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Maths of Planet Earth | Limitless Applications

A planet to discover

Published on May 6th, 2013 | by Jo

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# What is probability? What is statistics?

You’ve probably heard the words probability and statistics being used in papers or on the news. You might have heard them in school. Even though they are common words, they can be hard to understand.

For example, statistics are very popular in sports. An athlete’s statistics sum up their previous performances. A cricket batter’s statistics might include their total runs scored, their average score, and how fast they score runs. Statistics are records of things that have already happened – whether fifty years ago, or fifty seconds ago.

Yet statistics are more than just individual results or numbers. We talk about an average score, not a list of scores. We look at lots of scores from different matches, and look at whether batsmen are scoring faster or slower over time. Statistics is not just collecting data and information; it is also about taking that information and making it tell a story. Statistics make data useable.

Probability describes how likely future events are. People might say ‘it’s probably going to happen’ or ‘I find that improbable’, and both these sentences describe a probability. As you learn more about probability, you can use numbers to describe the chance. These numbers convey the same information, but are more precise.

The probability of throwing a ‘2’ in one throw of a die is 1/6. There are six different sides that the die can fall on, and each one is equally likely. If you roll the die many, many times, then you’ll find that around 1 in 6 rolls, or about 17% of them, are going to be ‘2’s.

There’s a powerful link between statistics and probability. Statistics takes individual bits of information, and tells a story. That story helps describe how something works, what patterns it generates, and how it reacts to different things. Probability takes an understanding of something, and describes how that thing might behave. It describes the chances of each possible outcome, and provides a view of what’s possible and what’s likely.

Both statistics and probability inform our ability to predict or infer things about the real world. Probability and statistics work hand-in-hand to help us understand how everything around us works and to help us make informed decisions.