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Branch of mathematics that deals with analysis of random events. Probability is the numerical assessment of likelihood on a scale from 0 (impossibility) to 1 (absolute certainty). Probability is usually expressed as the ratio between the number of ways an event can happen and the total number of things that can happen (e.g., there are 13 ways of picking a diamond from a deck of 52 cards, so the probability of picking a diamond is , or ). Probability theory grew out of attempts to understand card games and gambling. As science became more rigorous, analogies between certain biological, physical, and social phenomena and games of chance became more evident (e.g., the sexes of newborn infants follow sequences similar to those of coin tosses). As a result, probability became a fundamental tool of modern genetics and many other disciplines. Probability theory is also the basis of the insurance industry, in the form of actuarial statistics.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on probability theory, visit Britannica.com.
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