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July 16th, 2014 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Lone Star Invasion

Why am I seeing more Texan license plates recently?

drknow-allisonkerekILLUSTRATION: Allison Kerek

I look at license plates while driving to see where people are from. I’ve seen 12 from Texas in the past two weeks. Are these Texans here for a big wedding, or are they part of the evangelical recruitment of our children? —Dancynancy

Far be it from me to criticize your means of whiling away the monotonous hours behind the wheel, Nancy, but you do know that most folks just turn on the radio, right?

Unfortunately, if there’s a Texas invasion underway, we won’t know about it for at least a year or two. The most recent numbers we have on interstate migration within the U.S. are from 2012, in the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey—a detail I would normally consider too boring to mention, but hey, you read license plates for fun.

Rifling through this data back to 2009 or so, we found, unsurprisingly, that almost half of our transplants come from either California or Washington. Texas comes in a respectable but hardly apocalyptic sixth, behind Idaho, Arizona and Nevada.

This is not to say that some mind-control virus has not recently emerged in the Lone Star State that has set its denizens shambling across the plains in search of Gore-Tex, microbrews and pissy refrigerator notes. More likely you’ve fallen victim to the gambler’s fallacy, where we erroneously assume that random events will distribute themselves more or less evenly.

Real randomness is clumpy—if you flip a coin 100 times, you’ll probably get improbable-looking runs of five, six, even seven heads or tails in a row. The run of Texas plates you’ve noticed is probably a similar phenomenon. To put it another way, your answer has, all along, been affixed to many of the bumpers of the same cars you’ve been watching: “Shit Happens.”


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