(Submitted by Skepticality listener Erik Harris)

When I got home from work this evening and logged onto Facebook, I found out that a friend’s dog, Liam, died today. I had the pleasure of meeting Liam a handful of times, and he was a great dog. He really enriched the lives of many people, not just his own family.

Later in the evening, I found out that the father of another friend of mine died. His name? Liam. I never met this Liam, but his son has been a friend of mine for many years, and he’s someone that I have tremendous respect for, so I’m sure Liam was a great guy and a wonderful father.

I found out about both on Facebook, but both are people that I consider real friends, who I interact with in real life, and not Facebook acquaintances who I’ve only met a few times (or not at all). It’s not often that any of my friends lose a family member or a pet, and even more rare that two of my friends lose a loved one on the same day. I can’t say I recall that happening before, even including on-line only friends, though I’m sure it has. But for two friends to lose loved ones with the same name on the same day? As sad as a coincidence as this is, it’s also kind of amazing.

Below are the extended notes provided by cognitive psychologist and statistician Barbara Drescher for use in Skepticality Episode 271.  Take a look and leave your comments below. Also, please be sure to listen to the podcast for our own hilarious commentary. Also, visit Barbara’s blog ICBS Everywhere, and Insight at Skeptics Society, and watch her on Virtual Skeptics.

At first glance this sounds like something for which we could calculate odds, and perhaps we could if we knew a few more things, such as the age for the gentleman who died. However, there are a lot of questions to consider. For example, although Liam is not a terribly common name, it can be short for more common names such as William. We also have no way to know how popular the name is for a pet, since there are no birth certificates for the vast majority of pets.

But there is an interesting aspect to this story in that the author found out about these events through Facebook, which has greatly increased the average user’s circle of friends as well as the probability that we will learn about such events in our friends’ lives. So, while it may seem as though tragedy is all around us at times, I think that such coincidences have probably always been common, but we are much more aware of them today as we are much more connected to others.