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Notebook of Thomas Bayes, ca. 1747-1760

Of special interest within the Archive is a small notebook in the hand of Thomas Bayes (1701-1761)

An essay towards solving a problem in the Doctrine of Chances was published in 1763 by Richard Price

In 1763 Richard Price published ‘An essay towards solving a problem in the Doctrine of Chances [by] the late Rev. Bayes, F.R.S., communicated by Mr Price…’ in Philosophical Transactions [of the Royal Society] 53, pages 370-418. The essay, which Price claimed to have derived from papers he had found written by his late friend gave, rise to the significant branch of ‘Bayesian statistics’ though there has been debate about whether Bayes was the originator of the work. The notebook has been the subject of examination and published research and it contains a section on ‘probabilitas’ (sections 81-82) among other observations on astronomy and other mathematical topics.

As A.I. Dale concludes, ‘while this [the notebook] does not prove that “Bayes’s Theorem” is the discovery of our reverend friend [Thomas Bayes], it certainly indicates that the result was known to him some time before his death in 1761’.

As original work on probability theory, it is fitting that the notebook joins other leading texts on probability and other component works of 'actuarial analysis’ (demographic mortality data and calculations of compound interest) in the actuarial profession’s special library collections on actuarial science from the sixteenth century.

Interested readers can refer to papers below:

  • Holland, J.D. (1962). The Reverend Thomas Bayes FRS (1702-1761). Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A 125: 451-461.
  • Dale, A.I. (1986). A newly discovered result of Thomas Bayes, Archive for History of Exact Sciences 35: 101-113.
  • Bellhouse, D.R. (2002). On some recently discovered manuscripts of Thomas Bayes. Historia Mathematica 29: 383-394.
  • Bellhouse, D.R. (2004). The Reverend Thomas Bayes, FRS: a biography to celebrate the tercentenary of his birth. Statistical Society 19(1): 3-43.

Generic Illustration of original work

 

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