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

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

4.1 8
by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

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

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.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300175097
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
05/17/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
517,109
File size:
3 MB

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 

— 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

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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of C 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Histories of academic and/or scientific controversies may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if the area of the development of statistical methodologies interests you, this book is an absolute must-read. The main characters can be both fascinating and infuriating, and many of the historical vignettes, where Bayes Theorem played an important role, are surprising. Well worth a side trip from the usual group of history books that are available.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago