Here’s a good one that Doug passed along. It’s amusing on its own merits, but it’s also a stark illustration of the coming power of statistics. OkCupid is a dating site. There are thousands of dating sites out there, but this one was founded by mathematicians. So not only do they have tons of interesting data on coupling, they’ve also got the math skills to extract some pretty fascinating conclusions.
In a recent blog post, The Best Questions For A First Date, they posed this question. Is there an innocuous question you can ask early in a relationship that yields the same information as the rude question that you’d rather ask? That question of questions, “Will my date have sex on the first date?” turns out to correspond very nicely with a much much safer question: “Do you like the taste of beer?” According to the wizards at OkCupid,
whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date.
Why? That’s the beauty of statistics! It doesn’t matter why. I’m telling you that it works. Isaac Newton had much the same problem when he tried to explain his law of gravity. “I have no faith in this gravitational law of yours,” they would say, “because you can’t explain how it works.” To this day, nobody understands how gravity works, but Newton’s law is darned useful all the same.
Similarly, we’re a long way from understanding human nature. But the statistics you shed every day are now being stockpiled and distilled, and they reveal an invisible hand shaping your every move. There’s a lot more of this on the way. I suspect that first dates in the near future will start to sound like spies encountering each other behind enemy lines.
HE: The otter is shy but friendly, don’t you think?
SHE: Yes, but would you agree that it is better to be invisible than to fly?
HE: True, but tell me this… do you like the taste of beer?
SHE: >> SLAP! <<