# True Tabloid Headlines -- Or Are They?

For "Roswell" start with the bolded R, move ahead three letters to the O, and continue. For "UFO," start with the u and move ahead eleven letters, and continue. "daughteRs? thOu haSt noW donEfooLishLy in so doing." How unlikely is this?

1. The claims in this story are entirely true, but shouldn't be surprising or alarming. Annually there are approximately 1 million heart attacks and 1 million miscarriages in this country. Let's assume there will be 100 million or more people inoculated against the H1N1 flu over a six-month period.

Then, since there are almost 3,000 heart attacks and 3,000 miscarriages daily and there will be at least 200 times that many flu shots daily, it is a certainty that there will be very many people who will have a heart attack or miscarriage shortly after receiving the shot.

How many and how soon depends on further assumptions, but nobody should attribute the medical crises to the shots unless there's real evidence.

### Watch Out for Nonsense in the News

2. The mistake here is, for most people, quite obvious. President Obama was born in Hawaii, which is overseas, although not over the seas that might be suggested. Moreover, he was not born in the contiguous United States, but many people may not know the meaning of the word "contiguous."

Likewise, many don't realize that the claim that there are UFOs is a true and uncontroversial one simply because UFO is an acronym for unidentified flying object, of which there are many. That they're spaceships manned by extraterrestrial aliens is what there is no reason to believe.

3. Any two objects attract each other with a force inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, which explains the attraction differential between a foot and a yard (i.e., between 1 and 3). This is simply Newton's law of gravitation, and its relevance is on a par with other laughable "evidence" from Roswell.

4. Let x be the first digit of your social security number. Then doubling gives you 2x, adding 5 gives you 2x+5, multiplying by 50 gives you 50(2x+5) or 100x+250, and then adding 1759 yields 100x+2009. If you subtract the year you're born from 100x+2009, you get a three digit number, 100x+your age, the hundreds digit being x, the first digit of your social security number and the last two being your age. Same with 1758 if your birthday this year hasn't occurred.

The connection holds, no matter what your first social security digit is and offers no new path to identity theft.

5. Although the language isn't Hebrew and the associations aren't religious, this example refers to the infamously fraudulent Bible codes. These and many other ELSs are present in the Bible (the one quoted above was discovered by debunker Dave Thomas) and any particular one of them has a minuscule probability of appearing in any particular place.

The right question, however, is not "How unlikely is it that a particular sequence occurs at a particular point." Rather it is, "How unlikely is it that something vaguely suggestive or meaningful appears somewhere," and the answer to the latter question is that it is quite likely.

If one looks hard and long enough, one will discover many, many such seemingly significant ELSs, not only in the Bible but in "Moby Dick," "War and Peace," and even Harry Potter books.

Don't forget to inoculate yourself against the flu and, as much as possible, against nonsense as well.

John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, is the author of the best-sellers, "Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper," as well as (just out in paperback) "Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up." His "Who's Counting?" column on ABCNews.com appears the first weekend of every month.

22 minutes ago
26 minutes ago
Today, 5:38 PM
Today, 4:45 PM
Today, 2:57 PM
Today, 2:11 PM
Today, 2:02 PM
Today, 1:41 PM
Today, 11:11 AM
You Might Also Like...
Connect with Us