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By Chern S., Osserman R. (eds.)

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There are both mathematical and cultural accounts of the convention. The overlap and ramification of those accounts makes a convention appear all but inevitable, just the way the world is. And, in time, in the matter of course, a new convention might arise, and it, too, will be inevitable. How is that air of inevitability maintained? It might be useful to think of ourselves as anthropologists trying to understand the practices of a culture—here, a culture of randomness as practiced in probability, statistics, and decision theory.

Larry Yangster has become a physicist doing statistical mechanics. When Bernie asks Larry to tell him about his current work, Larry mentions that he is working on a statistical counting problem that has three main methods of calculating its partition function, the physicists' way of packaging counting information about a system. The natural logarithm of the partition function is proportional to the thermodynamic free energy that the chemists so value. Bernie remarks that it is amazing that the packaging function could be so related to something a chemist would be interested in.

Now if one were to take, say, Fredrick Mosteller and John Tukey’s 1977 text on statistics as the current gospel, then the alternatives hinted at here and by Huber are in fact fully in place. ”13 Means and variances and Gaussians are seen to be an idiosyncratic and parochial case. 15 Moreover, probability distributions much broader than the Gaussian do play an important role in the natural and the economic sciences. And computation allows for empirical estimates of variation (bootstrap, resampling).

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