Following Melania’s now-infamous speech from the Republican Convention, a Canadian physicist has calculated the odds of those words and phrases appearing in the same order as Michelle Obama’s speech eight years ago. Looking at his answer, let’s just say it would be a coincidence of cosmic proportions.
According to Canadian physicist and McGill University professor Robert Rutledge, the odds are 1 in 87 billion. To put that into perspective, that’s about 7,000 times less likely than winning the lottery (the 6/49 to be exact), and about 9,000 times less likely than being struck by lightning—twice, in a lifetime.
Rutledge decided to do the calculation after listening to several Republicans defend Melania, the wife of Republican nominee Donald Trump, arguing there are only so many words in the English language, and that she was bound to use some of the words and phrases used by Michelle Obama. Paul Manafort of the Trump campaign rushed to Melania’s defense, saying it wasn’t a big deal, and that there are only so many words in the English language. It was even argued that Twilight Sparkle said it first, and that only a small fraction of the speech was plagiarized, which apparently makes it okay.
As Rutledge told Global News, “I thought, ‘that’s sort of silly.’ I’m a physicist, so when things come up that you can mathematically model, that’s sort of the thing we do.” The physicist then asked a basic, calculable question, “What is the probability that, giving Melania Trump the same distinct phrases as used by Michelle Obama, they are used in exactly the same order?” He came up with 14 “distinct” phases in both speeches, i.e. phrases replaceable with synonyms, and came up with this N factorial formula:
“According to this calculation, there are a grand total of about 87 billion different permutations for those 14 distinct phrases,” noted Rutledge at his Facebook page. “That’s 87,000,000,000—or about the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.”
Hmmm, wondering the odds that Melania and her defenders will actually understand this calculation...
Correction: An earlier version stated the odds were 1 in 87 million. It’s actually one in 87 billion.
Update: it’s all but been confirmed that the speech was plagiarized.