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Do you consider probablity a true science?

  1. Nov 2, 2008 #1
    I'm currently in a probability and statistics class, and while I can appreciate the concept of trying to keep tabs of large sets of data, I just can't get past the fact that if you actually run the experiment, the results will probably (ironically) come out differently that what you calculated. I thought science was supposed to be about precisely predicting the results of an experiment. Or is probability more about how an infinite set of experiments will turn out? For this reason it is my least-liked class at the moment... just wondering if anyone else feels the same way.

    Similarly, how can Neilson Media (sp?) take 5000 TV boxes, and calculate television ratings for a nation of 300,000,000? I understand the concept of representative sampling, but if they get the "wrong" sample of a certain group, it would mess up the whole study.

    And yes, I know the quantum area of science is filled with probability. I hope humanity one day discovers how to precisely predict sub-atomic phenomena.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2008 #2
    Probability theory is built on axioms that are ideal formulations of things we often observe in data collection (for the most part at least). It's axiomatic foundation makes it a full-fledged mathematical discipline, and a science, I guess, depending on whether you include mathematics in the definition of science. Limiting science to predict exactly what will happen given some initial conditions is extremely handicapping... sometimes the best or the most efficient thing we can do is use probabilities.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2008
  4. Nov 2, 2008 #3


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    Even in the sciences (the ones people believe to be the "real" sciences) designed experiments have outcomes that can't be perfectly predicted. Broadly speaking, probability and statistical inference are the tools used to distinguish "unusual" results from the ones expected.
    I'm a statistician: I'm not sure I consider statistics to be a science, but I know that it would be difficult to do many scientific studies without it.
  5. Nov 2, 2008 #4


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    If you have to ask that question, then you don't understand the concept of representative sampling.
  6. Nov 2, 2008 #5

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    I would consider statistics to be a branch of mathematics, not science. While mathematics is not science (your theorems will be true 10,000 years from now; we're lucky if our theories are perceived to be true for 100 years), it would be nigh impoissible to do any scientific studies without mathematical tools such as statistics.
  7. Nov 2, 2008 #6
    Probability theory, in so far as it relates to the natural sciences, is a statistical tool upon which we form and test hypotheses to lend weight to a given theory. However, it does conform with the 'scientific method', given our interpretations reflect what samples we are working on. It never leads to inductively establishing things but gives us basis for our theories and the hypotheses that follow from them.

    Mathematically, its just as Werg22 said, the foundations of the theory are well-laid, and given these postulates, infalliable.
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