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A vivid account of the generations-long dispute over Bayes' rule, one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of applied mathematics and statistics"An intellectual romp touching on, among other topics, military ingenuity, the origins of modern epidemiology, and the theological foundation of modern mathematics."—Michael Washburn, Boston GlobeA New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice Bayes' rule appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new information, we get a new and improved belief. To its adherents, it is an elegant statement about learning from experience. To its opponents, it is subjectivity run amok.
In the first-ever account of Bayes' rule for general readers, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne explores this controversial theorem and the human obsessions surrounding it. She traces its discovery by an amateur mathematician in the 1740s through its development into roughly its modern form by French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace. She reveals why respected statisticians rendered it professionally taboo for 150 years—at the same time that practitioners relied on it to solve crises involving great uncertainty and scanty information (Alan Turing's role in breaking Germany's Enigma code during World War II), and explains how the advent of off-the-shelf computer technology in the 1980s proved to be a game-changer. Today, Bayes' rule is used everywhere from DNA de-coding to Homeland Security.
Drawing on primary source material and interviews with statisticians and other scientists, The Theory That Would Not Die is the riveting account of how a seemingly simple theorem ignited one of the greatest controversies of all time.
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne is the author of numerous books, including Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries and Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World. She lives in Seattle.
Table of Contents
Preface to the Paperback Edition ix
Preface and Note to Readers xi
Part I Enlightenment and the Anti-Bayesian Reaction 1
1 Causes in the Air 3
2 The Man Who Did Everything 13
3 Many Doubts, Few Defenders 34
Part II Second World War Era 59
4 Bayes Goes to War 61
5 Dead and Buried Again 87
Part III The Glorious Revival 89
6 Arthur Bailey 91
7 From Tool to Theology 97
8 Jerome Cornfield, Lung Cancer, and Heart Attacks 108
9 There's Always a First Time 119
10 46,656 Varieties 129
Part IV To Prove Its Worth 137
11 Business Decisions 139
12 Who Wrote The Federalist? 154
13 The Cold Warrior 163
14 Three Mile Island 176
15 The Navy Searches 182
Part V Victory 211
16 Eureka! 213
17 Rosetta Stories 233
Dr. Fisher's Casebook 257
Applying Bayes' Rule 259
Glossary for Nonmathematical Readers 283
Reading List 320
What People are Saying About This
Scott L. Zeger
Delightful ... [and] McGrayne gives a superb synopsis of the fundamental development of probability and statistics by Laplace.—Scott L. Zeger of Johns Hopkins, Physics Today
Andrew I. Dale
Well known in statistical circles, Bayes’s Theorem was first given in a posthumous paper by the English clergyman Thomas Bayes in the mid-eighteenth century. McGrayne provides a fascinating account of the modern use of this result in matters as diverse as cryptography, assurance, the investigation of the connection between smoking and cancer, RAND, the identification of the author of certain papers in The Federalist, election forecasting and the search for a missing H-bomb. The general reader will enjoy her easy style and the way in which she has successfully illustrated the use of a result of prime importance in scientific work.— Andrew I. Dale, author of A History of Inverse Probability From Thomas Bayes to Karl Pearson and Most Honorable Remembrance: The Life and Work of Thomas Bayes
From the Publisher
"If you are not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be." -New York Times Book Review
Robert E. Kass
Compelling, fast-paced reading full of lively characters and anecdotes. . . .A great story.—Robert E. Kass, Carnegie Mellon University