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Life imitates art

I hate to interrupt our discussion of traffic deaths, but this is important. . . .

Someone pointed me to this news article, “A Retiree Discovers an Elusive Math Proof,” and I noticed this sentence:

Not knowing LaTeX, the word processer of choice in mathematics, he typed up his calculations in Microsoft Word . . . Richards notified a few colleagues and even helped Royen retype his paper in LaTeX to make it appear more professional.

Which reminded me of this article, in particular the Technical Note on page 4:

We originally wrote this article in Word, but then we converted it to Latex to make it look more like science.


  1. Thanatos Savehn says:

    Which in turn reminded me of another silly (pseudo)scientific ritual:

    I know, I’m Pavlov’s dog; but at least I’ve learned something – which is more than many can say.

    • Nate says:

      Great quote from your linked article:

      “Rituals seem to be indispensable for the self-defnition of social groups and for transitions in life, and there is nothing wrong about them. However, they should be the subject rather than the procedure of social sciences. Elements of social rituals include (a) the repetition of the same action, (b) a focus on special numbers or colors, (c) fears about serious sanctions for rule violations, and (d) wishful thinking and delusions that virtually eliminate critical thinking (Dulaney & Fiske, 1994). The null ritual has each of these four characteristics: a repetitive sequence, a fixation on the 5% level, fear of sanctions by editors or advisers, and wishful thinking about the outcome (the p-value) combined with a lack of courage to ask questions.”

  2. Eric de Souza says:

    No longer. Microsoft has recently messed up the alignment of MathType equations in Word documents, and is doing nothing about it.

  3. Rahul says:

    So how big is this really? Or is this a hype cycle?

    Reason I ask is that I couldn’t even find a Wikipedia article on the Gaussian correlation inequality (GCI) till a few days ago. Which is mighty rare for any famous conjecture.

    Or does this have another name?

  4. jrkrideau says:

    I remember reading some comments by an undergrad who said that he had done his chemistry assignment in LaTeX; his prof was clearly suspicious that it was copied.

    I also remember some engineering students using our departmental Macs just as the Mac+ Laser Printer combo was arriving in Academia. They felt it was often worth an extra 5% on an assignment.

  5. Jordan Anaya says:

    Brian Wansink happens to have a paper somewhat related to this (I haven’t read the paper and don’t know if it contains the problems that are typical of his work).

  6. Z says:

    A little silly to refer to this guy as a ‘retiree’ as if he used to be a bus driver and math were just his hobby. (If you didn’t read the article, he was a statistician.)

    • Andrew says:


      Interesting, the idea that “retiree” connotes something like “bus driver.” It’s funny how certain neutral terms—after all, retired mathematicians and statisticians do exist!—evoke specific images. An example of this that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is “working class,” which seems to be gendered, evoking images of men (maybe particularly white men) working in factories, not women cleaning bedpans, for example. It’s my impression that lots of confusion arises regarding social trends because neutral terms have specific implications.

  7. Dzhaughn says:

    Too paraphrase miss manners, bad science is no excuse for poor typesetting.

  8. Eric Rasmusen says:

    It’s a fascinating article. The retiree wasn’t from academia and didn’t have a clue as to how to get his work recognized—worse than an assistant professor! This is another example of how important communication is—- good writing, giving talks, posting your working papers, writing a good abstract, emailing to people you cite, etc.

    I can fully understand why nobody would read a pure math paper written in Word. It’s much less credible than one with the equations pencilled in, like in the old days, because it implies the person knows about computers, but not about math and computers.

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