Chance plays a central role in many aspects of all our lives. A variety of chance-related terms frequently and effortlessly roll off our tongues. ‘How likely is it to be sunny this weekend?’ ‘What are the odds of an English player winning a singles title at the next Wimbledon tennis championship?’ ‘What is the probability that my lottery selections will come up this week?’ ‘What is the risk of another Chernobyl happening in the next year?’ ‘How probable is it that I will catch the flu this winter?’ But even though such expressions are widely used, are they really understood? How well can the average person evaluate and compare the risks or chances of particular events? There is much evidence that the answer is ‘not very well at all’, a situation we shall try to improve in the following chapters by looking at various aspects of chance, probability and risk—some simple, some not so simple. To begin, let’s consider what we can learn from history.
A Brief History of Chance