Skeptic: A Random Walk through Middle Land; October 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Michael Shermer; 1 Page(s)
Imagine that you are a contestant on the classic television game show Let¿s Make a Deal. Behind one of three doors is a brand-new automobile. Behind the other two are goats. You choose door number one. Host Monty Hall, who knows what is behind all three doors, shows you that a goat is behind number two, then inquires: Would you like to keep the door you chose or switch? Our folk numeracy¿our natural tendency to think anecdotally and to focus on small-number runs¿tells us that it is 50¿50, so it doesn¿t matter, right?
Wrong. You had a one in three chance to start, but now that Monty has shown you one of the losing doors, you have a two-thirds chance of winning by switching. Here is why. There are three possible three-doors configurations: (1) good, bad, bad; (2) bad, good, bad; (3) bad, bad, good. In (1) you lose by switching, but in (2) and (3) you can win by switching. If your folk numeracy is still overriding your rational brain, let¿s say that there are 10 doors: you choose door number one, and Monty shows you door numbers two through nine, all goats. Now do you switch? Of course, because your chances of winning increase from one in 10 to nine in 10. This type of counterintuitive problem drives people to innumeracy, including mathematicians and statisticians, who famously upbraided Marilyn vos Savant when she first presented this puzzle in her Parade magazine column in 1990.