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Re: Betting on Planet-X

In Article <> John Latala wrote:
> I wonder if Nancy is willing to put her money where her mouth is? Would
> she bet that Planet-X is going to show up? I'm sure we could arrange
> some sort of fund so interested parties could contribute to a pool which
> would then be used to bet with Nancy that Planet-X will not show up! I'm
> sure she'd even be willing to give us odds of 2:1 or 3:1. For that matter
> she should be willing to give us any odds we want since she KNOWS, with
> 100% certainty, that Planet-X is going to show up!
> So Nancy ... how much are you willing to wager?
> I think to keep things fair here we'd need a third party escrow to hold
> the money put up by both sides. It shouldn't be too difficult defining an
> unambiguous rule for the third party to use to decide who wins. The
> easiest one I can think of is the pole shift ... I'm pretty sure nobody
> would miss it if the Earth physically flipped over!

Fundamentally it is not a fair bet.  Lets look at the scenarios.

   Nancy and a bunch of sci.astro PlanetX fans come to an agreement as to
   the size of the bet and the odds.  The PlanetX fans feel the odds should
   be related to their probability estimate, so does Nancy.  After much
   dialog and negotiation they settle on a pay out of X:1.  An escrow
   account is set up.

Scenario 1:
   Planet X does not arrive by June 2003.  There is no
   evidence it is coming.

   PlanetX fans win the bet.  While trying to collect the money, long
   arguments ensue as to who gets the larger proportion and the sci.astro
   news group becomes almost useless with the resultant arguing.  "Greater
   than" nesting of postings achieves a new internet record.

   Nancy loses the bet and is poorer.

   PlanetX fans: do not lose, arguably do not win due to infighting.
   Nancy: loses.

Scenario 2:
   Planet X arrives, zips through the Solar System at greater
   than escape velocity, never to be seen again.  No pole shift occurs, but
   there is a lot of astronomical observations, collective back slapping
   and a general 'wow, that was some display'.

   This scenario is problematic because the winner is ambiguous.

   Nancy will say "but I told you it was coming" and the PlanetX fans will
   say "yes, but none of your physics makes sense and see, there was not
   general disaster, besides it is a one time event".

   Chaos reigns, it ends up in court.

   NASA uses the excitement of the event to push a major Mars exploration
   program through Congress that will "only" cost $500 billion.

   PlanetX fans do not win.
   Nancy does not win.
   NASA wins.
   Astronomy fans win.

Scenario 3:
   Planet X arrives, the earth turns on its side.

   During the last days up to the arrival of PlanetX general panic
   results.  A world-wide populace, when confronted with the reality of the
   fact that they have been lied to by an elite that is nowhere to be
   found, freaks out.  Martial law is declared planet wide, not that it
   matters.  Money loses any meaning, and any transactions that occur are
   either the result of barter or criminal activity.  The pole shift
   occurs.  Massive death results and a remaining world-wide population of
   PTSD suffers wander around aimlessly and slowly starve.  Small pockets
   of people manage to pool their meager resources, knowledge, and passion
   to survive into a new way of life.

   PlanetX fans lose.
   Nancy "wins" but has no hope of collection.
   Most human beings lose.

So you can see that we have a problem here.  There is no clear win-lose
outcome.  I would propose the following alternative bet.  Notice that
the outcome is somewhat asymmetric, but this is by design.

Baseline rule #1:

   Regular "real" images (not gif images or star charts carefully doctored)
   of coordinates supplied by Nancy are posed on with notices on sci.astro and
   sci.astro.amateur.  These images will be unprocessed "raw" images.  Both
   a normal and contrast inverted image will be posted.  Differential
   images will also be computed and these results posted for all to see and
   analyze.  Preferably, more than one person or group will post images so
   that the result is clear, unambiguous, and the argument cannot be
   readily made that the results are being manipulated or faked.

Case 1:
   August 31, 2003 comes and goes.  No pole shift, not even any
   meaningful sighting of a mysterious PlanetX.

   Wager:  Nancy must slink off to retire to her gardening and seek
   professional help for the voices in her head.

Case 2:
   By December 31, 2001 the presence of a mysterious object "coming
   from Orion" is strongly suggested by the data.  The characteristics of
   the object are subject to debate and so is its exact alignment with
   Nancy's supplied coordinates, but there is clearly *something* there.

   Here the wager is in stages:

   By June 30, 2002, it becomes clear that there really is an object and
   that it is not following a well understood trajectory.  When this
   happens, the PlanetX fans agree to begin a concerted effort to apply
   maximum pressure on the various governments and agencies such as NASA to
   "come clean" with what they know.

   By December 31, 2002, it becomes clear that this object is highly likely
   to be the PlanetX of so much discussion.  When this happens, PlanetX
   fans agree to work to learn basic survival techniques, first aid, and
   simple farming, and to teach these techniques to anyone who will
   listen.  PlanetX fans agree to begin a concerted effort to help moderate
   the natural fear and panic that will build up to the arrival of PlanetX.

Now, what you can see is that regardless of the actual outcome, the
result is a win-win.  In case 1, PlanetX fans can return to 'their' news
group in safety, knowing that Nancy will trouble them no more, and
continue arguing about tired light and Newtonian Mechanics, with the
occasional ringer thrown in to add spice.  No technicalities, no
meaningless pay outs.

In case 2, everyone will work together in a positive manner to rise to
what is likely to be a very difficult situation, regardless of the
actual specifics of the outcome.

Either way, the single most important way to address the issue is to
abide by baseline rule #1.  Simply saying "its not there" is not the
same as saying "its not there, and here is a binary picture that shows
its absence to join the other 150 pictures which also show nothing".  If
you actually do this for an extended period, the probable "winner" of
the bet will become very clear relatively soon.
The Small Kahuna

> Heh, I was thinking the same thing about a week ago.  I'm willing to
> put up some money.
> The hard part is defining the rules; we wouldn't want her to wriggle
> out on a technicality.  So we need some specifics about how close
> Planet-X will come to the earth, by what date will it appear, some
> definition as to size and mass, etc.
> I suggest we let Nancy set the guidelines (which we can then fine
> tune).
> But I'd also be willing to be that she doesn't take the bet!