The Time Everyone “Corrected” the World’s Smartest Woman

I've always found this a bit hard to internalize, but just enumerating all the possibilities makes this so much clearer! 🤯

Though her answer was correct, a vast swath of academics responded with outrage. In the proceeding months, vos Savant received more than 10,000 letters – including a pair from the Deputy Director of the Center for Defense Information, and a Research Mathematical Statistician from the National Institutes of Health – all of which contended that she was entirely incompetent:

You blew it, and you blew it big! Since you seem to have difficulty grasping the basic principle at work here, I’ll explain. After the host reveals a goat, you now have a one-in-two chance of being correct. Whether you change your selection or not, the odds are the same. There is enough mathematical illiteracy in this country, and we don’t need the world’s highest IQ propagating more. Shame!

Scott Smith, Ph.D. University of Florida

May I suggest that you obtain and refer to a standard textbook on probability before you try to answer a question of this type again?

Charles Reid, Ph.D. University of Florida

I am sure you will receive many letters on this topic from high school and college students. Perhaps you should keep a few addresses for help with future columns.

W Robert Smith, Ph.D. Georgia State University

You are utterly incorrect about the game show question, and I hope this controversy will call some public attention to the serious national crisis in mathematical education. If you can admit your error, you will have contributed constructively towards the solution of a deplorable situation. How many irate mathematicians are needed to get you to change your mind?

E Ray Bobo, Ph.D. Georgetown University

You made a mistake, but look at the positive side. If all those Ph.D.’s were wrong, the country would be in some very serious trouble.

Everett Harman, Ph.D. U.S. Army Research Institute

You are the goat!

Glenn Calkins Western State College

Maybe women look at math problems differently than men.

Don Edwards Sunriver, Oregon


Hall clarified that things worked a bit differently than the scenario presented by the Parade reader in vos Savant's column. In the real show, for instance, he retained the authority to offer the contestant cash NOT to switch. Details like this, he said, altered the contestant's mindset.