88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot (Vic Reeves)

George and Mariacristina barbecuing at home
Home sweet home: 100% happy

Imagine a parallel world, where estate agents are truthful and reliable. In such a world, Mariacristina and I were incredibly close to getting the beautiful house we now own for a considerably lower price than we ended up paying.

Having had our first bid turned down, we were excited to learn that the owner was ready to accept our second offer. There was a caveat, however: her acceptance depended on her own bid for another house being successful. According to the estate agent, it was 99.9% likely that her offer would be accepted, in which case she would, in turn, accept ours. “This buying lark is easy,” we wanted to think, although not living in a parallel world, we were sceptical about the accuracy of the probability suggested by the estate agent.

Lo and behold, a few days later he came back to say that – very unfortunately – the owner’s bid had not been accepted, despite the incredible odds. By that time, of course, another couple of bidders were interested in the house we were trying to buy, so we were forced to up our offer, and eventually ended up in a sealed bid process. Fortunately we won that, and now live in a wonderful house that ticked all our requirements – but if you believe the estate agent (haha), we were very close to saving quite a lot of money in getting hold of it.

I’m pretty certain that doctors are more dependable than estate agents, but they, too, like their numbers. I suppose that in a way statistics give a slightly more concrete idea of how serious a procedure or an illness may be, and help make the possible consequences more real to the patient (and maybe the doctor, too). Of course, there are times when the probability of success is an important factor in deciding whether or not a procedure is worth the risks when countered with the probability of failure – in whatever form that may be. And often that probability can only really be estimated by looking at what’s happened before, in the shape of stats.

I still hesitate to spend more than a moment thinking about statistics and probabilities, however, as everyone is individual and every case is unique. There may be a 99% chance of not making it through an illness, but who’s to say you’re not in the other 1% (don’t panic – this situation is hypothetical)? I ‘beat the odds’ in a couple of ways last time – but that’s not how I see it; I got through, and that’s what matters. The probabilities are based on stats, but I’m not any of the people in those stats.

Odds for next Pompey manager
Odds: take with a pinch of salt

There are so many factors in the treatment of leukaemia that statistics will invariably be generic. There are no statistics for 31-year-old males with a relapse of ALL who were initially diagnosed eight years previously, had maintenance chemo and finished treatment 26 months after diagnosis. When it comes down to your own success or failure, the stats will either be 100% or 0%. I fully intend to provide a statistical 100% success rate for my niche, of course.

Mariacristina doesn’t want to know any statistics at all, which I understand. I don’t mind being told them, but I don’t dwell on them, either, and – as ever – focus on getting through what’s immediately in front of me. I have some things going for me, and others going against me, but they all make my situation unique. And anyway, I’m not a betting man – which is probably a good thing, considering I’m a Pompey fan.

I must admit, though: I wouldn’t mind doing my bit to push those generic stats in a positive direction…

5 thoughts on “On the balance of probabilities

  1. Talking of stats, who is Mikey Harris? He’s 8-1 to be next Pompey manager. Never heard of him. Another defeat tonight I fear. Thank goodness Dom Perry doesn’t know my email address… PuP

  2. Yep, it is all too easy to get bogged down in the stats (I should know given that I seem to have spent the last 5.5 years swimming in statistics and data analysis!). But when we get lost in the stats we often have a tendency to miss the bigger picture or indeed keep things in perspective. I like your take on stats George and I think I am going to take a leaf out of your book and apply to my PhD! Ha.

    Had a wonderful long chat with Hats the other night and I will soon find Fred here in Vancouver. All of you Nortons are such an inspiration and know so thanks! And thanks for writing such a great blog even during times like these. Hang in there, I have the upmost faith in you and the trusty Norton clan! 🙂


  3. Dearest George!
    Great read as always…. Sorry about your house, but not all Real Estate Agents are tarred with that brush! Tho we know of some!
    Exciting today with the arrival of James/ Emma’s boxes from UK!
    KL climes will knock them about after freezing Outer Mongolia, but prep them for Aussie summer!
    Big hugs n love always xxxx

  4. Dear George,
    I’ve been reading (and enjoying) your blog a lot. I know exactly what you mean about doing the slightly guilty face when asking nurses for hot chocolates. And hospital noise at night. Thanks for your kind comments about my blog, I was meaning to reply earlier, but last week got an infection so was back in hospital for a bit.
    I’m really sorry to hear you’ve relapsed. I imagine you must be waiting to hear about donors. I know it’s a really tense horrible waiting period. I wish you the very best of luck.
    What a coincidence that we both did French at Oxford and are both ALLs needing transplants. (I’m also a bit of an Italophile, though not on the same scale…I wanted to try and teach myself after I graduated so spent a month in Rome last winter. I was hoping to go back but then leukaemia happened.)
    If you fancy any transplant-related advice, now or nearer the time, then feel free to ask – sounds odd but I now know a great specialist mouthwash that prevents mucositis! I found out about it a bit too late. Anyway there are things like that I wish I’d known about at the time.

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