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Probability Theory: The Logic of Science 1st Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521592710
ISBN-10: 0521592712
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 753 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (June 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521592712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521592710
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin S. Van Horn on August 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Reading this book is an exhilarating intellectual adventure. I found that it shed light on many mysteries and answered questions that had long troubled me. It contains the clearest exposition of the fundamentals of probability theory that I have ever encountered, and its chatty style is a pleasure to read. Jaynes the teacher collaborates fully with Jaynes the scientist in this book, and at times you feel as if the author is standing before you at the blackboard, chalk in hand, giving you a private lesson. Jaynes's advice on avoiding errors in the application of probability theory -- reinforced in many examples throughout the book -- is by itself well worth the price of the book.
If you deal at all with probability theory, statistics, data analysis, pattern recognition, automated diagnosis -- in short, any form of reasoning from inconclusive or uncertain information -- you need to read this book. It will give you new perspectives on these problems.
The downside to the book is that Jaynes died before he had a chance to finish it, and the editor, although capable and qualified to fill in the missing pieces, was understandably unwilling to inject himself into Jaynes's book. One result is that the quality of exposition suffers in some of the later chapters; furthermore, the author is not in a position to issue errata to correct various minor errors. Volunteer efforts are underway to remedy these problems -- those who buy the book may want to visit the "Unofficial Errata and Commentary" website for it, or check out the etjaynesstudy mailing list at Yahoo groups.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has been on the web in unfinished form for a number of years and has shaped my scientific thinking more than any other book. I believe it constitutes one of the most important scientific texts of the last hundred years. It convincingly shows that "statistics", "statistical inference", "Bayesian inference", "probability theory", "maximum entropy methods" , and "statistical mechanics" are all parts of a large coherent theory that is the unique consistent extension of logic to propositions that have degrees of plausibility attached to them. This is already a theoretical accomplishment of epic proportions. But in addition, the book shows how one actually solves real world problems within this frame work, and in doing so shows what a vastly wider array of problems is addressable within this frame work than in any of the forementioned particular fields.
If you work in any field where on needs to "reason with incomplete information" this book is invaluable.
As others have already mentioned, Jaynes never finished this book. The editor decided to "fill in" the missing parts by putting excercises that, when finished by the reader, provide what (so the editor guesses) Jaynes left out. I find this solution a bit disappointing. The excercises don't take away the impression that holes are left in the text. It would have been better if the editor had written the missing parts and then printed those in different font so as to indicate that these parts were not written by Jaynes. Better still would have been if the editor had invited researchers that are intimately familiar with Jaynes' work and the topic of each of the missing pieces to submit text for the missing pieces.
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Format: Hardcover
From a few common sense requirements, the books starts by deriving basic results such as the product and sum rules, for probabilities defined not in terms of frequencies, but as degrees of plausibility. This was an eye-opener for me, having imbibed the common attitude that such probabilities are 'subjective' and, implicitly, lacking rigor and utility.

Jaynes' knowledge of the history and philosophy of statistics is far deeper than that of most statisticians (including myself). His trenchant style gives the book a narrative drive and cover-to-cover readability that, in my experience, is unique in the field. One such strand is the continual battle between his respect for RA Fisher's abilities, and his exasperation at how wrongheadedly he feels they were channelled. And he doesn't hesitate to take on philosophical heavyweights such as Hume in defending the possibility - - in fact, the necessity - - of inductive inference. However, this style also produces some more bitter fruit, such as the way the author repeatedly likens himself to historical victims of religious persecution.

The book weakens when it turns to applications. Regression with errors in both variables is said to be 'the most common problem of inference faced by experimental scientists' who have 'searched the statistical literature in vain for help on this'. Good points. So why don't the author and editor give us at least a reference for just one of the 'correct solutions' which 'adapt effortlessly' to scientists' needs? And Jaynes' argument that the null hypothesis procedure 'saws off its own limb' would also rule out mathematical proof by reductio ad absurdum.

When estimating periodicities, we're told that 'the eyeball is a more reliable indicator of an effect than an orthodox equal-tails test'.
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