Let me preface this by saying I agree the blackout was a planned event. But I've noticed some confusion about an interesting point I thought was made in White to Play. When the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security debates with the FBI whether the event was planned, an FBI agent argues that it was because the probability of it happening at the top of the hour is 1/3600. Demetri counters that natural events randomly coincide with the top of the hour all the time. The Assistant secretary agrees with Demetri, but is eventually swayed by the existence of Suspect Zero.
I thought the message of this exchange was clear: there's no statistical reason to think the blackout was planned. That's "all supposition," as the Assistant Secretary puts it. Suspect Zero's behavior -- particularly the cell phone chatter -- is a different story, which is why the Assistant Secretary changes her tune upon learning of him. Indeed, I remember thinking the agent's statistical argument was flawed and gave the writers credit for addressing what might otherwise have been criticized as a goof.
Many, however, interpret the scene quite differently. They insist the statistical argument is sound and offer the following rationale. The top of the hour is a marker of great significance to humans. The chance of the blackout happening at this moment of significance is 1/3600 (i.e., 60 seconds X 60 minutes) as compared to a much higher 3599/3600 probability of the event transpiring at a moment of insignificance to humanity. Ergo, the event was most likely planned. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's fallacious reasoning.
The problem is that the chance of the event occurring at any given second during the hour is 1/3600. There's always a 3599/3600 probability the event will occur at some other second during the hour. The only reason our minds notice this particular 1/3600 possibility out of the rest is that we attribute social significance to the top of the hour. It's a mistake people make all the time -- e.g., when numerologists connect important world events with the number 11, or sports fans insist certain players are "clutch" in the postseason.
What do you all everybody think? Like I said, I'm wide open to being corrected on this one, if I'm wrong.
Update: October 5, 2009
It occurs to me there's a better reason to suspect the blackout was planned. Planned events occur so often at the top of the hour that events of unspecified origin coinciding with that time have a greater chance of being planned than they otherwise would. It's a bit like why you always seem to end up in the longest line at the supermarket or the slowest lane on the highway. The more people who fall into a given category, the more likely you are to be among them yourself. The argument is a variation of the Copernican principle, which distinguishes it from fallacies like the power of 11 or "clutch" performance.
To summarize, therefore, the blackout may well have been planned, but a natural explanation is still more likely and the 1/3600 vs. 3599/3600 argument is totally bunk. As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!