A Tale of Two Friends: Richard Price and Thomas Bayes – text of the lecture

This year marks the worldwide celebration of the day 250 years ago when the first paper about Bayes’ rule was read to the Royal Society in London.  Bayes’ rule is now a chic and popular theory about making data-based decisions, and it permeates our modern lives.  Although it’s named for the Englishman, the Reverend Thomas Bayes, it should be called the Bayes-Price rule because, without the Welsh clergyman and civil libertarian Richard Price, we would never have known about Bayes’ paper.

On 6 September 2013, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne presented a lecture for the Learned Society of Wales and the Richard Price Society.

The lecture considered Bayes and Price’s friendship, exploring why their theory was almost taboo during most of the 20th century. The lecture also looked at how Alan Turing secretly relied on the Bayes’ rule to decipher the Enigma code used by Germany during the Second World War, how it was a classified secret during the Cold War, and how the rule continues to affect our lives today.

The full text of the lecture is available here (pdf).


Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, of Seattle USA, is the author of highly-praised books about scientific discoveries and the scientists who make them.  Her latest book (The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy) tells how an 18th century approach to assessing evidence was ignored for much of the 20th century before – in an overnight sea change – it permeated our modern lives.

See http://www.mcgrayne.com/ for more details.