Electronic Journal of Statistics

What does the proof of Birnbaum’s theorem prove?

Michael Evans

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Birnbaum’s theorem, that the sufficiency and conditionality principles entail the likelihood principle, has engendered a great deal of controversy and discussion since the publication of the result in 1962. In particular, many have raised doubts as to the validity of this result. Typically these doubts are concerned with the validity of the principles of sufficiency and conditionality as expressed by Birnbaum. Technically it would seem, however, that the proof itself is sound. In this paper we use set theory to formalize the context in which the result is proved and show that in fact Birnbaum’s theorem is incorrectly stated as a key hypothesis is left out of the statement. When this hypothesis is added, we see that sufficiency is irrelevant, and that the result is dependent on a well-known flaw in conditionality that renders the result almost vacuous.

Article information

Electron. J. Statist., Volume 7 (2013), 2645-2655.

First available in Project Euclid: 25 October 2013

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Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62A01: Foundations and philosophical topics
Secondary: 62F99: None of the above, but in this section

Sufficiency conditionality likelihood relations equivalence relations


Evans, Michael. What does the proof of Birnbaum’s theorem prove?. Electron. J. Statist. 7 (2013), 2645--2655. doi:10.1214/13-EJS857. https://projecteuclid.org/euclid.ejs/1382706342

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