This blog is called “prior probability,” which refers to a special idea in the world of Bayesian probability theory, the idea of a “prior”: one’s personal or subjective belief/probability estimate of an event, before any data is collected or observed. I have long been fascinated with this concept and with Bayesian probability generally. Specifically, where do we get our priors from, and why are most people so reluctant to update their priors? Also, why is Bayesian reasoning so special, and why are Bayesian methods worth studying? These last two questions are especially poignant and relevant in my case. After all, what do Bayes or priors have to do with law, let alone ethics, my two areas of study? As it happens, I have written a number of scholarly essays, book reviews, blog posts, and law journal articles, just to name a few, on this subject:
- A Bayesian Model of the Litigation Game, European Journal of Legal Studies (2011).
- The Turing Test and the Legal Process, Information & Communications Technology Law (2012).
- Visualizing Probabilistic Proof, Washington University Jurisprudence Review (2014).
- Why Don’t Juries Try ‘Range Voting’?, Criminal Law Bulletin (2015).
- Bayesian Manipulation of Litigation Outcomes, unpublished manuscript (2016).
- The Case for Bayesian Judges, Journal of Legal Metrics (2019).
- Bayesian Verdicts, Journal of Brief Ideas (2020).
- Weyl Versus Ramsey: A Bayesian Voting Primer, unpublished manuscript (2020).
- Frank Ramsey’s Contributions to Probability and Legal Theory, work in progress.
But truth be told, only a handful of individuals have ever read any of my scholarly papers. Also, hardly anyone, especially in such non-mathematical fields like law and ethics, wants to take the time to figure out the meaning of technical formulas or solve equations, so beginning on Monday, March 1st–and for the entire month of March–I will be returning to my Bayesian roots, so to speak, and will be blogging about first Bayesian principles and explaining their relevance to law and ethics. (I will, however, in honor of my hero, the good Reverend Thomas Bayes, be taking Sundays off.)