Friday, February 05, 2016

How to Cheat a Coin Flip

Several Democratic precincts in the Iowa caucus decided the winner between Clinton and Sanders with a coin flip. After the bizarre coin toss at the Packers-Cardinals football game a few weeks ago, I looked into the ways to cheat at this traditional technique to break ties. It's remarkably easy.

Willing It
In 2009, researchers in Vancouver had thirteen subjects toss coins 300 times each and told them to try to get as many "heads" results as possible. All of them did, more than half showing a significant prejudice towards "heads" with the best getting 68% of his flips turn up "heads." The scientists concluded that with little practice anyone can manipulate a coin flip to control for the result.

No Flip Flip
This is a magician's trick and what happened in that football game. It is possible to flip a coin so it does not rotate in the air but simply flutters, creating the illusion of it turning. Whatever was face up at the start will be the result.

Catching the Coin
You know the deal. I toss the coin, catch it, flip it to the top of my other hand, and reveal the result. When I catch the coin I feel one side, heads and tails feel differently, and then manipulate the coin so the side I want is face up for the reveal. This one requires practice and manual dexterity. You can also count the rotations in the air to know the position of the coin in your hand.

Iowa Results
Hillary won six of seven coin flips (the estimates vary widely), that has a 5.5% probability of happening. Unusual but not impossible. The most extreme charge, Hillery winning six of six flips, has a 1.6% probability that is still not impossible. And a coin flip conspiracy would require training hundreds of people in flip rigging techniques on the off chance those skills might be needed to win an extra few state delegate equivalents (SDE) that might translate into one extra convention delegate. And then all of the conspirators keeping it secret.

I love a good conspiracy theory but this one is simply too silly. It was a tie. Neither Hillary nor Bernie won.

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