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The method of least squares is a standard approach in regression analysis to approximate the solution of overdetermined systems, i.e., sets of equations in which there are more equations than unknowns. 'Least squares' means that the overall solution minimizes the sum of the squares of the residuals made in the results of every single equation. The method of least squares is a standard approach in regression analysis to approximate the solution of overdetermined systems, i.e., sets of equations in which there are more equations than unknowns. 'Least squares' means that the overall solution minimizes the sum of the squares of the residuals made in the results of every single equation. The most important application is in data fitting. The best fit in the least-squares sense minimizes the sum of squared residuals (a residual being: the difference between an observed value, and the fitted value provided by a model). When the problem has substantial uncertainties in the independent variable (the x variable), then simple regression and least-squares methods have problems; in such cases, the methodology required for fitting errors-in-variables models may be considered instead of that for least squares. Least-squares problems fall into two categories: linear or ordinary least squares and nonlinear least squares, depending on whether or not the residuals are linear in all unknowns. The linear least-squares problem occurs in statistical regression analysis; it has a closed-form solution. The nonlinear problem is usually solved by iterative refinement; at each iteration the system is approximated by a linear one, and thus the core calculation is similar in both cases. Polynomial least squares describes the variance in a prediction of the dependent variable as a function of the independent variable and the deviations from the fitted curve. When the observations come from an exponential family and mild conditions are satisfied, least-squares estimates and maximum-likelihood estimates are identical. The method of least squares can also be derived as a method of moments estimator. The following discussion is mostly presented in terms of linear functions but the use of least squares is valid and practical for more general families of functions. Also, by iteratively applying local quadratic approximation to the likelihood (through the Fisher information), the least-squares method may be used to fit a generalized linear model. The least-squares method is usually credited to Carl Friedrich Gauss (1795), but it was first published by Adrien-Marie Legendre (1805). The method of least squares grew out of the fields of astronomy and geodesy, as scientists and mathematicians sought to provide solutions to the challenges of navigating the Earth's oceans during the Age of Exploration. The accurate description of the behavior of celestial bodies was the key to enabling ships to sail in open seas, where sailors could no longer rely on land sightings for navigation. The method was the culmination of several advances that took place during the course of the eighteenth century:

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