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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2003

T C 310 • Modes of Reasoning: Proability and Inference, Risk and Decision: An Introduction to Bayesian Inference

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
40590 MWF
1:00 PM-2:00 PM
WMB 4.118

Course Description

Life is full of situations where decisions must be made even though the information one has available to make those decisions is incomplete or uncertain, and the consequences of making the wrong decision may be significant. Questions such as: Should I invest in the stock market, and if so, what should I buy, and how much should I invest? If I make the investment, how much can I expect to gain or lose? If I am seriously sick, which of several treatments should I select if they have different side effects and probability of cure? When sitting on a jury, should I vote that the defendant is guilty or not guilty? As a scientist, should I publish a paper that reports an important new result, even though I cannot be absolutely certain that it is correct? Probability and decision theory can be important tools in helping us analyze questions of this sort and make informed decisions. It provides a systematic tool for deciding how our opinions on various issues ought to change as we learn new data. Although the basic principles are very simple, they can be applied in many diverse circumstances, so the tools can be applied to a wide variety of situations. In this course we will investigate how probability theory can help us make important decisions in problems that arise in science, business, the law, medicine, and even daily life.

About the professor: Dr. William H. Jefferys is the Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor of Astronomy. He has taught at UT since 1966. He was the Astrometry Team Leader for the Hubble Space Telescope project from 1978-99, and was awarded NASA's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for his work on this project. He has published over 100 papers on astronomy and statistics in the professional literature and is a co-author of an introductory astronomy text, Discovering Astronomy. He recently served a term as chair of the UT Department of Astronomy, is an associate editor of the journal Celestial Mechanics, and is past chair of the American Astronomical Society's Division on Dynamical Astronomy. His hobbies include cooking, travel, and reading.

Grading Policy

This course contains a substantial writing component. Two one-hour exams, 15% each, no make-ups possible Two-hour final exam, 15% (Optional, can count as make-up exam) Problem sets and papers, 25% Journal, 20% Group Project, 15% Classroom participation, 10%


Why Flip a Coin?, H.W. Lewis Calculated Risks, by Gerd Gigerenzer Smart Choices, J.S. Hammond, R.L. Keeney and H. Raiffa Measuring Uncertainty: An Elementary Introduction to Bayesian Statistics, Samuel A. Schmitt (out of print but will be reproduced with permission of the copyright holder) There will also be a collection of readings relevant to the course taken from newspapers, magazines and journals.


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