As a follow up to my previous post about psychologists and lawyers seeing the world differently, one particular distinction between people in these 2 professions is their understanding of statistics, including probability, and the impact of this distinction on the conferences they attend. I’m sure the reader is wondering what statistics and conferences could possibly have to do with one another, so let me explain. Because psychology is a scientifically based profession, graduate school includes courses in statistics. Even clinical psychologists and similar practitioners are required to study statistics because they need to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments they provide to their patients. On the other hand, law school does not include course work in statistics. This is not a criticism; it is just a matter of different educational goals between professions. Because lawyers do not understand the intricacies of the scientific method, statistics, or more specifically, probability, they tend to gamble more than psychologists, who have received formal education on the concept, “the house always wins.” My major professor, Dr. John C. Brigham, was the President of the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS), Division 41 of the American Psychological Association, many years ago. It is the president’s duty to secure a hotel for the annual convention among our members. Jack is a fun person (especially for a social psychologist!) and he thought it would be tremendously fun if our organization held our convention in Las Vegas, which is, of course, a truly fun place. Jack asked for my thoughts on having our conference in “Sin City,” and as it turned out, I had recently made a presentation there for a lawyers organization. I enthusiastically supported his idea and offered to help him in any way I could. Sadly, it was not to be. None of the hotels were willing to offer a block rate for our group. Hotel after hotel indicated we were welcome to come, but only if we paid full price for everything. I mentioned my surprise about this to Jack, telling him that the lawyers group got a huge discount on conference rooms and sleeping rooms, even though most lawyers can afford to pay more for just about everything than people in my profession, who certainly don’t have their earning power. Jack continued to inquire about this, contacting the Las Vegas convention bureau, only to be informed that block room rates are based on a statistical model that factors gambling revenue by profession, with psychologists being at the lowest rung, thereby paying the highest prices, because we don’t gamble. Lawyers gamble and are rewarded by paying lower room rates. Never would I have believed my colleagues and I would be penalized for our understanding of statistics, but that’s exactly what happened. A true run of bad luck!
I recall how frustrated Jack was to finally find out why no “deals” were forthcoming in Las Vegas. And I recall being surprised that the Vegas “odds makers” went as far as to profile entire professions. But, I suppose calculating the odds is exactly what they do. It is interesting to think about gamblers and non gamblers as a group. The lawyer program at which Melissa spoke was targeted to plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers. It was well attended, and like many programs we’ve attended that target this audience, included ample “play time.” In many ways plaintiff’s PI lawyers gamble as a part of their job. They take cases they think they can win and obtain their percentage. Some cases are bigger gambles than others. As the late Stetson law professor, Mickey Smiley, once said, “Lawsuits involve calculated risks. Jury consultants like Magnus helps the attorney assess those risks.” Yet, as the Vegas experience shows, working with the gamblers doesn’t put psychologists in their same realm. That lawyers and psychologists are different is once again proven – this time by an unusual source.