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Welcome to Science Monday, today we are examining the phenomenon know as luck, which is a funny thing.

Luck strikes where it will, and it goes on strike where it won’t. Some people claim to have it and other to be bereft of its blessings. It seems both fickle and favoritive, picking one person in a crowd for rewards of great statistical exemption and another for punishments that defy all probability.1

…For the duration of this article we will refer to losing money in contests of chance by the time honored name of gambling

Nowhere is luck so desperately called upon and so furiously cursed as in the activity formerly known as gambling. According to the casino industry, the preferred term for the processes of contributing your money to their vaults by the fistful is now “gaming.” However, I have always defined a game as something you occasionally win, so for the duration of this article we will continue to refer to losing money in contests of chance by the time honored name of gambling.

Casino performers Penn and Teller know a bit about the role of luck in gambling. In a Las Vegas tourism commercial that I saw some time ago, they describe luck as, “The excitement of bad math.”

Which poses an interesting question, could it be that what we refer to as luck is simply an anthropomorphism, an attributing of human characteristics to the cold and merciless machinery of statistics? Is it possible that “Lady Luck” is simply a title given to our blind hope of being in the right place at the right time to receive something good?

At this point I should probably warn you that it is bad luck to read this sort of thing out loud. If you have been reading out loud, throw a pinch of paprika over your left shoulder to salvage your luck. If you don’t have any paprika, just pinch someone behind you and read silently from this point on.

To test this theory, I have undertaken the solemn task of scientifically exploring the effects of luck on those around me. Specifically, I am instituting one of my world famous, although never before attempted, Controlled Workplace Experiments.

Twice a week, a group of my coworkers contribute to my daughter’s college fund, which also goes by the name of the state lottery.2 What I purpose is this: every time my fellow employees put a dollar in the kitty, I will put a dollar in the can.

Not the toilet, this can:


I have also provided a receptacle for their winnings as well:


Now, on the off chance that my favorite coworkers do win, they will, of course, need to slide me a couple hundred thousand of their most photogenic bills to fill the can for the picture. Remember guys, it’s for science.

But in the meantime, I will track the results with great approximate scientific precision on this page here, which I have donated to science, to be dedicated exclusively to documenting the continuing results of this experiment.
I intend to update this page weekly with pictures of the can, and a nifty bar graph documenting our individual financial progress. This should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, so check back every Monday to observe new experimental developments as they develop.

Yet another impressive scientific inquiry, brought to you by the Ominous Comma, the first and middle name in statistical education.

Go to the experiment page.

  1. Even my impressive authorly status has not exempted me from the arrows of outrageous fortune. I have often asked myself why every fast moving line slows to a crawl as soon as I enter it. I have also noticed that dispensers frequently give the last paper towel to the guy right before me. And then there is always that getting picked last for kickball thing.

    Could it be bad luck?

    No, actually in my case these things are directly attributable to the International Conspiracy to Cause Brent Pain, which I will have to address in a different article. For every one else however, the usual culprit is luck.

  2. Some would say that the chances of winning the state lottery are just slightly higher than the chances of spontaneously combusting, but as an acting scientist, I have no time for speculation and small talk of this nature. I have an experiment to attend to.