Little green men

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 09 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:644
  1. Tony Smith

    Since the start of the National Lottery people have become more familiar with remote chances—though the number still buying tickets indicates that few make a rational assessment.

    Anyone looking for really long odds should, however, examine what the New Yorker has recently called the “oldest question on earth”—is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Discussion of this possibility requires the handling of numbers that make winning the National Lottery seem a commonplace event. Biologist Richard Dawkins has suggested that when thinking about this question we should start by developing a mental picture of a scale of improbable events including such rarities as being dealt a …

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