This review examines the state of Bayesian thinking as Statistics in Medicine was launched in 1982, reflecting particularly on its applicability and uses in medical research. It then looks at each subsequent five-year epoch, with a focus on papers appearing in Statistics in Medicine, putting these in the context of major developments in Bayesian thinking and computation with reference to important books, landmark meetings and seminal papers. It charts the growth of Bayesian statistics as it is applied to medicine and makes predictions for the future. From sparse beginnings, where Bayesian statistics was barely mentioned, Bayesian statistics has now permeated all the major areas of medical statistics, including clinical trials, epidemiology, meta-analyses and evidence synthesis, spatial modelling, longitudinal modelling, survival modelling, molecular genetics and decision-making in respect of new technologies. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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