Monday, May 14, 2007

The lesser of seventeen evils

The title of this entry seems rather pessimistic at first glance, but it should actually be a cause for optimism. Here's why:

Assuming that evils are normally distributed, one is a lot better off having seventeen--rather than two--to pick from. This is evident in the following chart, ranking random samples of the lesser of two, and seventeen, evils, each with an expected mean of 1.5:

On avearage, the lesser of two evils was 1.229. The lesser of seventeen evils was only .534.

Why the number seventeen? I could say that seventeen is the largest prime number less than nineteen, or the third smallest prime number that can be expressed in two digits, but neither of those two reasons would be particularly persuasive. Seventeen was just the number I thought of.

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