A new look; a new start too?

I’ve upgraded the WordPress backend to version 2.7, which you probably didn’t notice. More obviously, I’ve changed the aesthetics around here to something more… professional. I think the layout is cleaner and the font is clearer and bigger. Tell me what you think of it.

It’s evident that there is still a need for more advocacy of Bayesian methods for all sorts of quantitative analyses, let alone for Bayesianism as a lifestyle choice! I want to use this site, including the only part of it that has any substance — this blog — to further the goal of Bayesianist awareness. If you have any ideas for how I can help, e.g. by including links to tutorials explaining what Bayesian statistics is, or by setting up a forum where Bayesianists can discuss anything from philosophical issues to how to get their colleagues thinking in a Bayesian way, then share them with me.

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Bayesianism as religion

There’s a wonderful and wonderfully funny take on the statistics world in the latest edition of the non-technical and highly entertaining statistics magazine, Significance, in the pseudonymous Dr. Fisher column, where the various school of statistics are re-cast as Christian denominations. Here is the paragraph about Bayesians:

On the other hand Bayesians are born-again fundamentalists. One must be a “believer” and Bayesians can often pinpoint the day when Bayes came into their lives, when they dropped these childish frequentist ways (or even “came out”). Clearly the Reverend Thomas Bayes is their spiritual guide and leader, and he even imitated the Christian God by not publishing in his own lifetime (mind you, I have heard non-Bayesians wish that some of his followers had done likewise). Bayesians divide the world into people who believe and those who do not and will ask complete strangers at statistics conferences “are you a Bayesian?” as if it were an important defining characteristic. On finding a non-Bayesian, they will express amazement at the things the non-Bayesian does, point out the certainties of their own beliefs and attempt to convert the non-believer.

It’s funny because it’s true! Even though I can identify my Bayesianism as dogmatic, I also can’t bring myself to feel bad about it, as much as I might try to. I do look down on hard-core frequentists as I do flat-earth advocates. Am I then a round-earth fundamentalist? Is there anything wrong with that? How about my purple-unicorns-do-not-exist(-without-good-drugs) fundamentalism?

The article can be found through its DOI at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2008.00323.x.

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R is going mainstream

Even the New York Times now has an article about R, though I’m not entirely sure why.

So what are your favourite R packages? Is there still a place for other statistics packages? How well are Bayesian analyses served by R?

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Bayesian calculation of Bayesian calculation?

From Schneier’s Security blog, a lucid and highly readable commentary on security-related news, comes this comment:

The Home Secretary, John Reid, stated in December that an attempted terrorist attack in the UK over Christmas was “highly likely” … Since there wasn’t one, I think Bayes’ Theorem tells us that it is “highly likely” that Reid, and hence also MI5, either don’t know what they’re talking about, or else were lying.

From my limited experience, if nothing else, I can reason that this is not true, or at the very least not necessarily true. But what to do with such calculations, which one could argue are boundedly rational given ignorance about Bayesian matters and only a very limited amount of time to work through the logic? Is this a tolerable consequence of increasing awareness of Bayesianism?

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The start of it all

It should probably be permanently linked to on this site, for without it, this site would not exist. I am referring, of course, to

“An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances. By the late Rev. Mr. Bayes, communicated by Mr. Price, in a letter to John Canton, M. A. and F. R. S.”

a.k.a. the paper where Bayes put forth the eponymous theorem. It is available in PDF format here.

Whether Bayes was actually the first to come up with Bayes’ Theorem, or indeed Bayesian inference (Laplace has a claim to that too), for some reason (probably something to do with Stigler), Bayesian statistics is, fore sure, named after Bayes, and this paper is therefore, to all intents and purposes, the Start Of It All. It is a fascinating read, and provoked in me an awe for those who see something original and useful which everyone before them had missed.

It is very educational to read the key texts that form our most fundamental beliefs, allowing us to make sure we are not re-treading old ground, and providing inspiration for where to take our thoughts further. This paper gives an opportunity to do just that.

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Implement Bayesian inference using PHP, Part 1 – from IBM developerWorks

If you’re interested in that kind of thing, there’s a guide at IBM’s site on how to Implement Bayesian inference using PHP. It seems like a comprehensive look at an initial implementation of Bayesian techniques, and despite its being almost three years old, I recommend it. Not much excuse left not to use it on enterprise sites.

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Google search for “bayesian” — the results

As I continue to update the site, I need to find links to put in, well, the Links section. A good starting point, I’m sure you’ll agree, is to search on Google for the term “bayesian“. The first ten results, which are supposed to represent the Internet’s ten most relevant links on the subject, contain a link to the Internet Society for Bayesian Analysis, a couple of pages about Bayesian logic… and three pages about Bayesian spam filtering. Now whilst Bayesian filtering, as some call it, is a great application of Bayesian statistics (and even a pretty obvious one to my mind), it’s certainly not the only one out there. The battle ahead is thus to change public consciousness to the extent that it becomes obvious to a much larger group of people that:

1) Bayesian statistics could’ve been used to solve the spam filtering problem from the start.

2) That Bayesian statistics is not just about spam filtering.

Once that is done, we’ve won, even if people don’t know Bayes’ Theorem or how to use WinBugs, because then anyone who believes in points 1 and 2 above will logically also believe in:

1&2) Bayesian statistics can been used to solve so many problems.

And then the golden age of Bayesian statistics will be upon us, I hope.

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