Winter 2008: Of Note

Behind Door No. 1

By Mary J. Loftus

The “Monty Hall” problem was the hit of the day when Atlanta-area statistics students visited Emory for a statistical design workshop in October.

The 120 AP Statistics students from Brookwood High School in Snellville were hosted by Azhar Nizam and four other faculty from the Department of Biostatistics.

The classic illustration—named for the host of Let’s Make a Deal—involves a game show contestant choosing one of three doors. Behind one door, there is a valuable prize; behind the other two, there are gag gifts. Monty Hall then reveals what is behind one of the doors the contestant did not choose, taking care to make sure it is a losing door.

“And then he gives the contestant a choice,” Nizam says. “Stay with the originally chosen door, or switch to the other door that remains closed. Most people think that, at this point, it makes no difference what choice the contestant makes. We took the students through the statistical reasoning to determine whether it did or not.”

And the smart choice is? “In fact,” says Nizam, “the probability of winning is twice as high if the contestant then switches to the other door.”

Beyond the workshop in the Alperin Auditorium, students took part in a pizza lunch and breakout sessions at the Rollins School of Public Health, and a short tour of Emory’s campus.

“It was an invaluable opportunity for students to interact with university faculty and to get to see people who actually practice what we are teaching,” said teacher Jill Kelly.

John Yang, a senior at Brookwood, says he enjoys statistics because “much of it is thinking outside the box.”

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Winter 2008

Of Note