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I had this bizarrely escalating email exchange.

It started with this completely reasonable message:


I was unable to run your code here:

Besides a small typo [you have a 1 after names (options)], the code fails when you actually run the function. The error I get is a lexical error:

Error: lexical error: invalid character inside string.
{” “:{” “:2016,” “:11,” “:18},”
(right here) ——^

If you could help me understand where things went wrong, I can fix your code for you.


I didn’t remember any such code, but I followed the link, it was to a post from 2015 entitled “Downloading Option Chain Data from Google Finance in R: An Update,” and written by someone named Andrew, but not me.

So I replied:

Hi, that post was not by me!

A few hours later I got this reply in my inbox:

Yes it was. It says “by andrew.” Stop lying, professor.

Huh? Intonation is notoriously difficult to convey in typed speech. This was so over the top it must be someone goofing around. So I replied:

I guess you’re joking, right? I’m not the only person with that name.

And then he shoots back with this:

Unbelievable! Do you take me as a fool?

Ummmm . . . I better not touch that one!

P.S. I got one more email from this guy! He wrote:

Nothing to say? Fine, I will post a blog on this experience. The world will see how you were embarrassed to admit that your code had flaws!

Add another one to the list of professors with big egos and “no flaws.” I am now your 2nd biggest enemy. Your 1st is your own ego.

This was starting to get weird so I sent him one more email:

Hey, no kidding, it was a different Andrew. Follow the link and it goes here:

Downloading Options Data in R: An Update

It’s by someone named Andrew Collier. I’m Andrew Gelman. Different people.

I hope this works. The internet is a scary place.


    • Andrew says:


      In all seriousness, I think part of the trouble is in my implicit presumption that something that comes in the email will be sane. I see people on the street shouting at strangers and I understand that they have delusions; it’s just part of life. But there’s something about the internet, or maybe it’s typed speech, that makes me just assume that it’s going to make sense. If some fraction of the population, 0.5% or whatever it is, is delusional, it stands to reason that some of these people are going to get their hands on email accounts, webpages, and the like. I can only imagine how scary this must be for people who write about controversial political topics and get actual threats in the email.

  1. cugrad says:

    Is this guy actually serious? I had to laugh very hard. Maybe he already has a grudge against you, and is finally taking it out on you! Be careful. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. Anonymous says:

    let me guess, a taleb fan?

    • another anonymous says:

      I occasionally want to set up @FakeNassimTaleb and identify it as “Nassim Taleb’s thoughts, unfiltered by social norms or basic civility,” and then just retweet everything from the real account.

  3. Matt VE says:

    Very odd. If this person actually did have this problem, and had followed the link listed on that page (“To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Exegetic Analytics » R.”), they would have found all the answers they were looking for. Some other readers reported the same error last autumn…

    That Andrew seems like a pretty helpful fellow.

  4. Andrew says:

    I think these threats sound kind of amusing to the person making them but it’s not so fun to be on the other end.

    • jrc says:

      I worked overnight news for about 10 seconds. We used to get these faxes. Half porn half serial killer, within-fax. Like, nudity and a pentagram, with a bunch of conspiracy notes scribbled over it all. Faxed to us.

      That was funny. In my own inbox, it would be scary.

      But if it makes you feel any better, you are probably just a local TV news station to them. Upon reflection, I’m not sure that helps.

  5. dl says:

    talk about methodological terrorism!

  6. Rudy says:

    Typical frequentist attitude.

  7. Jacob Egner says:

    My best guess is that the original email was serious, and upon learning that you didn’t write the r-bloggers post, he started joking around with you. His wording is really similar to the sort of things I’d write if I was joking with you. It’s basically a Dwight Schrute joke: pretending to be a blustery and overly dramatic fool.

  8. Jonathan (another one) says:

    At the risk of a private joke, you wouldn’t have this problem if Andrew Collier’s picture had appeared on the original post. You two look nothing alike… He’s much more sinister looking.

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