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About Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne is the author of critically-acclaimed books about scientific discoveries and the scientists who make them. She is interested in exploring the cutting-edge connection between social issues and scientific progress--and in making the science clear, interesting and accurate for non-specialists.
Her latest book, The Theory That Would Not Die, tells how an 18th century approach to assessing evidence was vilified for much of the 20th century before--in an overnight sea change--it permeated our modern lives.
In a full-page review in the New York Times Book Review, John Allen Paulos wrote, "If you're not thinking like a Bayesian, perhaps you should be."
Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review.
"I recently finished reading The Theory That Would Not Die. ... Bayes's rule is a statistical theory that has a long and interesting history. It is important in decision making -- how tightly should you hold on to your view and how much should you update your view based on the new information that's coming in. We intuitively use Bayes's rule every day ... "-- Alan B. Krueger, chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. Jan. 1, 2012, New York Times.
Nature called it, "A rollicking tale of the triumph of a powerful mathematical tool. ... An impressively researched history of Bayes' theorem."
"An example of the best in historical scientific journalism: it captures the main threads of the science while going much further on the human side of the story... This is a remarkable achievement. It taught me things, and it made me think. ... This book succeeds gloriously, by never losing sight of the story, and it's a wonderful story, one that desperately deserved to be told." --Robert E. Kass, Carnegie Mellon University
“McGrayne ... articulates difficult ideas in a way that the general public can understand and appreciate. ... I highly recommend it to anyone interested in science, history, and the evolution of a theorem over time. The book read as if it were a love story — for an algorithm that grew up neglected, periodically taken out for a ride but mostly sitting home alone, until at long last, it finally found its rightful place of respect and appreciation in the world." —IEEE Computing Now.
The Boston Globe calls it "an intellectual romp, ... a masterfully researched tale of human struggle and accomplishment, and it renders perplexing mathematical debates digestible and vivid for even the most lay of audiences."
"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.
"As significant in our times as the Darwinian theory of natural selection..., yet Bayes' Rule is almost unknown to a wide segment of the educated general public." -- Times Literary Supplement.
"McGrayne is such a good writer that the makes this obscure battle gripping for the general reader. [She writes] with great clarity and wit." Engineering and Technology Magazine.
James Berger, Arts & Sciences Professor of Statistics, Duke University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences wrote, "A book simply highlighting the astonishing 200 year controversy over Bayesian analysis would have been highly welcome. This book does so much more, however, uncovering the almost secret role of Bayesian analysis in a stunning series of the most important developments of the twentieth century. What a revelation and what a delightful read!"
"A Statistical Thriller... McGrayne's tale has everything you would expect of a modern-day thriller. Espionage, nuclear warfare and cold war paranoia all feature... a host of colourful characters and their bitter rivalries carry the tale... McGrayne's writing is luminous. ... 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."
"A compelling and entertaining fusion of history, theory and biography... McGrayne is adept at explaining abstruse mathematics in layperson's language."
-- Sunday London Times
"Approachable and engrossing. ... One of the 100 best holiday reads."
-- Sunday London Times
"A book simply highlighting the astonishing 200 year controversy over Bayesian analysis would have been highly welcome. This book does so much more, however, uncovering the almost secret role of Bayesian analysis in a stunning series of the most important developments of the twentieth century. What a revelation and what a delightful read!"
--James Berger, Arts & Sciences Professor of Statistics, Duke University, and member, National Academy of Sciences
"We now know how to think rationally about our uncertain world. This book describes in vivid prose, accessible to the lay person, the development of Bayes' rule over more than two hundred years from an idea to its widespread acceptance in practice."
--Dennis Lindley, author of Understanding Uncertainty
"Many gripping and occasionally startling stories that grace Sharon Bertsch McGrayne's highly enjoyable new history of Bayesian inference. ... Actuaries play a particular notable role in McGrayne's hidden history of 20th century Bayes."
"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
"Very compelling, ... very interesting reading."
-Jose Bernardo, Valencia List
"Makes the theory come alive, ... gives a voice to the scores of famous and non-famous people and data who contributed, for good or for worse."
"Lively, engaging historical account... Compelling, fast-moving prose. ... Recommended."
"McGrayne's book is not a textbook and does not attempt to teach Bayesian inferential techniques. Rather, McGrayne offers a very thorough, informative, and often entertaining (in our humble opinion) discussion of the Bayesian perspective... Strongly recommended [for students] as it provides the theoretical underpinnings of the Bayesian perspective and shows how Bayesianism has been applied to real world inferential / statistical problems."
-- Jon Starkweather, RSS Matters.
"An intellectual romp ... a masterfully researched tale of human struggle and accomplishment, and it renders perplexing mathematical debates digestible and vivid for even the most lay of audiences. Acknowledging ignorance is the first step toward knowledge, yes, and when we wed our ignorance with our better instincts we often find the best possible second step."
-- The Boston Globe.
Wiskunde die je laat leren van je onwetendheid.
-- NRC Handelsblad.
"McGrayne explains [it] beautifully. ... Top holiday reading."
-- The Australian.
OTHER BOOKS BY McGRAYNE
McGrayne's first book dealt with changing patterns of discrimination faced by leading women scientists during the 20th century. Another book portrayed a group of chemists and the interplay between science, the chemical industry, the public's love of creature comforts, and the environment.
McGrayne's work has been featured on the Charley Rose Show and reviewed in Nature, Physics Today, Significance, the Washington Post, Ms., JAMA, Chemistry and Engineering News (C&EN), New Scientist, American Scientist, PopularMechanics.com, and the like. She has appeared on NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday and been invited to speak at more than twenty universities here and in Europe, at national laboratories such as Argonne National Laboratory and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), and at the Centennial meeting of the American Physical Society.
She has written for Science, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, Isis, American Physical Society News, The Times Higher Education Supplement, and Notable American Women. Excerpts of her books have appeared in The Chemical Educator, The Physics Teacher, and Chemical Heritage Foundation Magazine. Nobel Prize Women in Science is used extensively in college courses in the United States and Europe. The National Academy of Sciences presented the Empress of Japan with a copy of the book and now publishes it.
McGrayne is a former prize-winning journalist for Scripps-Howard, Crain's, Gannett, and other newspapers and a former editor and co-author of extensive articles about physics for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. A graduate of Swarthmore College, she lives in Seattle, Washington.
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"This account of how a once reviled theory, Baye’s rule, came to underpin modern life is both approachable and engrossing" (Sunday Times).
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
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 generations-long human drama surrounding it.
McGrayne traces the rule’s discovery by an 18th century amateur mathematician through its development by French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace. She reveals why respected statisticians rendered it professionally taboo for 150 years—while practitioners relied on it to solve crises involving great uncertainty and scanty information, such as Alan Turing's work breaking Germany's Enigma code during World War II.
McGrayne also explains how the advent of 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.
The book begins with Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Readers are then introduced to Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Barbara McClintock, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Rosalind Franklin. These and other remarkable women portrayed here struggled against gender discrimination, raised families, and became political and religious leaders. They were mountain climbers, musicians, seamstresses, and gourmet cooks. Above all, they were strong, joyful women in love with discovery.
Nobel Prize Women in Science is a startling and revealing look into the history of science and the critical and inspiring role that women have played in the drama of scientific progress.
Table of Contents
1 A Passion for Discovery
2 Marie Sklodowska Curie
3 Lise Meitner
4 Emmy Noether
5 Gerty Radnitz Cori
6 Irene Joliot-Curie
7 Barbara McClintock
8 Maria Goeppert Mayer
9 Rita Levi-Montalcini
10 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
11 Chien-Shiung Wu
12 Gertrude Belle Elion
13 Rosalind Elsie Franklin
14 Rosalyn Sussman Yalow
15 Jocelyn Bell Burnell
16 Christiane Nusslein-Volhard
About the Author
If you think sexism thrives only on Wall Street or Hollywood, you haven’t visited a lab, a science department, a research foundation, or a biotech firm.
Rita Colwell is one of the top scientists in America: the groundbreaking microbiologist who discovered how cholera survives between epidemics and the former head of the National Science Foundation. But when she first applied for a graduate fellowship in bacteriology, she was told, “We don’t waste fellowships on women.” A lack of support from some male superiors would lead her to change her area of study six times before completing her PhD.
A Lab of One’s Own is an “engaging” (Booklist) book that documents all Colwell has seen and heard over her six decades in science, from sexual harassment in the lab to obscure systems blocking women from leading professional organizations or publishing their work. Along the way, she encounters other women pushing back against the status quo, including a group at MIT who revolt when they discover their labs are a fraction of the size of their male colleagues.
Resistance gave female scientists special gifts: forced to change specialties so many times, they came to see things in a more interdisciplinary way, which turned out to be key to making new discoveries in the 20th and 21st centuries. Colwell would also witness the advances that could be made when men and women worked together—often under her direction, such as when she headed a team that helped to uncover the source of anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks.
A Lab of One’s Own is “an inspiring read for women embarking on a career or experiencing career challenges” (Library Journal, starred review) that shares the sheer joy a scientist feels when moving toward a breakthrough, and the thrill of uncovering a whole new generation of female pioneers. It is the science book for the #MeToo era, offering an astute diagnosis of how to fix the problem of sexism in science—and a celebration of women pushing back.
"A compelling read... many fascinating stories... an ambitious book, and well-researched." -- Nature
"This book is a gem! Rarely have I seen chemistry so clearly and eloquently explained, while still showing all its shortcomings ... A good and easy read." --- AAAS Science Books and Films.
"Absorbing." -- Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.
"On your next trip to the bookstore bypass the action adventure thrillers and seek out Prometheans in the Lab... I wish that McGrayne's book were twice its length." -- Popular Mechanics.com
"Masterly ... exciting and absorbing. McGrayne critically examines the tangled and complicated interrelationships between the public's insistence on progress and comfort and the need to preserve the environment. McGrayne's thesis [is] that science in general and chemistry in particular can solve any problems that it has unintentionally created...Meticulously documented." -- The Chemical Educator
"Gripping... sparkling... balanced ... A joy to read. A wonderful book." -- Chemical Heritage.
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