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In conventional structure refinement, the discrepancy between the calculated magnitudes and those observed in X-ray experiments is attributed to errors inherent in preliminary assigned values of the model parameters. However, the chosen set of model parameters may not be adequate to describe the structure factors precisely. For example, if some atoms are not included in the current model, then the structure factors calculated from such a partial model contain `irremovable errors'. These errors cannot be eliminated by any choice of the parameters of the partial structure. Probabilistic modelling suggests a way to take irremovable errors into account. Every trial set of values of the model parameters is now associated with the joint probability distribution of the calculated magnitudes, rather than with a particular set of magnitudes. The new goal of the refinement is formulated as the search for the distribution that is the most consistent with the observed data. The statistical likelihood is a possible measure of the consistency. The suggested quadratic approximation of the likelihood function allows the likelihood-based refinement to be considered as a kind of least-squares refinement that uses appropriate weights and modified targets for the calculated magnitudes. This in turn enables the analysis of tendencies of the likelihood-based refinement in comparison with the classical least-squares refinement.

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