In statistics, the question of checking whether a coin is fair is one whose importance lies, firstly, in providing a simple problem on which to illustrate basic ideas of statistical inference and, secondly, in providing a simple problem that can be used to compare various competing methods of statistical inference, including decision theory. The practical problem of checking whether a coin is fair might be considered as easily solved by performing a sufficiently large number of trials, but statistics and probability theory can provide guidance on two types of question; specifically those of how many trials to undertake and of the accuracy an estimate of the probability of turning up heads, derived from a given sample of trials.
A fair coin is an idealized randomizing device with two states (usually named "heads" and "tails") which are equally likely to occur. It is based on the coin flip used widely in sports and other situations where it is required to give two parties the same chance of winning. Either a specially designed chip or more usually a simple currency coin is used, although the latter might be slightly "unfair" due to an asymmetrical weight distribution, which might cause one state to occur more frequently than the other, giving one party an unfair advantage. So it might be necessary to test experimentally whether the coin is in fact "fair" – that is, whether the probability of the coin falling on either side when it is tossed is approximately 50%. It is of course impossible to rule out arbitrarily small deviations from fairness such as might be expected to affect only one flip in a lifetime of flipping; also it is always possible for an unfair (or "biased") coin to happen to turn up exactly 10 heads in 20 flips. As such, any fairness test must only establish a certain degree of confidence in a certain degree of fairness (a certain maximum bias). In more rigorous terminology, the problem is of determining the parameters of a Bernoulli process, given only a limited sample of Bernoulli trials.
Famous quotes containing the words coin and/or fair:
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—William Shakespeare (15641616)