I was recently watching a re-run of the classic 1978 Michael Cimino film “The Deer Hunter”. It contains one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history involving a ‘game’ of Russian roulette forcibly played by two American soldiers held captive in Vietnam. Although I have seen the film several times, this scene never seems to lose its impact. As I am currently teaching a new course on Risk Assessment and Decision Making, it also occurred to me that the scene provides a rich source of examples to illustrate core concepts of probability and risk including: probability and odds, basic probability axioms, conditional probability, risk and utility, absolute versus relative risk, event trees, and Bayesian networks.
So, I have written a short paper which hopefully has something of value both for people with no background in probability/statistics and also people who do, but want to find out more:
Fenton, N. E. (2020). The Deer Hunter: A lesson in the basics of risk and probability assessment. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.31675.98089.
(The Bayesian network models described in the appendix of the paper are in this file which can be run using the trial version of AgenaRisk
I have also made a video based on the paper, which includes the actual scene from the film with my narrative: