The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy

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Overview

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, even 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.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review - John Allen Paulos

"If you're not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be."—John Allen Paulos, New York Times Book Review
Boston Globe - Michael Washburn

"A masterfully researched tale of human struggle and accomplishment . . . . Renders perplexing mathematical debates digestible and vivid for even the most lay of audiences."—Michael Washburn, Boston Globe
Andrew I. Dale

"For the student who is being exposed to Bayesian statistics for the first time, McGrayne's book provides a wealth of illustrations to whet his or her appetite for more. It will broaden and deepen the field of reference of the more expert statistician, and the general reader will find an understandable, well-written, and fascinating account of a scientific field of great importance today."—Andrew I. Dale, Notices of the American Mathematical Society
Robert E. Kass

“Compelling, fast-paced reading full of lively characters and anecdotes. . . .A great story.” —Robert E. Kass, Carnegie Mellon University
Valencia List Blog - Jose Bernardo

"A very compelling documented account. . .very interesting reading."—Jose Bernardo, Valencia List Blog

Nature Vol. 475 - Andrew Robinson
The Theory That Would Not Die is an impressively researched, rollicking tale of the triumph of a powerful mathematical tool.”—Andrew Robinson, Nature Vol. 475
Chance - Sam Behseta

"Thorough research of the subject matter coupled with flowing prose, an impressive set of interviews with Bayesian statisticians, and an extremely engaging style in telling the personal stories of the few nonconformist heroes of the Bayesian school."—Sam Behseta, Chance
CryptologIA - David Agard

"A very engaging book that statisticians, probabilists, and history buffs in the mathematical sciences should enjoy."—David Agard, CryptologIA
Scott L. Zeger - Physics Today

"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 
New York Review of Books - Andrew Hacker

“Superb.”—Andrew Hacker, New York Review of Books 
From the Publisher
"If you are not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be." —-New York Times Book Review
Cryptologia
A very engaging book that statisticians, probabilists, and history buffs in the mathematical sciences should enjoy.—David Agard, CryptologIA

— David Agard

The Bookseller

"McGrayne holds the hand of the general reader as she lays out the history of the theorem and how it is now used in just about every walk of life… Science writing at its absolute peak."—The Bookseller

Boston Globe

"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 Globe

— Michael Wasburn

New Scientist

"To have crafted a page-turner out of the history of statistics is an impressive feat. If only lectures at university had been this racy."—New Scientist
New York Times Book Review

Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review

Significance Magazine

"Makes the theory come alive. . .enjoyable. . .densely packed and engaging, . . .very accessible. . .an admirable job of giving a voice to the scores of famous and non-famous people and data who contributed, for good or for worse."—Significance Magazine

Valencia List Blog

"A very compelling documented account. . .very interesting reading."—Jose Bernardo, Valencia List Blog

— Jose Bernardo

Nature Vol. 475
The Theory That Would Not Die is an impressively researched, rollicking tale of the triumph of a powerful mathematical tool.”—Andrew Robinson, Nature Vol. 475

— Andrew Robinson

Choice
"A lively, engaging historical account...McGrayne describes actuarial, business, and military uses of the Bayesian approach, including its application to settle the disputed authorship of 12 of the Federalist Papers, and its use to connect cigarette smoking and lung cancer...All of this is accomplished through compelling, fast-moving prose...The reader cannot help but enjoy learning about some of the more gossipy episodes and outsized personalities."—Choice
Engineering and Technology Magazine

“McGrayne is such a good writer that she makes this obscure battle gripping for the general reader.”—Engineering and Technology Magazine
The Australian

"McGrayne explains [it] beautifully...Top holiday reading."—The Australian
The Lancet

"Engaging....Readers will be amazed at the impact that Bayes' rule has had in diverse fields, as well as by its rejection by too many statisticians....I was brought up, statistically speaking, as what is called a frequentist...But reading McGrayne's book has made me determined to try, once again, to master the intricacies of Bayesian statisics. I am confident that other readers will feel the same."—The Lancet
Chance

"Thorough research of the subject matter coupled with flowing prose, an impressive set of interviews with Bayesian statisticians, and an extremely engaging style in telling the personal stories of the few nonconformist heroes of the Bayesian school."—Sam Behseta, Chance

— Sam Behseta

Mathematical Association of America Reviews

"A fascinating and engaging tale."—Mathematical Association of America Reviews
Notices of the American Mathematical Society

"For the student who is being exposed to Bayesian statistics for the first time, McGrayne's book provides a wealth of illustrations to whet his or her appetite for more. It will broaden and deepen the field of reference of the more expert statistician, and the general reader will find an understandable, well-written, and fascinating account of a scientific field of great importance today."—Andrew I. Dale, Notices of the American Mathematical Society

— Andrew I. Dale

CryptologIA

"A very engaging book that statisticians, probabilists, and history buffs in the mathematical sciences should enjoy."—David Agard, CryptologIA

— David Agard

Sunday Times

“[An] engrossing study….Her book is a compelling and entertaining fusion of history, theory and biography.”—Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

— Ian Critchley

Nature

The Theory That Would Not Die is a rollicking tale of the triumph of a powerful mathematical tool.”—Andrew Robinson, Nature

— Andrew Robinson

The Sunday Times
“This account of how a once reviled theory, Baye’s rule, came to underpin modern life is both approachable and engrossing.”—The Sunday Times
Choice

"A lively, engaging historical account...McGrayne describes actuarial, business, and military uses of the Bayesian approach, including its application to settle the disputed authorship of 12 of the Federalist Papers, and its use to connect cigarette smoking and lung cancer...All of this is accomplished through compelling, fast-moving prose...The reader cannot help but enjoy learning about some of the more gossipy episodes and outsized personalities."—Choice
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300175097
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 5/17/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 220,297
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition ix

Preface and Note to Readers xi

Acknowledgments xv

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

Epilogue 252

Appendixes 257

Dr. Fisher's Casebook 257

Applying Bayes' Rule 259

Notes 271

Glossary for Nonmathematical Readers 283

Bibliography 287

Reading List 320

Index 323

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Customer Reviews

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