The Subjectivity of Scientists and the Bayesian Approach / Edition 1

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Comparing and contrasting the reality of subjectivity in the work of history's great scientists and the modern Bayesian approach to statistical analysis
Scientists and researchers are taught to analyze their data from an objective point of view, allowing the data to speak for themselves rather than assigning them meaning based on expectations or opinions. But scientists have never behaved fully objectively. Throughout history, some of our greatest scientific minds have relied on intuition, hunches, and personal beliefs to make sense of empirical data-and these subjective influences have often aided in humanity's greatest scientific achievements. The authors argue that subjectivity has not only played a significant role in the advancement of science, but that science will advance more rapidly if the modern methods of Bayesian statistical analysis replace some of the classical twentieth-century methods that have traditionally been taught.
To accomplish this goal, the authors examine the lives and work of history's great scientists and show that even the most successful have sometimes misrepresented findings or been influenced by their own preconceived notions of religion, metaphysics, and the occult, or the personal beliefs of their mentors. Contrary to popular belief, our greatest scientific thinkers approached their data with a combination of subjectivity and empiricism, and thus informally achieved what is more formally accomplished by the modern Bayesian approach to data analysis.
Yet we are still taught that science is purely objective. This innovative book dispels that myth using historical accounts and biographical sketches of more than a dozen great scientists, including Aristotle, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Sir Isaac Newton, Antoine Levoisier, Alexander von Humboldt, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Robert Millikan, Albert Einstein, Sir Cyril Burt, and Margaret Mead. Also included is a detailed treatment of the modern Bayesian approach to data analysis. Up-to-date references to the Bayesian theoretical and applied literature, as well as reference lists of the primary sources of the principal works of all the scientists discussed, round out this comprehensive treatment of the subject.
Readers will benefit from this cogent and enlightening view of the history of subjectivity in science and the authors' alternative vision of how the Bayesian approach should be used to further the cause of science and learning well into the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Press and Tanur argue that subjectivity has not only played asignificant role in the advancement of science, but that sciencewill advance more rapidly if the modern methods of Bayesianstatistical analysis replace some of the more classicaltwentieth-century methods." (SciTech Book News, Vol. 25, No. 3,September 2001)

"An insightful work." (Choice, Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2001)

"compilation of interesting and popular problems" (Short BookReviews - Publication of the Int. Statistical Institute, December2001)

"...this book is fascinating." (Short Book Reviews, Vol. 21, No. 3,December 2001)

"...highlight the role of subjectivity in science by describing thelife and works of 17 scientists." (Zentralblatt MATH, Vol. 973,2001/23)

Press (University of California, Riverside) and Tanur (State University of New York, Stony Brook) argue that subjectivity has not only played a significant role in the advancement of science, but that science will advance more rapidly if the modern methods of Bayesian statistical analysis replace some of the more classical twentieth- century methods. To make their case, they examine the lives and work of influential scientists, and show that even the most successful have sometimes misrepresented findings or been influenced by their own preconceived notions of religion, metaphysics, and the occult, or the personal beliefs of their mentors. Among the scientists discussed are Aristotle, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Pasteur, Mendel, Freud, Curie, Einstein, and Mead. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

Meet the Author

S. JAMES PRESS is Distinguished Professor in the Department ofStatistics at the University of California at Riverside. He is alsothe author of Bayesian Statistics: Principles, Models, andApplications (Wiley) and Applied Multivariate Analysis: IncludingBayesian and Frequentist Methods of Inference.
JUDITH M. TANUR is Distinguished Teaching Professor in theDepartment of Sociology at the State University of New York atStony Brook. She is also the editor of Statistics: A Guide to theUnknown and Questions About Questions: Inquiries into the CognitiveBases of Surveys.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Introduction

This is a book about science, about scientists, and about the methods that scientists use. We will show that the most famous scientists in history have all used their hunches, beliefs, intuition, and deep understanding of the processes they studied, to one extent or another, to arrive at their conclusions. The reader will see that the oft-expressed notion that science is "objective" is only partially true; in fact, science is really a combination of both subjective and objective views.

In this book we tell the stories of 12 of the most famous scientists throughout history, from Aristotle, the philosopher who lived during the era of the ancient Greeks, to Albert Einstein, who lived during the twentieth century. In each case, we discuss how the scientist's preconceived beliefs informally influenced his or her scientific conclusions.

In Chapter 2 we explain that we did not choose these particular 12 scientists to study; they were selected for us. In Chapter 3 we tell the stories of five other very celebrated cases of famous scientists who may have stepped over the lines of acceptable scientific practice. Such overstepping arose either because their convictions about the correctness of their ideas led them to see or accept as accurate only what their theory predicted, or from their zeal to convince the world of the scientific merits of their work. A major portion of the book is devoted to the stories of our 12 most famous scientists in history (Chapter 4). We examine the lives of these people, their scientific contributions, and the ways in which they used their beliefs together with the results of their scientific experiments to carry out their research. In a final section of Chapter 4 we conjecture about what these scientists might have done had modern methods been available to them for combining their preconceptions about the processes they were studying with their experimental data.

Finally, in Chapter 5, we examine how subjectivity is being used in science in modern times. That discussion focuses on Bayesian statistical .science. But first, in this introductory chapter, we provide some definitions and background for what is to come.

Because we will be using the words subjectivity and objectivity frequently in this book, we must first explain how we arc using these terms. We intend to use them in several ways. But we will always be thinking about observational data, about the distinction between beliefs held by a scientist about a phenomenon prior to collecting the data, and beliefs held by the scientist after the data have been collected and analyzed.

In common usage, certain entities are seen to have only a subjective reality, in that those entities are constructs based on views and beliefs that were formed out the human mind. On the other hand, the term objective reality is used for entities that exist outside the minds of individuals, in that they exist in the world regardless of whether a person perceives them. For example, the opinions people hold about a political or social issue are personal beliefs that have only a subjective reality, whereas our starting point with respect to external reality is that the moon, the sun, and the planets would all exist regardless of whether or not human beings perceived them. But objective entities need not be corporeal. For example, all the scientific laws that govern the behavior of the physical world would exist regardless of their codification by human beings or humans' belief in them. The crux of our usage makes these terms specific to the scientific endeavor. When anything is observed or measured by human beings, human perception and sensory mechanisms are involved, and the resulting observations that are collected then depend on subjectively based distortions of objective reality. Further, after entities in the objective world are observed (perceived) by a human being, either through the senses and/or assisted by measuring instruments, the resulting measurements (called data) are interpreted by a human being in a subjective way that reflects the person's own experience, understanding, and preconceived notions and beliefs about the entities, the object, phenomenon, or construct being measured. The interpretation of such data is also affected by the person's state of mind and state of senses at the time of the interpretation. We use the term subjective, or subjectivity, to refer to preexisting views or beliefs about entities that influence both the gathering of data and their interpretation.

Broadening our interpretation of the term, we will also use subjectivity to mean a person's intuition, belief, and understanding about some proposition or hypothesis prior to that person collecting observational data that bear on the proposition, or prior to that person obtaining information about the hypothesis. Because the views about the hypothesis that we are talking about are those that a particular person held prior to that person having collected data, or they are his or her views prior to being told about the values of data that have been collected, and because these views may well differ across individuals, we call those views or beliefs subjective...

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Table of Contents



Selecting the Scientists.

Some Well-Known Stories of Extreme Subjectivity.

Stories of Famous Scientists.

Subjectivity in Science in Modern Times: The BayesianApproach.

Appendix: References by Field of Application for BayesianStatistical Science.


Subject Index.

Name Index.

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