ISBA History and Meetings

by Arnold Zellner

The opening paragraph of the first issue of The ISBA Newsletter, Nov. 1992, edited by Thomas Leonard, reads:

“Following worldwide enthusiasm, positive votes at Bayesian Conferences in Rio de Janeiro, St. Paul, Valencia and Cambridge, and letters of support from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Poland, New Zealand, the United States, [and many other countries], the acting board announces the formation of ISBA. This world organization seeks to benefit international society by the advancement of Bayesian statistics, science and analysis in the natural, biological and social sciences, engineering, industry, medicine, law, government and education, and by the development and interface of inferential and decision making procedures in all areas…The current acting members of the temporary board are Arnold Zellner (U. of Chicago) and Jose Bernardo (Generalidad Valencia Presidencia), Co-presidents; Michel Mouchart (U. Catholique de Louvain), Secretary; Gordon Kaufman (MIT), Treasurer; Thomas Leonard (U. of Wisconsin), Newsletter Editor and Constitutional Advisor; James Press (UC Riverside), Intersocietal Representative; Dennis Lindley (Somerset, England), Hajime Wago (U. of Toyama), Duncan Fong (Penn State U.), Jacques Dreze (U. of Louvain), Yoel Haitovsky (U. of Jerusalem), John Hsu (UC Santa Barbara), Dale Poirier (U. of Toronto), Herman van Dijk (Erasmus U. Rotterdam), Enrique de Alba (ITAM, Mexico City), Luis Pericchi (Univ. Simon Bolivar, Caracas) and J.K. Ghosh (Indian Statistical Institute), International Advisors; Seymour Geisser (U. of Minnesota), Chairman of the Council of Sciences. A permanent board will be elected by postal ballot prior to the first annual meeting.”

On Nov. 10, 1992, ISBA was incorporated as a not for profit corporation in the state of Illinois by Gordon Kaufman, Tom Leonard and Arnold Zellner.  See the ISBA Archives  for more information on those who have served ISBA over the years.

The First World Meeting of ISBA was held in San Francisco, August 6-7, 1993 jointly with the NBER-NSF Seminar on Bayesian Inference in Econometrics and Statistics just before the annual Joint Statistical Meetings. The Oct. 1993 ISBA Newsletter, edited by Jeff Dorfman, U. of Georgia, and Tom Leonard, U. of Wisconsin commented as follows on the meeting:

“Our first world meeting was a great success, with nearly 200 participants packing into the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco. Congratulations to organizer Rob McCulloch, on a wonderful meeting. Thanks to Chase-Manhattan Bank [Jose Quintana], Electric Power Research Institute [Stephen Peck] and H.G.B. Alexander Research Foundation for their financial support.” (p.2)

In a December 1992 letter to the ISBA Board Members, Arnold Zellner wrote:

“I am writing to invite all Board members to serve on the Program Committee for the 1993 ISBA meeting in San Francisco… Robert McCulloch has agreed to serve as Program Chair and John Geweke as a member of the Program Committee… As regards invited paper sessions, a group of us, including Shanti Gupta, met with Seymour Geisser, Chair of the ISBA Council of Sciences at the recent wonderful Workshop of the Americas on Bayesian Statistics and Econometrics in Caracas, Venezuela to plan about eight invited paper sessions dealing with Bayesian analysis in various sciences and areas of application…Also, a cocktail party on Friday and a dinner on Saturday are being arranged…”

J. Stuart Hunter, then President of ASA wrote that he would address the dinner in the following words:

“You asked for a “title for my presentation”. I do not plan to do more than confess my Bayesianism and to say a few words of greetings as the president of the ASA.”

There was a Board meeting at which a Nominating Committee (J. Bernardo, D. Fong, S. Geisser, M. Mouchart, Chair and S.J.Press) was appointed to organize the first ISBA election of a President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary and 12 International Advisors. Also, other weighty matters were discussed. At the Open Business Meeting reports were made and all were encouraged to follow the 11th Commandment,

“Make the pie bigger for all!”

Many of the papers presented at the meeting were included in a 1993 proceedings volume produced jointly with the ASA Section on Bayesian Statistical Science. The invited paper sessions included talks on Bayesian analysis on Wall Street, in engineering, psychology, environmental science, physics, astronomy, geology, econometrics, and Bayesian education. Contributed paper and poster sessions dealt with a wide range of theoretical and applied topics. Wes Johnson, U. of California at Davis, Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee and the committee members, Richard Barlow, Garth Hollaway, William Jewell and Dale Poirier did a great job in all respects. The parties, dinners, etc. were outstanding. Last, but not least, Pam Eckert, my secretary, played a key role in making the ’93 and later ISBA meetings very successful.

The Second World Meeting of ISBA was held in Alicante, Spain, June 10-11, 1994, just after a Valencia Meeting with 151 official participants in attendance. The meeting was held in the Hotel Melia, located between the beach and the yacht harbor. Michel Mouchart, U. of Louvain, was Program Chair and M. J. (Susie) Bayarri, U. of Valencia was in charge of local arrangements. Also, S. James Press, U. of California at Riverside announced the first Mitchell Award of $1,000 for a “paper describing how a Bayesian analysis has solved a truly applied problem.” At the ISBA Board meeting, after financial, membership, and local arrangements reports by Gordon Kaufman, Susie Bayarri and Michel Mouchart, the Board heard a report of the results of the first ISBA election of a Board and International Advisors. Jay Kadane, ISBA’s Thomas Jefferson, was given the responsibility for preparing a draft of an ISBA constitution. It was unanimously agreed that the next world meeting of ISBA would be held in 1995 in Oaxaca, Mexico followed by a 1996 meeting in South Africa to help celebrate the peaceful transition from apartheid to freedom. Friends from South Africa sponsored a lively cocktail party for the participants, a brief introduction to the warm hospitality that we were to experience in our 1996 meeting in Cape Town.

As reported in the ISBA Newsletter, Dec. 1995,

“The Third World Meeting of ISBA held in Oaxaca, Mexico, was very successful with about 174 in attendance. There were three parallel sessions on Friday and Saturday, September 29-30 as well as an extensive Friday evening poster session and two banquets. Edward George and his Program Committee arranged the full and worthwhile program. They did an excellent job of selecting and grouping the talks. Enrique de Alba, President of the Organizing Committee and his colleagues made arrangements for the meeting that were excellent…The Governor of the State of Oaxaca, Mr. Diodoro Carrasco generously provided the opening dinner as well as logistic support and the group of “hostesses”, those beautiful girls dressed in typical local costumes who accompanied the participants during registration and providing coffee and drinks between the sessions. The Rector of ITAM (Mexico City), Dr. Arturo Fernandez, was also very supportive of the event, both financially as well as with personnel and physical resources…After the dinner a Folkloric local group presented typical dances from each of the seven regions of the State of Oaxaca. The event was extremely colorful and provided foreign guests a taste of Oaxaca.

At the closing banquet on Saturday night, awards were presented to Edward George and Enrique de Alba in recognition of their fine work in arranging the meeting. Also, Edward George joined John Deely to make the famous Deely Awards to some who participated in the meeting [A Deely rose was given to my wife Agnes for putting up with me for so many years!]. Thanks were also expressed to the Governor and Rector for funding the banquet and their other contributions, and to Dr. Jose Quintana and Dr. Stephen C. Peck for obtaining funds to help meet participants’ travel and other expenses.”

Many of the papers presented at the meeting were published in the third joint ISBA/SBSS Proceedings Volume. Enrique de Alba wrote in the ISBA Newsletter that,

“Of the participants 52 were students, 48 Mexican and 4 American…Thus overall, the meeting was a big success in terms of attracting students so that they can be introduced to the Bayesian approach to Statistics.”

The new Chair of the Council of Sciences (COS), Don Berry of Duke U. met with a group to plan future activities of the COS. In 1995, Jeffrey Dorfman announced the appointment of an Editorial Board for The ISBA Newsletter. The Associate Editors appointed were: Robert Kohn, U. of New South Wales, Jack Lee, National Chiao Tung U., Udi Makov, U. of Haifa, Ludovico Piccinato, U. of Rome, Mark Schervish, Carnegie Mellon U., Hiroki Tsurumi, Rutgers U., and Alyson Wilson, Duke U. Further, in 1995, Carlos Rodriguez, State U. of New York in Albany and Richard Silver, Los Alamos National Laboratory established a Web site for ISBA and a Bayesian Analysis E-Print Archive. These developments were a forerunner to the work of Mike Evans, U. of Toronto in creating the wonderful, current ISBA website, ( Go to it and enjoy learning about current and past developments.

The Fourth World Meeting of ISBA with over 100 in attendance was held in Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 17-20, 1996, preceded by an Education and Research Workshop in Bayesian Analysis, Dec. 14-16. As reported in the May 1997 ISBA Newsletter, produced by the new editor, Frank R. Kleibergen, Erasmus U., Rotterdam,

“Escaping winterly climates all around the world many Bayesians visited the ISBA 1996 World Meeting in Cape Town … The broad range of topics and the quality of the presented papers made the meeting a “Wonderful Moment of Bayesianism”. Dan De Waal was Program Chair for the meeting and many outstanding statisticians, including Abrie van der Merwe, Paul Fatti and Piet Groenewald from South Africa participated. Besides tours organized by the outstanding conference organizer Tim Dunne (U. of Cape Town), many of us took the opportunity for a longer stay in South Africa.”

Many from South Africa made presentations and/or chaired sessions at this ISBA meeting and impressed participants with their deep knowledge of modern Bayesian principles and techniques. The 28-page report of the meeting contains a listing of sessions, papers and abstracts of presented papers.

As mentioned above, an Education and Research Workshop in Bayesian Analysis (ERWBA) was held just before the ISBA meeting. In a report, Tim Dunne describes this workshop meeting, financed by grants from the U. of Cape Town and the U.S. National Science Foundation, as follows:

“The programme was devised by Arnold Zellner…He invited Professors S. James Press (Riverside), Stephen Fienberg (Carnegie-Mellon), John Geweke (Minnesota), Alicia Carriquiry (Iowa State), Theo Stewart (Cape Town), and Balisyar Bhat (Botswana), and PhD candidate Andrew Ainslie (Chicago) to lead various sessions of the workshop.

Two documents were produced for participants: a 280 page bound collection of the workshop papers and notes, and a 140 page provisional text in Contemporary Bayesian Econometrics by John Geweke. Software was also made available by Arnold Zellner. Software offered by John Geweke required higher levels of hardware than are currently available in Africa, but as hardware improves there would be access to his package. The workshop events involved introductory presentations and educational views, but some research issues were also discussed. There were 20 participants (other than the leading speakers) of whom 10 were from South Africa, 4 from Zimbabwe, 3 from Uganda, 2 from Botswana and 1 from Ethiopia. Participants from all the African countries recorded their delight at the initiative taken by ISBA. They were particularly grateful for the printed material and program diskettes…Specific thanks were extended by participants to all persons involved in the generation of the NSF part sponsorship of the workshop…This enthusiasm resulted in the formation of an African chapter of ISBA a few days later during the 4th World meeting of ISBA. All the participants stayed over to be at that event. Participants were of the view that many persons in areas of the globe similarly disadvantaged by national poverty and constrained higher education infrastructures might benefit from similar ERWBA events…Accordingly, the participants recorded their suggestions that ISBA and NSF offer similar workshops in regions such as South America and the fringes of the Pacific.” [Prof. T. Dunne, Statistical Sciences, U. of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa].

Needless to say, foreign attendees at the meeting joined South Africans at the Monday Cocktail Evening and the Wednesday trip to Groot Constantia in many toasts in honor of those who made possible the peaceful transition to freedom and democracy. Given the intense “strains” of such meetings, etc., it was decided in Cape Town that ISBA would hold World meetings every four years beginning in 2000. (See Newsletter, May 1997 for details of the Program Committee Report).

The Fifth World Meeting of ISBA was held in Istanbul, Turkey, August 16-18, 1997 as a satellite meeting of the 51st Session of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) in Istanbul and took place in the Istanbul Polat Renaissance Hotel. A very fine program was produced by Hamparsum Bozdogan (U. of Tennessee) and Refik Soyer (George Washington U.), Co-Program Chairs and their committee. Ulku Gurler (Bilkent U., Turkey) and his Organizing Committee made local arrangements that were exceptionally fine. The 45 page Scientific Program for the meeting contained much useful information including acknowledgements of financial and technical support from the Turkish Scientific & Technical Research Council, U. of Tennessee, George Washington U., U.S. NSF, and OTARI TOURS, Istanbul (where East meets West). According to the ISBA Newsletter of Sept. 1997,

“Ninety three participants from 16 countries attended…The program consisted of 14 invited sessions, including two panels, 3 contributed sessions and a poster session. The presentations provided an up-to-date overview of theoretical and applied research in Bayesian statistics.

Applications covered a wide range of disciplines, such as engineering, biological sciences, economics, law, medicine, and social sciences.”

As Mark Steel, ISBA Vice-Program Chair, noted, papers presented in Istanbul and in Cape Town are eligible for inclusion in the 1997 Proceedings volume of the ASA’s Section on Bayesian Statistical Science. Also, this very successful and productive meeting included a Gala Dinner and Cruise on the Bosphorous from 6:00-12 midnight on Sunday, Aug. 17 following a Saturday dinner at Le Chateau Restaurant. And, of course, there was the famous or infamous Deely Award ceremony with John Deely presiding, assisted and abetted by Steve Fienberg, 1997 President of ISBA. Also, David R. Cox (Oxford U.), President of ISI, shared his thoughts on Bayesian analysis with us at a session involving deep and insightful presentations by Jim Berger, Jayanta Ghosh, and Jose Bernardo. Overall, the meeting was a memorable event that we shall long remember.

The Sixth World Meeting of ISBA, ISBA2000 was held in Hersonissos-Heraklion, Crete, May 28-June 1, 2000. As Ed George, ISBA Program Chair wrote in the ISBA Bulletin, June 2000,

“…Our Sixth World Meeting…was a tremendous success. Ideally situated at glorious luxury hotels, an impressive scientific program of 126 talks and 108 posters was presented. The Bayesian spirit of hard work and hard play was ever present, and a productive and fun time was had by all.

The bulk of the planning and implementation of ISBA 2000 was carried out by three committees—the Program Committee (Mike West, Chair), the Finance Committee (Alicia Carriquiry and Stephen Fienberg, Co-Chairs and the Local Organizing Committee (George Kokolakis, Chair). These committees, especially the chairs, did a superb job, and their tireless efforts are most gratefully acknowledged. A refereed proceedings volume is in the works, and will be published and distributed by Eurostat, who co-sponsored the meeting. In addition to all this generous support, Eurostat will also distribute a complimentary copy to all current ISBA members.”

As regards fun, those attending were treated to one of the most unusual after dinner performances ever presented in the history of the human race. Strange human beings, said to be a wild clan of Bayesians, clad in most outlandish garb danced and sang to amuse an attentive audience under a clear night sky. It was awesome. Another night, it was Greek food for dinner followed by village dances with the audience going native and participating in the wonderful Greek frolics until all hours of the night. Oh yes, we did work hard, as Ed George mentioned above. Indeed many of the sessions were jointly sponsored with Eurostat, an interaction that will undoubtedly result in many Bayesian improvements in the production and use of official government statistics worldwide.

In addition to the above World Meetings, there have been three lively regional meetings in Toronto, Canada, 1994, Taipei, Taiwan, 1994 and Chicago, U.S., 1996. Mike Evans and his colleagues at the U. of Toronto played a key role in arranging the outstanding Toronto meeting. Jack Lee, Wes Johnson and Arnold Zellner, with help from many others, organized the Taiwan meeting and Robin Carter, U. of W. Ontario, then visiting the U. of Chicago, was a key person in organizing the Chicago 1996 meeting. ISBA has also co-sponsored four meetings, namely, the 1995 Second International Workshop on Bayesian Robustness, Rimini, Italy, the 1997 17th Maximum Entropy and Bayesian Methods Workshop, Boise, Idaho, U.S.A, the 1998 Sixth Valencia International Meeting on Bayesian Statistics, and the 1998 Workshop on Bayesian Inference and Stochastic Processes, Madrid, Spain. Further, the ISBA Chapters in India, South Africa, and Chile have sponsored very effective workshop meetings.

Brad Carlin has recently reminded me that at the ISBA and Valencia meetings “ of the most popular features (after the sun and free wine) is the “cabaret” performance which traditionally takes place on the last night following the conference dinner. Acts over the years have included jugglers, magicians, jokesters, and even the occasional male striptease (the now-infamous “Full Monte Carlo”). Still, the cornerstone of the cabaret has always been the singing of new and often humorous Bayes-related lyrics to popular songs, a practice dating to the landmark work of Box…”*, namely, “There’s No Theorem Like Bayes’ Theorem, ” sung by him and Herb Solomon with everyone joining in at the first Valencia meeting. Many other “smash hits” were written and presented at subsequent ISBA and Valencia meetings by outstanding Bayesian stars. For a list, see The Bayesian Songbook, edited by Brad Carlin at Bon reading. *Quote from Abstract, The Bayesian Songbook, edited by Bradley P. Carlin, June 14, 2001.

With all this past and current activity, we conclude that a Bayesian Era has arrived! For further evidence, see Jim Berger’s December 2000 JASA article, especially Section 2, Bayesian Activity.

Congratulations to all ISBA members for the important role that they have played in creating the Bayesian Era.

P.S. ISBA was (re)incorporated in the State of Iowa, by Alicia Carriquiry, on March 16, 2000 and is a non-profit 501 (3) (c)