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A comparative assessment of Dempster-Shafer and Bayesian belief in civil engineering applications Luo, Wuben


The Bayesian theory has long been the predominate method in dealing with uncertainties in civil engineering practice including water resources engineering. However, it imposes unnecessary restrictive requirements on inferential problems. Concerns thus arise about the effectiveness of using Bayesian theory in dealing with more general inferential problems. The recently developed Dempster-Shafer theory appears to be able to surmount the limitations of Bayesian theory. The new theory was originally proposed as a pure mathematical theory. A reasonable amount of work has been done in trying to adopt this new theory in practice, most of this work being related to inexact inference in expert systems and all of the work still remaining in the fundamental stage. The purpose of this research is first to compare the two theories and second to try to apply Dempster-Shafer theory in solving real problems in water resources engineering. In comparing Bayesian and Dempster-Shafer theory, the equivalent situation between these two theories under a special situation is discussed first. The divergence of results from Dempster-Shafer and Bayesian approaches under more general situations where Bayesian theory is unsatisfactory is then examined. Following this, the conceptual difference between the two theories is argued. Also discussed in the first part of this research is the issue of dealing with evidence including classifying sources of evidence and expressing them through belief functions. In attempting to adopt Dempster-Shafer theory in engineering practice, the Dempster-Shafer decision theory, i.e. the application of Dempster-Shafer theory within the framework of conventional decision theory, is introduced. The application of this new decision theory is demonstrated through a water resources engineering design example.

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