assessing james coleman

From Sharon McGrayne’s The Theory That Would Not Die, about Bayesian statistics (versus frequentism):

The chasm between the two schools of statistics crystallized for [Howard] Raiffa when Columbia professors discussed a sociology student named James Coleman. During his oral examination Coleman seemed “confused and fuzzy . . . clearly not of Ph.D. quality.” But his professors were adamant that he was otherwise dazzling. Using his new Bayesian perspective, Raiffa argued that the department’s prior opinion of the candidate’s qualities was so positive that a one-hour exam should not substantially alter their views. Pass him, Raiffa urged. Coleman became such an influential sociologist that he appeared on both the cover of Newsweek and page one of the New York Times.

Bonus for those interested in standardized tests: How did Raiffa end up as in a position to evaluate James Coleman?  The same book tells his academic origin story:

Anti-Semitism finally determined Raiffa’s career choice. One day he overheard his army sergeants saying they wanted to line up America’s Jews on a beach and use them for target practice. Later, real estate agents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, refused to find housing for Raiffa and his wife because they were Jewish. When a friend told him that engineering and science also discriminated against Jews, Raiffa was prepared to believe it. Then he learned that insurance actuaries were graded on objective, competitive examinations. Seeking a field where competence counted more than religion, Raiffa enrolled in the University of Michigan’s actuarial program… [H]e became a superb and “deliriously happy” student who raced through a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in statistics, and a doctorate in mathematics in six years between 1946 and 1952.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

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