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4.01 Random variables and probability distributions

Probability distributions form the core of many statistical calculations. They are used as mathematical models to represent some random phenomenon and subsequently answer statistical questions about that phenomenon. This module starts by explaining the basic properties of a probability distribution, highlighting how it quantifies a random variable and also pointing out how it differs between discrete and continuous random variables. Subsequently the cumulative probability distribution is introduced and its properties and usage are explained as well. In a next lecture it is shown how a random variable with its associated probability distribution can be characterized by statistics like a mean and variance, just like observational data. The effects of changing random variables by multiplication or addition on these statistics are explained as well.The lecture thereafter introduces the normal distribution, starting by explaining its functional form and some general properties. Next, the basic usage of the normal distribution to calculate probabilities is explained. And in a final lecture the binomial distribution, an important probability distribution for discrete data, is introduced and further explained. By the end of this module you have covered quite some ground and have a solid basis to answer the most frequently encountered statistical questions. Importantly, the fundamental knowledge about probability distributions that is presented here will also provide a solid basis to learn about inferential statistics in the next modules.

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