Statistical Science

J. B. S. Haldane’s Contribution to the Bayes Factor Hypothesis Test

Alexander Etz and Eric-Jan Wagenmakers

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This article brings attention to some historical developments that gave rise to the Bayes factor for testing a point null hypothesis against a composite alternative. In line with current thinking, we find that the conceptual innovation—to assign prior mass to a general law—is due to a series of three articles by Dorothy Wrinch and Sir Harold Jeffreys (1919, 1921, 1923a). However, our historical investigation also suggests that in 1932, J. B. S. Haldane made an important contribution to the development of the Bayes factor by proposing the use of a mixture prior comprising a point mass and a continuous probability density. Jeffreys was aware of Haldane’s work and it may have inspired him to pursue a more concrete statistical implementation for his conceptual ideas. It thus appears that Haldane may have played a much bigger role in the statistical development of the Bayes factor than has hitherto been assumed.

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Statist. Sci., Volume 32, Number 2 (2017), 313-329.

First available in Project Euclid: 11 May 2017

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History of statistics induction evidence Sir Harold Jeffreys


Etz, Alexander; Wagenmakers, Eric-Jan. J. B. S. Haldane’s Contribution to the Bayes Factor Hypothesis Test. Statist. Sci. 32 (2017), no. 2, 313--329. doi:10.1214/16-STS599.

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