Allan Birnbaum: Foundations of Probability and Statistics (27 May 1923 – 1 July 1976)

27 May 1923-1 July 1976

27 May 1923-1 July 1976

Today is Allan Birnbaum’s birthday. In honor of his birthday, I’m posting the articles in the Synthese volume that was dedicated to his memory in 1977. The editors describe it as their way of  “paying homage to Professor Birnbaum’s penetrating and stimulating work on the foundations of statistics”. I paste a few snippets from the articles by Giere and Birnbaum. If you’re interested in statistical foundations, and are unfamiliar with Birnbaum, here’s a chance to catch up. (Even if you are, you may be unaware of some of these key papers.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLAN!

Synthese Volume 36, No. 1 Sept 1977: Foundations of Probability and Statistics, Part I

Editorial Introduction:

This special issue of Synthese on the foundations of probability and statistics is dedicated to the memory of Professor Allan Birnbaum. Professor Birnbaum’s essay ‘The Neyman-Pearson Theory as Decision Theory; and as Inference Theory; with a Criticism of the Lindley-Savage Argument for Bayesian Theory’ was received by the editors of Synthese in October, 1975, and a decision was made to publish a special symposium consisting of this paper together with several invited comments and related papers. The sad news about Professor Birnbaum’s death reached us in the summer of 1976, but the editorial project could nevertheless be completed according to the original plan. By publishing this special issue we wish to pay homage to Professor Birnbaum’s penetrating and stimulating work on the foundations of statistics. We are grateful to Professor Ronald Giere who wrote an introductory essay on Professor Birnbaum’s concept of statistical evidence and who compiled a list of Professor Birnbaum’s publications.

THE EDITORS

Table of Contents

SUFFICIENCY, CONDITIONALLY AND LIKELIHOOD In December of 1961 Birnbaum presented the paper ‘On the Foundations, of Statistical Inference’ (Birnbaum [19]) at a special discussion meeting of the American Statistical Association. Among the discussants was L. J. Savage who pronounced it “a landmark in statistics”. Explicitly denying any “intent to speak with exaggeration or rhetorically”, Savage described the occasion as “momentous in the history of statistics”. “It would be hard”, he said, “to point to even a handful of comparable events” (Birnbaum [19], pp. 307-8). The reasons for Savage’s enthusiasm are obvious. Birnbaum claimed to have shown that two principles widely held by non-Bayesian statisticians (sufficiency and conditionality) jointly imply an important consequence of Bayesian statistics (likelihood).”[1]
INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY ….Two contrasting interpretations of the decision concept are formulated: behavioral, applicable to ‘decisions’ in a concrete literal sense as in acceptance sampling; and evidential, applicable to ‘decisions’ such as ‘reject H in a research context, where the pattern and strength of statistical evidence concerning statistical hypotheses is of central interest. Typical standard practice is characterized as based on the confidence concept of statistical evidence, which is defined in terms of evidential interpretations of the ‘decisions’ of decision theory. These concepts are illustrated by simple formal examples with interpretations in genetic research, and are traced in the writings of Neyman, Pearson, and other writers. The Lindley-Savage argument for Bayesian theory is shown to have no direct cogency as a criticism of typical standard practice, since it is based on a behavioral, not an evidential, interpretation of decisions.

[1]By “likelihood” here, Giere means the (strong) Likelihood Principle (SLP). Dotted through the first 3 years of this blog are a number of (formal and informal) posts on his SLP result, and my argument as to why it is unsound. I wrote a paper on this that appeared in Statistical Science 2014. You can find it along with a number of comments and my rejoinder in this post: Statistical Science: The Likelihood Principle Issue is Out.The consequences of having found his proof unsound gives a new lease on life to statistical foundations, or so I argue in my rejoinder.

Categories: Birnbaum, Likelihood Principle, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | Tags: | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Allan Birnbaum: Foundations of Probability and Statistics (27 May 1923 – 1 July 1976)

  1. I hadn’t really noticed this before, because I don’t generally look at these papers all together as part of a special issue of a journal, but it’s striking that Neyman missed this opportunity to respond to the issues raised by Birnbaum. I’ve often thought, what a shame that Neyman never (to my knowledge) took up Birnbaum on his attempted “evidential” interpretation of Neyman-Pearson statistics, and on his discussion of the Likelihood Principle. Birnbaum is even defending N-P theory against Lindley-Savage here, but no reaction from Neyman. Most(?) of the other contributors do react to Birnbaum. The papers are described as “several invited comments and related papers” so I’m guessing Neyman’s falls in the latter group. Of course Birnbaum’s death was unexpected, maybe Neyman’s paper was already written. Neyman starts his paper with the “do not use confidence intervals, they are discredited” routine (“I use them because they apply to the needs of applied work”–not the actual quote, but from memory.) E. Pearson was happy about Neyman’s paper, because it was foundational rather than solely applied. But it’s actually more behavioristic than others.

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