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Chance and Probability

Stephen Turner

Subject Sociology » Methods in Sociology

Key-Topics probability, quantitative methods

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Chance is an informal concept, sometimes meaning probability, sometimes meaning randomness. Probability is a formal mathematical concept expressed in its most simple form as dependent probability, which is a number between 0 and 1 that represents the likelihood that, for example, a person with one property will have another property. Thus, the probability of a live birth being female is a dependent probability in which the two properties are live birth and female. Probabilities may also be assigned to beliefs. In this case, known as subjective probability, the number represents the strength with which we believe another belief to be true. This is the kind of probability that one employs in making a bet with a friend about whether or not something is true. It is commonly asserted that social processes are probabilistic and that causal relations in social sciences are probabilistic. This usually means that the causal relationships or processes in question are not deterministic. It is something of a paradox that despite this widespread belief, there are few theories and only a few models that employ formal notions of probability. However, only very infrequently can numerical dependent probabilities be assigned to non-deterministic processes or causal relations. Typically, the relations are not only non-deterministic, but are subject to a large number of additional causal influences ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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