According to Washington Post’s Breaking News Alert (May 8), President Obama faced sharply divided counsel and, in his mind, barely better-than-even odds of success when he ordered the daring May 1 commando raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the president said in an interview broadcast Sunday. "At the end of the day, this was still a 55/45 situation," Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes"

To me if the chance is 51 vs. 49, it seems to be “barely” better than even odd. But 55/45 chance looks not very, but ‘significantly positive’ mark if I’m asked to challenge. YMMV.

Of course criterion of judgment varies by status and situation you are placed in and magnitude of consequence you expect. But from purely rhetorical point of view, is 10% margin categorized in “barely better-than-even” range?

  • @Bogdan Lataianu. As this question may have a risk of being felt to have political tint that I have no reason to have. I put it as a disclaimer. But I removed it thanks to yor advice. – Yoichi Oishi May 9 '11 at 1:56

First of all, to me, that's a 5% margin, not 10%. 50/50 means that you have 10 chances out of 20 to succeed, while 55/45 means you have 11 out of 20: a 1/20 improvement, or 5%.

Second, yes, a 5% improvement over 50/50 is barely better than even, in my estimation.

Third, I'm really not sure that you can approach this from a "purely rhetorical point of view"; this is one of those things that is almost unavoidably a personal judgment, even if there are broad ranges that can be reasonably categorized (99+% = "a sure thing", 95%+ = "almost certain", 66%+ = "odds-on favorite", or something like that).

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    Odds are very subjective, and context-dependent. If I were playing Russian roulette with 2 bullets in a 6-chamber gun I think I'd say my chances of surviving any given round were barely better than evens. – FumbleFingers May 9 '11 at 2:09
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    Yeah, if I'm playing cards at Vegas on a regular basis, a one percent increase from 49.5% to 50.5% chance of winning is huge. If you are betting me $100 against my life, that same increase is infinitesimal. – Kevin May 9 '11 at 13:48
  • This may be off the course topic. However, the reason why I was particularly interested in this margin of ‘barely better than even odd’ from ‘even odd’ dates back to my memory of the World War II as a septuagenarian. I was interested in how people read the number of certainty and if there is national trait in reading number. Japan went into the war against America because military leaders then believed military power balance of ours and theirs is 50:50, and they decided to get go, if winning chance is even, despite the difference of actual military power and resources were at the most 25:75. – Yoichi Oishi May 10 '11 at 2:49

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