Are you clever enough to be an MP?

To find out, simply answer the following question: If you toss a coin twice, what is the probability of getting two heads? (I know we’re talking about MPs here, but you can assume that no skullduggery is afoot and both coin-tosses are fair).

coinIf you got this question right (scroll down to find out), then perhaps you are too smart to be an MP. A 2012 study conducted by the Royal Statistical Society found that just 40% of MPs surveyed gave the correct answer. Worryingly, 45% of MPs thought that the correct answer was 0.5 (i.e., 50% or evens); i.e., the same as the probability of getting heads on a single toss. Even more worryingly, most MPs seemed ignorant of their own ignorance, with around three quarters saying that they “generally felt confident when dealing with numbers”.

Finally, if you did get the question right, then perhaps – despite being a Guardian reader – you would feel more at home in the Conservative than the Labour party. Caution is needed here, as the survey was small and not necessarily representative; but of the 41 Tory MPs surveyed, 22 (53%) got the correct answer, as opposed to just 10 out of 44 Labour MPs (23%).

Answer: The probability of getting two heads is 0.25 (i.e., 25% or 1 in 4). Since you have a 0.5 chance of getting heads on a single toss, the probability of getting two heads is 0.5 x 0.5.

 

This column was originally published in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

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