Weighing the Fog of War: Illustrating the power of Bayesian methods for historical analysis through the battle of the Dogger Bank

Niall MacKay, Christopher Price, Andrew James Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The application of scientific methods to historical situations is restricted by the existence of a single outcome with no possibility of repetition. However, new computational methods make quantitative historical analysis nevertheless possible. We apply methods of approximate Bayesian computation to simulate a naval engagement of the First World War, the Battle of the Dogger Bank. We demonstrate that the battle’s outcome was highly unlikely, with significant implications both for subsequent actions and for historical understanding. Dogger Bank exemplifies our view that Bayesian methods offer historians the tool they need to grapple with the evolving probabilities of historical events, giving a sound scientific basis for counterfactual history, and opening up a wealth of possibilities for analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-91
Number of pages12
JournalHistorical Methods: A journal of quantitative and interdisciplinary history
Issue number2
Early online date31 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016

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  • Battle of the Dogger Bank
  • approximate Bayesian computation (ABC)
  • combat modeling
  • military simulation
  • naval warfare

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