November 16, 1963


Author Affiliations


From the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

JAMA. 1963;186(7):637-640. doi:10.1001/jama.1963.63710070001008

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A fool must now and then be right, by chance. William Cowper, 1731-1800

SINCE EVERY EVENT has some degree of probability, and even the most improbable events may occur on occasion, the field of statistics is concerned with attempts to determine the likelihood with which specific events occur. We know intuitively that some events are more likely than others, but the statistician would like to know just how likely is the occurrence of a particular event by chance alone.

In a poker game, for example, we know that a pair will be dealt more frequently than three of a kind. We also know that the likelihood of consistently holding the winning hand, the hand with the least probable combination of cards, is fairly slim. If, therefore, a particular player does win consistently, we might wonder whether chance alone was the operative factor.

The game of poker involves a strategy,

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