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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

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 explo
...more

ebook, 335 pages

Published
May 17th 2011
by Yale University Press
(first published May 14th 2011)

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## Community Reviews

(showing
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1,681)

Sep 03, 2012
rmn
rated it
2 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
financial-math-non-fiction

If only I had known how to use Bayesian probabilities before reading this book I could have taken the probability of my liking a book well received in a NY Times Book Review as my prior, plugged that in to a Bayesian calculation as to whether or not I would like this book, and quickly would have come up with the answer "highly unlikely" and saved myself a few hours of my life.

According to the author, Bayes' rule is the greatest mathematical equation/formula/thought process in the history of hist ...more

According to the author, Bayes' rule is the greatest mathematical equation/formula/thought process in the history of hist ...more

The ebb and flow in belief in the theorem over the course of 150 years is interesting. Applying Bayes theorem requires a prior probability, and this is often poorly know ...more

Alas, that story, at least as presented in this book, turned out to be not quite so exciting. Except for the insights into Laplace's involvement, and in particular the interesting sections on Alan Turing's work, I found this to be a rather lifel ...more

Oct 03, 2011
Dennis Boccippio
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
math,
20th-century

It probably takes a special sort of person to dive into an entire book about one statistical theory, but for those so-motivated, this one pays off.

The pro's: The author has done a phenomenal job at capturing and richly detailing the very "large" personalities that have championed (or condemned) the use of Bayes' Rule through the centuries, amidst a little-known and long-simmering war that has persisted between statistical Bayesians and frequentists since the concept was first brought forward. T ...more

The pro's: The author has done a phenomenal job at capturing and richly detailing the very "large" personalities that have championed (or condemned) the use of Bayes' Rule through the centuries, amidst a little-known and long-simmering war that has persisted between statistical Bayesians and frequentists since the concept was first brought forward. T ...more

Bayes' Rule is a mathematical formula that allows one to calculate a conditional probability (such as the probability that a woman has breast cancer given that she has a postive mammogram). It has many useful attributes, such as allowing one to updates ones estimates of a probability as you obtain new information, and can be adapted to deal with such basically non-numerical forms of information as expert opinion. One can also use it to estimate the probability of events that have not happened,

...moreHowever, I did not find this book well-written at all. It's just not an exciting read - and i ...more

Apr 19, 2014
Ms.pegasus
rated it
3 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition

Recommends it for:
anyone who has read the Nate Silver book SIGNAL AND THE NOISE

Recommended to Ms.pegasus by:
citation if Nathan Silver's book

Shelves:
nonfiction,
history

As the subtitle proclaims, this book chronicles the history of science It also demonstrates how a simple formula evolved into a sophisticated application that required the invention of high speed computers to exploit its potential for prediction. It complements the information in Nate Silver's book, THE SIGNAL AND THE NOISE.

McGrayne introduces the reader to Bayes's Theorem with the proposal that given the unknown position of a billiard ball, its probable position can be narrowed by collecting da ...more

McGrayne introduces the reader to Bayes's Theorem with the proposal that given the unknown position of a billiard ball, its probable position can be narrowed by collecting da ...more

Bayes' Rule allows you to "learn" by updating your (prior) degree of belief of something (i.e. probability of finding a sunken ship in a certain part of the ocean) given new information (i.e. a captain's log) in order to obtain knowledge in a "posterior" belie ...more

*The Theory That Would Not Die*by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, I knew that it was not an introduction to Bayesian statistics. I was still sufficiently intrigued by the subtitle

*How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy*to take it out of the library. The book had lots of “who,” “what,” “when,” and “where,” but almost no “how.” I left with a knowledge who applied Bayes ...more

By giving us the life of Bayes, the childhood of Laplace , ... , I think the author is trying to force the book to have a narrative, but I doubt that many people buying books about mathematical theories are interested in the minor details of the mathematicians' lives. This type of writing would be bad enough if the importance of Bayesian analysis were clearly explained, but it isn't. For instance, in ...more

If you're at all interested in the history of mathematics, this is a surprisingly exciting story. I expected a rather dull and academic history; that is NOT what this book is.

While the author describes many applications of Bayesian methods to problems in a variety of fields, no detail is provided as to the basis of the prior knowledge nor the nature of the incremental knowledge that was used to update the priors.

An example of the Bayesian view of breast cancer testing is provided in a short appendix.

The intended audience of the book is not clear. I ...more

Nov 23, 2014
Seth D Michaels
rated it
4 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
science-and-nature

Complex and brainy, but very interesting; I think it's the best you can do at explaining what Bayes' rule is to non-specialists like me. With an admirable minimum of equations, McGrayne talks about the origin of the Bayes statistical method, the controversies around it, and its wide range of applications. I almost wish I could give it something more like 3 1/2 stars, because I feel like I should have come away from the book with a better ability to explain exactly what Bayes' rule is, rather tha
...more

I did enjoy some chapters significantly more than the others. Though the book is aimed at

the general public interested in science (not necessarily trained in Bayesian statistics), I believe

that having experience in Bayesian statistics does make the book more enjoyable, which is of course

not surprising. I would have preferred if the author had been more relaxed in terms of some of the vocabulary

she used; i ...more

It's interesting that Bayes' Theorem wasn't accepted at first, and why, and how it languished in obscurity until proving its worth, and being a secret weapon, of sorts, of the US against the Russians. But that's maybe half the book, and the rest just isn't very interesting.

Being constrained to real history hinders the bo ...more

Feb 03, 2015
Blamp Head
rated it
2 of 5 stars
·
review of another edition

Shelves:
science,
statistics

Let me tell you a secret. I sometimes imagine that books are friends. They're reliably there when you need them, they speak to you... it's all very intimate. And then, occasionally you realize that one is actually a jerk. Maybe they're arrogant without justification (I'm looking at you Freakonomics) or perhaps they're filled with incredible lunacy inconsistent with your -- oh, how apt! -- prior beliefs about the people involved. And then, there is just sheer, blatant hypocrisy. Which, needless t
...more

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