Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 10 March 2013

I have never seen this strategy used in 'Who wants to be a millionaire' and have often wondered why

In the ITV gameshow WWTBAM contestants are asked a series of questions and given four options to choose from for each - one is the right answer and three are wrong.

If the contestant doesn't know the answer, and can't confidently work it out for themselves they have three 'lifelines' to help them: phone a friend, 50-50 (where the computer removes two wrong answers) and ask the audience.

The 50:50 one is simple enough and if you've formed an opinion about one answer being probably right and it still remains after the computer's deleted the two wrong answers then you might be brave and choose it as the answer.

With 'phone a friend' people tend to read the question to their friend on the phone and then read out the available answers. This seems an odd way to go about it and is a bit inefficient. I'd suggest either reading out the question and waiting five seconds to see if your pal is able to volunteer the right answer before prompting them (this lets you know how confident they are in their answer, though not how correct they are of course).

A better way would be to dispense with reading the question as it's written and just read out the minimum - ie the most important bits of information. So instead of "What is the capital of France?" I'd say "France - capital city?" - although I imagine lots of people watching in the studio, the dramatic music and the lighting might make me feel very different if I was actually there of course.

But the lifeline that intrigues me the most is ask the audience - if you have no idea what the answer is then submitting to the wisdom (hopefully) of crowds seems very sensible. However while you might not know what the answer is, you might know what the answer isn't.

If you don't know what the capital of Zambia is then you might struggle to decide among three of the names below, but you might be fairly sure that 'Accrington' is unlikely to be a candidate (no guarantees, obviously so perhaps this isn't a perfect example!).

a) Abuja b) Accrington c) Lusaka d) Banjul

I've never seen a contestant 'direct' the audience, asking that if they don't know what the answers is to vote for b) Accrington (relying on the fact that Accrington isn't likely to be the answer of course).

It might be that 60% of the audience has no idea what the capital of Zambia is, so rather than having them randomly guess one of the four why not prune them out of the deliberations by re-routeing them to an assumed false option. The remaining three options are now being considered by members of the audience who either do know the answer or think they know the answer. I can't help thinking that this could increase the odds slightly.

Maybe contestants aren't allowed to offer guidance to the audience, and maybe the audience wouldn't take kindly to being instructed in this way and might sabotage the outcome ;)

But whenever I've seen it I've wondered about this...

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