Perhaps we have taken these rankings lists too far: Men’s Health has ranked the luckiest cities in the United States.
Luck is like that dark matter stuff scientists have spent billions of dollars trying to find with the Large Hadron Collider—a powerful presence that people surmise exists but no one has actually seen. The difference is that we found luck. Using statistics instead of protons, we pinpointed the location of a large supply in, of all places, San Diego.
Wondering how Vegas didn’t hit this jackpot? Here’s our definition of good luck: the most winners of Powerball, Mega Millions, and Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes; most hole-in-ones (PGA); fewest lightning strikes (including the fatal kind) and deaths from falling objects (Vaisala Inc., National Climatic Data Center, CDC); and least money lost on lottery tickets and race betting (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
San Diego is number one on the list with Baltimore, Phoenix, Wilmington (Delaware), and Richmond rounding out the top five. Chicago is #36. The bottom five: Sioux Falls, Memphis, Jackson (Mississippi), Tampa, and Charleston (West Virginia).
What I like about this is that they are straightforward with what factors went into the rankings (though they might have been weighted). These are what we might consider “very rare” and cultural conditioned lucky events. The lottery is perhaps the poster child for this. If someone wins more than once, some suspicions might surface (see a story about a four-time Texas winner here). What about lesser luck, such as avoiding a car accident at the last minute or local sports teams coming up with miraculous plays at the end of a game or avoiding natural disasters? Such things would be much more difficult to measure and it might always be an open statistical question of whether strange occurrences could be explained by some other unmeasured or unknown factor.
Should anyone move to the luckier cities to really improve their chances? No, the statistical odds of any of these things happening is still quite small. In fact, it would be interesting to see how much really separates the luckiest cities from the unluckiest – are we talking a difference of 1 in a million? Ten in a million?
In the end, I think these rankings don’t really tell us much about anything. People shouldn’t use them as a guide and measuring luck is fraught with difficulty. Take the lottery winnings: could this simply reflect the fact that people in certain cities buy more tickets or their states have bigger lottery jackpots which encourages more participation? This is a story that uses real numbers to make a nebulous point in order to gain website clicks (guilty as charged) and sell magazines.