Summer Series explores the life and times of Reverend Thomas Bayes

Statistics expert discusses the life of Reverend Thomas Bayes and how his theorem became renowned.

The latest Summer Series webinar at the Business School (formerly Cass) was delivered by Professor David Bellhouse from the Department of Statistical and Actuarial Sciences at the University of Western Ontario. Professor Bellhouse spoke about the life of Thomas Bayes and the origins of his theorem ahead of the launch of Bayes Business School in September.

Reverend Thomas Bayes was born in London to a Presbyterian family in 1701. He went to train for ministry at University of Edinburgh, studying both theology and mathematics. Following his studies, he returned to London.

When he was ordained as a minister, he moved to Tonbridge Wells. Within the virtuoso amateur mathematical community, he soon built a reputation for his work on calculus, and began correspondence with Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl Stanhope, on some mathematical subjects including probability and calculus. In probability, they discussed the Theory of Runs which assessed probability of succession of a number of successes or failures. It was Stanhope who nominated Bayes for his Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1742.

Although Bayes was developing his famous theorem as early as the 1740’s, it was not until 1763 – two years after his death – that it was published. After Bayes’ death, the philosopher and mathematician Richard Price resurrected his work by adding applications to the theory, such as using one’s own experience to know that the sun would almost certainly rise the next morning. Price, an early pioneer of actuarial science, is credited as being the first ‘Bayesian’.

Bayes and Price are both buried in Bunhill Fields around the corner from the Business School.

Professor Bellhouse, whose work around Bayes’ Theorem has been published, said the relatively recent rise of Bayes’ Theorem into people’s minds should not come as a surprise.

“Right up until 30 years or so ago, Bayes’ Theorem was the ‘whipping boy’ among multiple statisticians,” Professor Bellhouse said.

“Constantly updating beliefs based on new information was seen as technically unrealistic, but computers and statistical modelling have evolved making a realistic Bayesian approach feasible today.

“Although it is unusual for a Business School to name itself after a minister, it is a positive move because of the methodology at the heart of Bayes’ Theorem, that is used by many business school teachers and students each day.”

The webinar was presented by Professor Steve Haberman, Professor of Actuarial Sciences at the Business School.

Professor Haberman said it was important for members of the Business School community to learn about Bayes’ work and its origins.

“The decision to name the Business School after Thomas Bayes is rooted in the ideas of Bayes’ Theorem,” Professor Haberman said.

“The Business School’s ‘Always Learning’ strapline directly points to this work, using new knowledge gained every day to update our beliefs and ways of doing things.

“Professor Bellhouse delivered a highly topical webinar and we thank him for joining us”.

The Business School’s Food for Thought summer webinar series will run throughout July and August.

Find more events taking place at the Business School.

Read about why the Business School (formerly Cass) has changed its name.

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