Have you ever had your eye on the last piece of chocolate cake, but noticed your friend did also, or wanted to sit in the front seat, but was faced by your little brother or sister putting up a fight? At one point or another, everyone has found themselves in some form of disagreement or misunderstanding that has been solved with an easy solution, a coin toss. But how do you decide which side of the coin to chose? With that slice of cake calling your name, it would be quite helpful to know if the coin were biased to land on a particular side before you made your decision. One may not overthink the choice, since it is a common belief that there is a 50/50 chance when it comes to flipping a coin, however, this old adage may in fact be a decades old misconception. A group of graduate students from Stanford decided that they would address this problem not with logic, but with science, and conducted over 1,000 coin tosses to see what they could find.
What are the Chances?
So begs the question, if you were to flip a coin, by hand, 100 times, does this mean that it would heads side up 50 times, and tails side up 50 times? One’s first thought would more than likely be no, yet a coin toss is always said to be a 50/50 chance. It just seems nearly impossible that this could be the case, when the laws of mechanics are brought into view. First and foremost, it seems to be common sense that any object would fall and land heavy side down, but it one side of a coin weighted more than the other? According to author Dan Lewis, a writer for the Smithsonian, this is indeed true. Think about it, coins tend to pick up dirt and oils over time, which can cause one side of the coin to be heavier than the other, however, a relatively new coin may give you more noticeable results (Lewis, 2012).
Research at Stanford
So now that it is obvious that there’s no way that odds with a coin toss are really 50/50, how do we know what they really are? Thankfully, Persi Diaconis, Susan Holmes, and Richard Montgomery, a group from Stanford University, devoted quid a bit of time confuting experiments to help others get a better idea of what the odds actually...