On 12 March 1951, a new character made his debut in the British comic The Beano. His name was Dennis the Menace, a boy who got into all sorts of scrapes. A few hours later on 12 March 1951, on the other side of the Atlantic, a new syndicated newspaper comic strip appeared, also featuring Dennis the Menace.  But these Dennis the Menaces were different. Their creators had no idea of each others’ work. The most extraordinary of coincidences, surely. But the improbability principle tells us that such things should be expected.


The King James Bible was published in the year that Shakespeare turned 46. Psalm 46 of this bible is God is Our Refuge and Strength. The 46th word of this psalm is shake. The 46th word from the end is spear. A bizarre coincidence or something more? As explained in The Improbability Principle, this is just the sort of thing we should expect to see: it is explained by the five laws constituting the improbability principle.


On 3 July 2000, the Washington newspaper The Columbian printed the Pick 4 Oregon Lottery results: 6, 8, 5, 5. Nothing surprising in that, we’ll agree. Except for the fact that the newspaper was printed before the lottery numbers were drawn. When the police went to investigate they were told that the newspaper’s computer had crashed just hours before it was due to be printed, so they’d had to recreate the paper in a rush. By accident they’d pasted in the winning numbers from the Virginia lottery, instead of from the preceding day’s Oregon lottery. And the improbability principle had come into play: the Virginia lottery’s four numbers just happened to be the ones which were due to come up in the Oregon lottery.


This website has been created to accompany and support the latest book from Professor David Hand – “The Improbability Principle”. As well as offering information about the book itself, the site contains information and articles about various aspects of probability theory and statistics.

David J. Hand is emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College London. He is the former president of the Royal Statistical Society and the chief scientific adviser to Winton Capital Management, one of Europe’s most successful algorithmic-trading hedge funds. He is the author of many books, including The Information Generation: How Data Rules Our World and Statistics: A Very Short Introduction, and has published more than three hundred scientific papers. Hand lives in London, England.

To read more about Professor Hand, his other publications, and how to contact him, follow the links below.

Professional details    http://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/d.j.hand

Personal web page:   http://www.ma.ic.ac.uk/~djhand