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Philosophy of Statistics

Professor Deborah G. Mayo

error@vt.edu, mayod@vt.edu                                                           Office Hrs: T405: TBA

PH500 Ph.D Research Seminar in the Philosophy of Science:

 Autumn 2008: Topics in the Philosophy and History of Inductive/Statistical Inference and the         Foundations of Statistical Science

 The Seminar is currently scheduled for 10:00-12:00, in the Lakatos Building: Room T206--the seminar room on the 2nd floor (Department of Philosophy)--on the following Wednesdays: 15, 29 October; 12, 19 November; 10 December.

This seminar will focus on central problems in contemporary philosophy of statistics, and their interrelationships with general problems of inference and evidence in philosophy of science.  We will study some relevant work by statisticians, e.g., R.A. Fisher, J. Neyman, E.S. Pearson, L. J. Savage, G. Barnard, D.R. Cox, E. Lehmann, J. Berger, notable exchanges between them, and related arguments by philosophers of statistics and confirmation theory. We will trace out a handful of problems and principles that underlie contrasting philosophies about evidence and inference, as well as contemporary statistical foundations (frequentist, Bayesian,other).  Questions we consider include: What are the roles of probability in uncertain inference in science? Which methods can be shown to ensure reliability? And How is control of long-run error probabilities relevant for warranting inductive inference in science?  We will explore how contrasting answers to these questions directly connects to long-standing problems about inductive inference and methodological issues about data collection and hypotheses construction, e.g., data-dependent (versus predesignated) hypotheses, double-counting, data-mining, "stopping-rules", and "selection" effects.


  • No knowledge of statistics is expected*, only an interest in learning something about its foundations from a philosophical perspective.

  • The full syllabus lists some broad areas of possible discussion for general, (optional) additional, meetings -- to be held at agreed upon times -- given interest (among seminar participants and/or non-participants).  Input, as well as presentations by others, would be welcome. 

  •  I expect to supply (hard copies or on line) all readings for the seminar, and ongoing notes and slides as the course proceeds, depending on the interests of participants.

  • The material of this seminar will relate to a manuscript I am writing, Learning From Error.


For more information and updates, please write to mayod@vt.edu or error@vt.edu.

*However, if there is interest, I would expect to hold 1-2 optional sessions on some of the more formal aspects.



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Last updated: 10/21/08.