two reasons makes regression to the mean one of the most fundamental sources of error in human judgment.” -Anonymous

I. Overreaction

1: The Law of Small Numbers

II. Inherited Traits

2: The Father of Regression

3: Choose Your Parents Carefully

III. Education

4: Testing 1, 2, 3

5: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

6: Money for Nothing

7: Learning and Unlearning

IV. Games of Chance

8: Hopes and Excuses

V. Sports

9: Champions Choke

10: Jinxes, Slumps, and Superstitions

11: Being Smart About It

VI. Health

12: Take Two Aspirin

13: The Tin Standard

VII. Business

14: The Triumph of Mediocrity

15: From Bad to Better and Great to Good

16: Draft Picks, CEOs, and Soul Mates

VIII. Forecasting

17: A Better Crystal Ball

IX. Investing

18: $100 Bills on the Sidewalk

X: Conclusion

19: Living With Regression

Posted: Jul 24, 2022. Last updated: Jul 24, 2022.