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Edgar Allan Poe was a statistician

Antony Unwin writes:

Rereading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue” reminded me of his astute remarks on analysis. For instance

But it is in matters beyond the limits of mere rule that the skill of the analyst is evinced. He makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences.

and

and the difference in the extent of the information obtained, lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation. The necessary knowledge is that of what to observe.

and

He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.

However, I had forgotten his following comment, which rang all sorts of bells in connection with some scientific articles I have seen recently:

what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound.

How about asking referees to rate articles on their complexity and their profundity?

5 Comments

  1. Rahul says:

    I don’t know. If you read Poe long enough you could probably find ample evidence to justify his being a chemist , lumberjack, sommelier and entomologist, cryptologist and I don’t know what else.

    It’s like toasting bread long enough: eventually you’ll see the Virgin Mary in a slice if that’s what’s on your mind.

  2. MikeM says:

    I’m a little more charitable than Anthony. If my first published articles had to pass his test, then I would never have been published. Profundity comes with experience and wisdom; the first is a function of time alone, while the second may be there early in one’s career for a few practitioners, but more often grows with experience.

    My view of the research enterprise is like a balloon that keeps growing larger, as we learn more and more. [Outside of it is what we don't know, so we're in the business of increasing ignorance.] Occasionally a salient or two pushes out beyond the surface, as a new (say, profound) idea yet expands our knowledge a bit further. Then the unprofound among us (as you may have been as well, Anthony), the younger, the less far-seeing, fill in the gaps, doing our apprenticeships and learning the business — and publishing what we can to prove our mettle.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t hacks who continue to publish epsilons, just to add another line to their CVs, but that’s not the entire story.

    • Rahul says:

      What your argument shows is that in this alternative world, young researchers might find it harder to publish their mostly unremarkable work. OK.

      But how is that necessary a bad thing? Is encouraging mediocre publication the only way for proving your mettle? Might not alternative evaluation metrics work better and without poisoning (or diluting) the sacred well of knowledge with trivial I-too-can-get-published stuff no one cares about?