Posts Tagged With: D.R. Cox

Sir David Cox: a comment on the post, “Was Hosiasson pulling Jeffreys’ leg?”


Sir David Cox

David Cox sent me a letter relating to my post of Oct.5, 2013. He has his own theory as to who might have been doing the teasing! I’m posting it  here, with his permission: 

Dear Deborah

I was interested to see the correspondence about Jeffreys and the possible teasing by Neyman’s associate. It brought a number of things to mind.

  1. While I am not at all convinced that any teasing was involved, if there was it seems to me much more likely that Jeffreys was doing the teasing. He, correctly surely, disapproved of that definition and was putting up a highly contrived illustration of its misuse.
  2. In his work he was not writing about a subjective view of probability but about objective degree of belief. He did not disapprove of more physical definitions, such as needed to describe radioactive decay; he preferred to call them chances.
  3.  In assessing his work it is important that the part on probability was perhaps 10% of what he did. He was most famous for The earth (1924) which is said to have started the field of geophysics. (The first edition of his 1939 book on probability was in a series of monographs in physics.) The later book with his wife, Bertha,  Methods of mathematical physics is a masterpiece.
  4. I heard him speak from time to time and met him personally on a couple of occasions. He was superficially very mild and said very little. He was involved in various controversies but, and I am not sure about this, I don’t think they ever degenerated into personal bitterness. He lived to be 98 and, a mark of his determination is that in his early 90’s he cycled in Cambridge having a series of minor accidents. He was stopped only when Bertha removed the tires from his bike. Bertha was a highly respected teacher of mathematics.
  5.  He and R.A.Fisher were not only towering figures in statistics in the first part of the 20th century but surely among the major applied mathematicians of that era in the world.
  6. Neyman was not at all Germanic, in the sense that one of your correspondents described. He could certainly be autocratic but not in personal manner. While all the others at Berkeley were Professor this or Dr that, he insisted on being called Mr Neyman.
  7. The remarks [i] about how people addressed one another 50 plus years ago in the UK are  broadly accurate, although they were not specific to Cambridge and certainly could be varied. From about age 11 boys in school, students and men in the workplace addressed one another by surname only. Given names were for family and very close friends. Women did use given names or  were Miss or Mrs, certainly never Madam unless they were French aristocrats. Thus in 1950 or so I worked with, published with and was very friendly with two physical scientists, R.C. Palmer and S.L. Anderson. I have no idea what their given names were; it was irrelevant. To address someone you did not know by name you used Sir or Madam. It would be very foolish to think that meant unfriendliness or that the current practice of calling absolutely everyone by their given name means universal benevolence.

Best wishes


Nuffield College

[i]In comments to this post.

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