Lying with Statistics



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A mystery or just coincidences:

Strange linkages between Kennedy and Lincoln

Most probably nobody knows anymore, when the first of those emails arrived. Emails in which the receiver is enlightened by a list of strange coincidences in the biography of the two famous presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Apparantly this list has grown a lot over the years, as many new analogies have been added by people all around the world.

Using "Kennedy Lincoln" as keywords at Google outputs a list of  about 50,000 documents. Most of them dealing with this supposed mystery. While some talk about conspiracy theories, others regard these coincidences as a proof of the Bibles truth and that God uses leaders of nations as puppets for statistical games. This gives "God doesn't play dice"?  a strange meaning, one which wasn't intended by Einstein.

So here are these supposed similarities of Kennedy and Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
Both were extremely interested and concerned for civil rights, especially those of  African Americans
Both names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters (see our chapter about numerolgy)
Both presidents were assassinated on a Friday in their wives presence
Most probably, the ghost of Marylin Monroe was present, as she died on the 5th of August, 1963, while her husband was assassinated more than 3 month later on the 22nd of November
While living at the White House, Lincolns and Kennedys wife have lost a child
(Some websites even claim, that "both wives lost their children while living in the White House)
Both man were shot in the head. Some are even more "precise" that they were killed by a bullet entering their head from behind.
We wouldn't be astonished to find a website giving the precise angle!
Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy.
Harold Holzer wote in his book "Dear Mr. Lincoln, Letters to the President", that Lincoln had two secretaries: John J. Nicolay and John M. Hay.
Kennedy's secretary was named Lincoln
Boths presidents were killed by Southerners
And to make symmetry even nicer: Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.
To use some more numerology:
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln was born in 1808.

The successor of Kennedy was born a hundred years later: 1908
John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassinator was born in 1839.
Do you guess when Lee Harvey Oswald was born? Right, 1939
Both assassins were known by their three names.
The names of both assassinators are composed of 15 letters.
Lincoln was shot at the theater named "Ford"
 Sometimes this theatre is called "Kennedy". Historical accurateness doesn't count a lot in these mystical games. What a pity that at Lincoln's time, Henry Ford's car had not yet been invented!

Kennedy was shot in a car called "Lincoln"
Somebody found a similiar coincidence for the assassinators:
Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.

Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Another painful and ludicrous similarity:
A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.
(Please see our comment a little further up about Monroes death more than three months before the assassination)

But it is really not necessary to refute all these simililarities. The main question is: Even if this strange collection of assertions and pseudo-facts are true, what is the message of it? Could it really be proof of divine intervention into human affairs? Could any superior being so silly as to engage in such stupid number games? Could a god really be interested in formulating such naiv riddles for the simple minded? Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven ... and they seem to take over the internet. Ignorance is Bliss.

These "facts", being true or not, are nothing else than a collection of pure chance without any further meaning.
We claim that you can make up such a list of bizarre coincidences for any two arbitray chosen persons.  This is possible, because the number of  events and correlations in the life of a human being is infinite.
A statement like "Mr. X likes the number 17" can be either true or false.  Instead of 17 any (natural) number can be included, so it follows that their are infinite statements about Mr. X.  (Remark: Instead of the natural numbers real numbers can be substituted for 17 as well. So the resulting set of statements is even uncountable, but we concentrate on the special case natural numbers)

The task for constructing "Kennedy-Lincoln-similarities" lies in finding a finite sequence of  matching coincidences.
Mathematical approach:
Let X and Y. be two arbitrary persons,
Xstat =  {x1, x2, x3, ... } the set of infinite statement on X and  und für Ystat =  {y1, y2, y3, ... } for Y.
A function sem which maps to every element of Xstat and Ystat  a semantical meaning.

We have to find a set of pairs {(x,y) | x  ∈ Xstat and y ∈ Ystat and sem(x) = sem(y)}
We can always construe even a infinite trivial set fulfilling the above conditions, e.g. "Mr. X has never had more than n friends". It is clear that there is a smallest lower bound m with the property that the statement  is false if n is larger than m.

Of course, nobody would be interested in such a boring infinite set of coincidences. You have to browse through the

  • names of friends, acquaintances, teachers, colleagues, and so on of X and Y.
  • You have to check the birth dates, months, years, year they started work,
  • Check if it is possible to link numbers by simple arithmetic operation, e.g. Y is born 100 years later than X
  • both had a teacher with the same name, both had a teacher who was born in France, and so on
If you work diligently, you will end up with a list as impressive as the Kennedy-Lincoln list.