Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Concerns about Brian Wansink’s claims and research methods have been known for years

1. The king and his memory There’s this stunning passage near the end of Josephine Tey’s classic The Daughter of Time. Most of the book is taken up with the main characters laboriously discovering the evidence that Richard III was not really a bad guy, he didn’t really kill those little princes, etc. Having made […]

“Write No Matter What” . . . about what?

Scott Jaschik interviews Joli Jensen (link from Tyler Cowen), a professor of communication who wrote a new book called “Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics.” Her advice might well be reasonable—it’s hard for me to judge; as someone who blogs a few hundred times a year, I’m not really part of Jensen’s target audience. […]

Return of the Klam

Matthew Klam is back. This time for reals. I’m halfway through reading his new book, Who is Rich?, and it’s just wonderful. The main character is a cartoonist and illustrator, and just about every scene is filled with stunning and hilarious physical descriptions. If I were writing a blurb, I’d call Who is Rich? the […]

Geoff Norman: Is science a special kind of storytelling?

Javier Benítez points to this article by epidemiologist Geoff Norman, who writes: The nature of science was summarized beautifully by a Stanford professor of science education, Mary Budd Rowe, who said that: Science is a special kind of story-telling with no right or wrong answers. Just better and better stories. Benítez writes that he doesn’t […]

Objects of the class “Verbal Behavior”

Steve Shulman-Laniel writes: My nominee for a new “objects of the class” would be B. F. Skinner’s “Verbal Behavior” — i.e., the criticisms of the thing are more widely read than the thing itself. Hmmm . . . I’ve heard of Skinner but not of “Verbal Behavior,” let alone its criticism. But the general idea […]

The Paper of My Enemy Has Been Retracted

The paper of my enemy has been retracted And I am pleased. From every media outlet it has been retracted Like a van-load of p-values that has been seized And sits in star-laden tables in a replication archive, My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in tables In the kind of journal where retraction occurs. Great, square […]

I’m with Errol: On flypaper, photography, science, and storytelling

[image of a cat going after an insect] I’ve been reading this amazing book, Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, by Errol Morris, who, like John Waters, is a pathbreaking filmmaker who is also an excellent writer. I recommend this book, but what I want to talk about here is one particular […]

Stranger than fiction

Someone pointed me to a long discussion, which he preferred not to share publicly, of his perspective on a scientific controversy in his field of research. He characterized a particular claim as “impossible to be true, i.e., false, and therefore, by definition, fiction.” But my impression of a lot of research misconduct is that the […]

“There was this prevalent, incestuous, backslapping research culture. The idea that their work should be criticized at all was anathema to them. Let alone that some punk should do it.”

[image of a cat reading a comic book] How did the outsiders upend social psychology? CATRON: We used basic reporting techniques. We’d call up somebody and ask them about thus-and-so, and they’d mention so-and-so, so we’d call so-and-so, and ask about thus-and-so. I’d say, “OK, you’re saying this but the first guy said this other […]

The four missing books of Lawrence Otis Graham

We keep some books in the bathroom that are good for reading in small bits. The other day I was flipping through The Best American Essays 1993 and came across the following passage that had originally appeared in New York Magazine: I’m a thirty-year-old corporate lawyer at a midtown Manhattan firm, and I make $105,000 […]

When people proudly take ridiculous positions

Tom Wolfe on evolution: I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals. I mean, actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. This is just sad. Does Wolfe really think this? My guess is he’s trying to do a solid for his political allies. Jerry Coyne writes: Somewhere on his mission […]

Planet of the hominids? We wanna see this exposition.

It would be interesting if someone were to make an exhibit for a museum showing the timeline of humans and hominids, and under that showing children’s toys and literature, showing how these guys were represented in popular media. It probably already exists, right? P.S. I feel kinda bad that this bumped Dan’s more important, statistically-related […]

Maybe this paper is a parody, maybe it’s a semibluff

Peter DeScioli writes: I was wondering if you saw this paper about people reading Harry Potter and then disliking Trump, attached. It seems to fit the shark attack genre. In this case, the issue seems to be judging causation from multiple regression with observational data, assuming that control variables are enough to narrow down to […]

“From that perspective, power pose lies outside science entirely, and to criticize power pose would be a sort of category error, like criticizing The Lord of the Rings on the grounds that there’s no such thing as an invisibility ring, or criticizing The Rotter’s Club on the grounds that Jonathan Coe was just making it all up.”

From last year: One could make the argument that power pose is innocuous, maybe beneficial in that it is a way of encouraging people to take charge of their lives. And this may be so. Even if power pose itself is meaningless, the larger “power pose” story could be a plus. Of course, if power […]

It is somewhat paradoxical that good stories tend to be anomalous, given that when it comes to statistical data, we generally want what is typical, not what is surprising. Our resolution of this paradox is . . .

From a blog comment a few years ago regarding an article by Robert Kosara: As Thomas and I discuss in our paper [When Do Stories Work? Evidence and Illustration in the Social Sciences], it is somewhat paradoxical that good stories tend to be anomalous, given that when it comes to statistical data, we generally want […]

The Westlake Review

I came across this site one day: The Westlake Review is a blog dedicated to doing a detailed review and analysis of every novel Donald Westlake published under his own name, as well as under a variety of pseudonyms. These reviews will reveal major plot elements, though they will not be full synopses. People who […]

Irwin Shaw, John Updike, and Donald Trump

So. I read more by and about Irwin Shaw. I read Shaw’s end-of-career collection of short stories and his most successful novel, The Young Lions, and also the excellent biography by Michael Shnayerson. I also read Adam Begley’s recent biography of John Updike, which was also very good, and it made be sad that probably […]

An improved ending for The Martian

In this post from a couple years ago I discussed the unsatisfying end of The Martian. At the time, I wrote: The ending is not terrible—at a technical level it’s somewhat satisfying (I’m not enough of a physicist to say more than that), but at the level of construction of a story arc, it didn’t […]

Classical statisticians as Unitarians

[cat picture] Christian Robert, Judith Rousseau, and I wrote: Several of the examples in [the book under review] represent solutions to problems that seem to us to be artificial or conventional tasks with no clear analogy to applied work. “They are artificial and are expressed in terms of a survey of 100 individuals expressing support […]

From Whoops to Sorry: Columbia University history prof relives 1968

I haven’t had much contact with the history department here at Columbia. A bunch of years ago I co-taught a course with Herb Klein and some others, and the material from that class went into my book co-edited with Jeronimo Cortina, A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences. More recently, I’ve had some conversations with […]