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Bayes in China update

Some clarification on the Bayes-in-China issue raised last week:

1. We heard that the Chinese publisher cited the following pages that might contain politically objectionable materials: 3, 5, 21, 73, 112, 201.

2. It appears that, as some commenters suggested, the objection was to some of the applications, not to the Bayesian methods.

3. Our book is not censored in China. In fact, as some commenters mentioned, it is possible to buy it there, and it is also available in university libraries there. The edition of the book which was canceled was intended to be a low-cost reprint of the book. The original book is still available. I used the phrase “Banned in China” as a joke and I apologize if it was misinterpreted.

4. I have no quarrel with the Chinese government or with any Chinese publishers. They can publish whatever books they would like. I found this episode amusing only because I do not think my book on regression and multilevel models has any strong political content. I suspect the publisher was being unnecessarily sensitive to potentially objectionable material, but this is their call. I thought this was an interesting story (which is why I posted the original email on the blog) but I did not, and do not, intend it as any sort of comment on the Chinese government, Chinese society, etc. China is a big country and this is one person at one publisher making one decision. That’s all it is; it’s not a statement about China in general.

I did not write the above out of any fear of legal action etc. I just think it’s important to be fair and clear, and it is possible that some of what I wrote could have been misinterpreted in translation. If anyone has further questions on this, feel free to ask in the comments and I will clarify as best as I can.

14 Comments

  1. Ian Fellows says:

    While any publisher has the right to "publish whatever books they would like", no government has the right to restrict "politically objectionable material." Any that do deserve insurrection.

    In your original post you said that the decision was made by "publishing authorities in China," not by the publishing company. Why would they refuse this version while allowing the high priced one?

  2. Manuel Moe G says:

    This comment is for my own benefit, to open myself up to criticism.

    In Western countries, we expect every governmental civil rights overreach to be accompanied by (A) whining by the degenerate gloomy-gus's or (B) brave protest by the defenders of liberty [depending on your view of the particular issue].

    So the general acquiescence by Chinese citizens evident in these minor infringements of civil rights can be baffling, and the smug call this part of Chinese "inscrutability".

    I find China easier to grok if I imagine it as an immense successful public company. In the west, in a successful public company, employees have a knee-jerk defense of any upper management decision – for solid reasons that outsiders don't see fit to question.

    (Leave the issue of Exit out of it. Employees that butt heads with management eventually find employment elsewhere. My ignorance forbids me to carry the analogy through Exit.)

    So, if a book contained snickering snipes at Microsoft among the example applications, it would make sense that that book would not be widely distributed at a Microsoft corporate training event. And no contradiction that there is no outright ban on the book in the various office bookshelves.

  3. Andrew Gelman says:

    Ian:

    I don't think the public/private distinction is so clear. I know very little about China so I will use an example closer to home. Columbia is a private university. But it receives many millions of government dollars through research grants, student loan guarantees, tax exemptions, etc. An outsider might very well consider me to be a government employee.

    It is true that the email I received made reference to the "publishing authorities in China," but that's a pretty vague description, and I don't know anything about the people who made the decision.

    Manuel:

    Neither I nor any of commenters on this blog used the term "inscrutable," so I think you're getting this from somewhere else. Also, to map your Microsoft analogy back to our book: No, our book did not contain snickering snipes at China. It actually contained no snickering snipes at all.

  4. blue says:

    OK, with this new piece of information added, how should those priors (guesses under the previous post) get updated in the Bayesian fashion?

    > I did not, and do not, intend it as any sort of
    > comment on the Chinese government, Chinese
    > society, etc. China is a big country and this is
    > one person at one publisher making one decision.
    > That's all it is; it's not a statement about China
    > in general.

    Is it truly an isolated incidence? Doesn't it say something about the government and the political culture in that country? Dr. Gelman can say that "If my own government were doing this, it would make me angry rather than amused." In contrast, how many Chinese feel the same way toward their government? Well, what we saw is that the angers from some Chinese were toward Dr. Gelman, not their government. What a shame!

  5. David Blake says:

    Just out of interest can you give us one of the examples from the pages you cite. I know I should buy the book but it would be nice to know.

  6. cL says:

    possibly they regards you more as a professor of political science than a statistician, then the book is categorized into books about politics…, which more easily trigger the unreasonable censorship from the authority. whatever, I will go to grab it and have funs starting from the pages pointed out.

  7. Steve says:

    Must have been the footnote on page 73 where you mention your "secret weapon"

  8. Assuming this is not all an elaborate plot to get peopled to buy the book so they can look up the examples; matching the page numbers to the list of examples in the table of contents, we have:

    p3: forecasting elections
    p5, p21, p112: police stops by ethnic group
    p73: political party identification over time
    p201: evaluating the infant health and development program (sic)

  9. xyu says:

    I think Dr. Gelman had a bad luck to have a bad publisher. There are other publishers that may not pay attention to these misc stuff. Those extreme leftish people have not completely retired yet.

    However, it is ridiculous that the publisher declined to reprint the book as the original version has been sold in China anyway.

    Another possibility, I am not sure if anybody has mentioned before, is the so-called "political reasons" may be a simple cover up for the financial reasons. The profit margin may be too small for the low cost book. So the publisher just cite some political reasons to revoke the contract. Political reasons are easy excuses in China. If it says politics, no one will argue against it. You will not win.

  10. anon says:

    The real reason why your book get 'banned' in china is that they don't see much profit reprinting a low cost edition. the reason could be manifold. maybe your book is not well received, given that there are original copies of your book available in china that instructors can try and evaluate. or maybe the market is so saturated.

    why then did the Chinese publisher tell you the 'political reasons?' well, you have to understand their culture. the publisher don't want to be the bad guy. they would not like to talk straight about the real reason, if it makes a reference to/judgement about your intellectual effort and could by any means offend you. they'd rather blame it on a third party, namely the state censorship which is already not popular anyway.

  11. Thank you for your post. While any publisher has the right to "publish whatever books they would like", no government has the right to restrict "politically objectionable material." Any that do deserve insurrection.
    In your original post you said that the decision was made by "publishing authorities in China," not by the publishing company. Why would they refuse this version while allowing the high priced one?

  12. Anonymous says:

    "no government has the right to restrict "politically objectionable material." Any that do deserve insurrection."

    Insurrection starts from within. To impose our mores on them is pretty ridiculous, if they want to revolt then they should. If not, well, should we go in and impose our standards? Or should we wait until we have succeeded in doing so in Iraq and Afghanistan? I've spent time in China, and studied the culture some. I doubt that you understand the society (and I know that I don't).

  13. Ian Fellows says:

    @Cocuk: thanks for reiterating my point?

    @Anonymous

    I reject the relativistic notion that the actions of other cultures (and their governments) are beyond moral reproach. Of course we can apply our mores to other cultures. We should praise those with open and free societies, and condemn those that act in abhorrent ways. Would you not condemn genocide in another country, or would you say "well, it works for them. Who am I to judge."

    I never said anything about invasion.

  14. Bob Carpenter says:

    Believe it or not, it's not legal to print anything you want and sell it in the streets in the United States. Various things are considered "offensive" (literally), and can get you thrown in jail, including various forms of pornography, slander, inciting riots, and treason.

    In the US, major publishers are in league with the government to restrict books. Check out this story:

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/09/26/1311243/Pe

    US newspapers play the same game, not because the government makes them, but because they (or their readers or investors) believe it'll make the country safer. Or that they fear if they don't, they'll become heavily regulated.

    Europe has similar policies, and often extends them to things like Nazi symbolism or symbols of civil unrest. For instance, Spain has banned whole political parties, such as the ETA-linked Batasuna party.