Reading between the lines of an ABC News story on the bad odds of winning the $500 million Powerball lottery

Check out this ABC News video about the odds of winning the $500 million Powerball lottery.

Several things are striking about the content of the video beyond the bad odds of winning: 1 in 175 million chance.

1. A journalist admits he doesn’t know much about math or statistics. It is not uncommon for reporters to go to experts like statisticians in times like these (appealing to the expert boosts the credentials of the story) but it is more unusual for journalists to admit they are doing so because they don’t know the information. I’ve argued before we need more journalists who understand statistics and science.

2. The reporter mentions some interesting odds that are more favorable than winning the Powerball. One of these is the idea that you are more likely to be possessed by the devil today than win the lottery. Who exactly keeps track of these figures and how accurate are they?

3. The story includes some talk about being more likely to win in particular states than others. Really? This sounds more like statistical noise or something related to the population of the states with multiple Powerball winners (like Illinois and New Jersey).

4. Interesting closing: the math expert himself hasn’t bought a lottery ticket before. So the moral of the story is that people shouldn’t buy any tickets?

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