Friday, October 20, 2006

Loose Change/Upper East Side: Part V - Statistics, Numerology, & Other Things to Do with Numbers

(Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts about 9/11 conspiracy theorists and their reaction to the Cory Lidle tragedy last week. Earlier parts: I, II, III and IV.)

On October 11th, 2006, Cory Lidle’s plane crashed into 524 East 74th Street in New York City.

Do you get it? Can you believe how diabolical the government is? We need to get the truth out.

What, you don’t see it yet? The Loose Change posters did. Come on. OK, I’ll help:

524 East 72nd Street
5 + 2 + 4 =11
7 + 2 = 9

9 and 11 – 9/11! Get it?

Oh, and don’t forget the date: 10/11/06. A number of posters were quick to point out that if you flip the numbers upside down, you get 9/11/01. Those bastards . . .

Um, but wait. Actually, if you flip the date upside down, you get 90/11/01. No, no, no, they reply; you drop the zero before the single digit year (i.e. 10/11/6). Oh, OK. But, if that is the case, why don’t we drop the extra zero in the 9/11 date, too (i.e. 9/11/1). Well, then it won’t match up with the “10” representing October in the date of the crash. But . . .

Boy, this is getting a little convoluted. And it is also one of the most unmitigated piles of utter crap you are ever going to encounter. I’m actually embarrassed that I am taking time out of your life to tell you about it. But if this is the way many of the conspiracy theorists think, it’s important to realize just what they are talking about.

Had enough? I’ll spare you the pain of too many cuts of this type from the message board. Here is just a little sample:

"This is really weird and the day is Number 11."
Well, that’s not too bad. People always like to point out little coincidences like that. If they had stopped there, I would have rolled my eyes and moved on. But no:

"the illuminati are very big into numerology ... this could perhaps mean something"
The Illuminati? That’s a little more out there, don’t you think? Raising the question certainly meant something, though – just no where near what he intended.

Others used the mystical power of numbers to shoot down the idea that someone specifically was targeted for death by the plane (more on that gem of an idea, by the way, tomorrow):

"While it might be important to know who lived in this building, I just dont see how it can transend the numerology. I believe the plane was ment to hit this paticular building strictly because the perps like to play with numbers, and want to remind the public to vote repulican before elections. Not saying your wrong, but the numbers to me seems like no coincidence, so that puts me in doubt if someone was an intended target."
All this talk about significant numbers reminds me of a story. It was a year or two after 9/11, and I was walking past Ground Zero. There was a conspiracy theorist set up there, equipped with placards and the like. His version, though, went back further than most. In fact, he thought that the conspiracy had started back in the Nixon administration. How did we know this? Well, Nixon had been President when the 9-1-1 emergency phone system had been put into place (or so he claimed – this chronology suggests Johnson was President at the time). The selection of 9-1-1 as the number to call had been done as part of a 30+ year process of training the population to mentally associate those digits with tragedy, in preparation for the 9/11 “attacks.”

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Had enough yet? I thought so. Since I have your attention, though, allow me a brief sidetrack into statistics. In a lot of what you read in the conspiracy world, there is a pretty basic misunderstanding of probability theory. This poster unintentionally highlights the problem:
"This is covering up old things or part of the becoming ones. It seeems like part of a bigger plan to me. They need this I cant put it together but think about it.. What happened here?? A baseball players plane hits a building. How many of you have hit building with an airplane?? Or do you know anyone? And not just that.. look around."
The problem with this and other observations is that they confuse two different probabilities: on the one hand, the chance, ahead of time, of a specific, fairly rare "coincidence" happening; and, on the other hand, the chance of any of a wide variety of "coincidences" happening. The chance of the first is quite low, while that of the second is a lot higher.

An example might help. Here is one that is used in lots of statistics classes. Say you are one of 50 students in a lecture hall. What is the chance that someone else in the room shares your birthday? What is the chance that any two people in the room share a birthday? Here’s a graph I put together with the answers to those questions for class sizes up to 50:

The calculation is fairly simple. I can detail it if you want, but I figured I’d spare most of you the pain.

You can see that while the chance of someone else having your birthday is quite low, the chance of two people in the room having the same birthday is almost a lock. This is an important result, and not intuitive to most people who have never taken statistics.

It is this phenomenon at the core of many conspiracy claims. To tie it back to our last post, what is the chance of a specific piece of paper selected ahead of time surviving a fire? Low. What is the chance of a number of random pieces of paper surviving the fire? Very high.

I’m not sure if you found that statistics detour useful, but it is a mistake that people make all the time, and conspiracy people make more than most. It is sort of like saying, "What is the chance that I will win the lottery this week?" (very low), versus, "What is the chance that someone will win the lottery this week?" (a heck of a lot higher). Lots of times when conspiracy theorists start something with, "What are the chances," it is a good idea to keep this distinction in mind.

Next time, we’ll watch as the research tools of the conspiracy movement are focused on finding out who was affected by the Lidle crash. I promise you, I haven't used up all the good quotes yet.

Note: I’ve left quotes from the message board as they appeared, and haven’t corrected spelling, etc. Also, Loose Change has upgraded their site over the past few days, and the old message boards no longer appear available. I've left the link to the old message board up, although it isn't working now. If I find a new link to the old threads, I will post it.


Jujigatami said...

You know I was there (WTC) on 9/11, and exactly one (1) year later, on November 9, I was in a small car accident.

It never occurred to me that the two incidents were related until I read this post.


1 year later, on
11/9 (November 9th).

Read that backwards and you get 9/11/1.

It all makes sense now.

Thank you.

Josh said...

"I’m actually embarrassed that I am taking time out of your life to tell you about it."

Don't feel bad, it's nice to read thier nonsense; it would amost be funny if it weren't about such a tragic event.