When Can We Talk About Probability

Probability can be assigned to an event only on the basis of the results of observations involving a large number of samples. Additionally, probability makes sense only when talking about the future; it is irrelevant when dealing with the past or present.

There are certain theories involving so-called fuzzy truth in which some events can be considered to "sort of happen." These theories involve degrees of reality, and in such a scenario, probability can be used to talk about events in the past, present, and future. The most common example of this kind of theory is quantum mechanics, which involves the behavior of atoms, molecules, and subatomic particles. Quantum mechanics can get so bizarre that some scientists have actually said, "If you claim to understand this theory, then you are lying." Fortunately, we aren't going to be dealing with anything that esoteric in this book.

When statistics is misapplied, seemingly logical reasoning can be used to support all manner of hogwash. It is done in industry all the time, especially when the intent is to get you to do something that will cause someone else to make money. Therefore, keep your "probability-fallacy radar" on. We are about to leap into territory where every good scientist needs it!

If you come across an instance where an author (including myself) slips and says that something "probably happened" or "is likely to take place," think of it as another way of saying that the author, or scientists in general, believe or suspect that something happened or will take place.

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