What Are the Chances? Probability Made Clear

Explore the fundamental concepts and fascinating applications of probability in this fun and engaging course by an award-winning mathematician.


Learn how to understand the random factors behind almost everything&;amp;-from the combinations of genes that produced you to the odds of how long you'll have to wait at a bus stop. In What Are the Chances? Probability Made Clear, award-winning Professor Michael Starbird makes the secret of numbers come alive for nonmathematicians. He picks intriguing, useful, and entertaining examples to illustrate the fundamental concepts of probability and teaches you how to apply probability to areas of your life ranging from physics to biology to finance; understand the nature of randomness and probabilistic reasoning; and much more.


Michael Starbird
Michael Starbird

The geometrical insights that I most like are those where different ideas come together unexpectedly to reveal some sort of a relationship that was not obvious at first


The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Michael Starbird is Professor of Mathematics and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at The University of Texas at Austin, where he has been teaching since 1974. He received his B.A. from Pomona College in 1970 and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974. Professor Starbird's textbook, The Heart of Mathematics: An Invitation to Effective Thinking, coauthored with Edward B. Burger, won a 2001 Robert W. Hamilton Book Award. Professors Starbird and Burger also collaborated on Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas, published in 2005. Professor Starbird has won many teaching awards, including the Mathematical Association of America's 2007 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo National Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, which is the association's most prestigious teaching award. It is awarded nationally to 3 people from its membership of 27,000. Professor Starbird is interested in bringing authentic understanding of significant ideas in mathematics to people who are not necessarily mathematically oriented. He has developed and taught an acclaimed class that presents higher-level mathematics to liberal arts students.

By This Professor

What Are the Chances? Probability Made Clear


Our Random World-Probability Defined

01: Our Random World-Probability Defined

The concept of randomness and its quantification through probability is central to understanding the world of science, games, business, and other endeavors. This lecture introduces the basic laws of probability.

33 min
The Nature of Randomness

02: The Nature of Randomness

Randomness refers to situations in which given results are unpredictable, but a large enough collection of results is predictable. The goal of probability is to describe what is to be expected from randomness.

31 min
Expected Value-You Can Bet on It

03: Expected Value-You Can Bet on It

Expected value is a useful measure for making decisions about probabilistic outcomes. It provides a numerical way to judge whether to bet on a particular game or make a particular investment.

31 min
Random Thoughts on Random Walks

04: Random Thoughts on Random Walks

A random walk is a description of random fluctuations. It aids the analysis of situations ranging from counting votes to charting pollen on a fishpond, and it explains the sad fate of persistent bettors.

31 min
Probability Phenomena of Physics

05: Probability Phenomena of Physics

Quantum mechanics describes the location of subatomic particles as a probability distribution. Weather predictions also give probabilistic descriptions; but what is the meaning of a statement like "There is a 30 percent chance of rain tomorrow"?

31 min
Probability Is in Our Genes

06: Probability Is in Our Genes

Because randomness is centrally involved in passing down genetic material, probability can be used to model the distribution of genetic traits and to describe how traits of whole populations alter through a random process called genetic drift.

29 min
Options and Our Financial Future

07: Options and Our Financial Future

By characterizing the expected behavior of a stock in the future and describing a probability distribution of its likely future price, mathematicians can quantify sophisticated risks in options contracts. However, the practice can be a very dangerous game.

31 min
Probability Where We Don't Expect It

08: Probability Where We Don't Expect It

What does probability have to do with determining if a number is prime, or deciding football strategy, or training animals? More than you might think-probability often plays a central role where we least expect it.

31 min
Probability Surprises

09: Probability Surprises

No course on probability could be complete without a discussion of two of the most famous examples of counterintuitive probabilistic scenarios: the birthday problem and the Let's Make a Deal® Monty Hall question....

31 min
Conundrums of Conditional Probability

10: Conundrums of Conditional Probability

Conditional probability refers to a situation where the probability of one event is affected by some other event or piece of information. Principles of dealing correctly with conditional probability are tricky and highly nonintuitive.

30 min
Believe It or Not-Bayesian Probability

11: Believe It or Not-Bayesian Probability

This lecture looks at probability from a different point of view: namely, probability associated with measuring a level of belief as opposed to measuring the frequency with which the results of a random process occur. This is the Bayesian view of probability.

30 min
Probability Everywhere

12: Probability Everywhere

A pair of paradoxes shows the power of the Bayesian approach in analyzing counterintuitive cases in probability. The course concludes with a review of the topics covered and the importance of probability in our world.

32 min