The Enigma behind the Good–Turing formula

Snapshots of modern mathematics from Oberwolfach

The Enigma behind the Good–Turing formula

Finding the total number of species in a population based on a finite sample is a difficult but practically important problem. In this snapshot, we will attempt to shed light on how during World War II, two cryptanalysts, Irving J. Good and Alan M. Turing, discovered one of the most widely applied formulas in statistics. The formula estimates the probability of missing some of the species in a sample drawn from a heterogeneous population. We will provide some intuition behind the formula, show its wide range of applications, and give a few technical details.

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Mathematical subjects

Probability Theory and Statistics

Connections to other fields

Life Science


Fadoua Balabdaoui, Yulia Kulagina


DOI (Digital Object Identifier)


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snapshots: overview

Mathematical subjects

Algebra and Number Theory
Didactics and Education
Discrete Mathematics and Foundations
Geometry and Topology
Numerics and Scientific Computing
Probability Theory and Statistics

Connections to other fields

Chemistry and Earth Science
Computer Science
Engineering and Technology
Humanities and Social Sciences
Life Science
Reflections on Mathematics

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