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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Trimmed Hedges

Sorry about the title. It was the closest I could come to “Shattered Glass.” The subhead is “Pulitzer winner. Lefty hero. Plagiarist.” Chris Hedges is a reporter who apparently has been very busy for many years, in fact, according to this report by Christopher Ketcham he’s been so busy telling important things to the world […]

Fooled by randomness

From 2006: Naseem Taleb‘s publisher sent me a copy of “Fooled by randomness: the hidden role of chance in life and the markets” to review. It’s an important topic, and the book is written in a charming style—I’ll try to respond in kind, with some miscellaneous comments. On the cover of the book is a […]

How literature is like statistical reasoning: Kosara on stories. Gelman and Basbøll on stories.

In “Story: A Definition,” visual analysis researcher Robert Kosara writes: A story ties facts together. There is a reason why this particular collection of facts is in this story, and the story gives you that reason. provides a narrative path through those facts. In other words, it guides the viewer/reader through the world, rather than just throwing […]

In the best alternative histories, the real world is what’s ultimately real

This amusing-yet-so-true video directed by Eléonore Pourriat shows a sex-role-reversed world where women are in charge and men don’t get taken seriously. It’s convincing and affecting, but the twist that interests me comes at the end, when the real world returns. It’s really creepy. And this in turn reminds me of something we discussed here […]

Literal vs. rhetorical

Thomas Basbøll pointed me to a discussion on the orgtheory blog in which Jerry Davis, the editor of a journal of business management argued that it is difficult for academic researchers to communicate with the public because “the public prefers Cheetos to a healthy salad” and when serious papers are discussed on the internet, “everyone […]

What is the appropriate time scale for blogging—the day or the week?

I post (approximately) once a day and don’t plan to change that. I have enough material to post more often—for example, I could intersperse existing blog posts with summaries of my published papers or of other work that I like; and, beyond this, we currently have a one-to-two-month backlog of posts—but I’m afraid that if […]

A good comment on one of my papers

An anonymous reviewer wrote: I appreciate informal writing styles as a means of increasing accessibility. However, the informality here seems to decrease accessibility – partly because of the assumed knowledge of the reader for concepts and terms, and also for its wandering style. Many concepts are introduced without explanation and are not clearly and decisively […]

Parables vs. stories

God is in every leaf of every tree, but he is not in every leaf of every parable. Let me explain with a story. A few months ago I read the new book, Doing Data Science, by Rachel Schutt and Cathy O’Neil, and I came across the following motivation for comprehensive integration of data sources, […]

Advice on writing research articles

From a few years ago: General advice Both the papers sent to me appear to have strong research results. Now that the research has been done, I’d recommend rewriting both articles from scratch, using the following template: 1. Start with the conclusions. Write a couple pages on what you’ve found and what you recommend. In […]

Things that I like that almost nobody else is interested in

This post by Jordan Ellenberg (“Stoner represents a certain strain in the mid-century American novel that I really like, and which I don’t think exists in contemporary fiction. Anguish, verbal restraint, weirdness”) reminds me that what I really like is mid-to-late-twentieth-century literary criticism. I read a great book from the 50s, I think it was, […]

Spam names

There was this thing going around awhile ago, the “porn star name,” which you create by taking the name of your childhood pet, followed by the name of the street where you grew up (for example, Blitz Clifton). But recently I’ve been thinking about spam names. Just in the last two days, I’ve received emails […]


There’s lots of overlap but I put each paper into only one category.  Also, I’ve included work that has been published in 2013 as well as work that has been completed this year and might appear in 2014 or later.  So you can can think of this list as representing roughly two years’ work. Political […]

If I could’ve done it all over again

I’d’ve given this blog the name, tl;dr. Too late to change it now, though, I think!

Separated by a common blah blah blah

I love reading the kind of English that English people write. It’s the same language as American but just slightly different. I was thinking about this recently after coming across this footnote from “Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop,” by Bob Stanley: Mantovani’s atmospheric arrangement on ‘Care Mia’, I should add, is something […]

“Statistics is what people think math is”

My 5books interview (from 2011), where we talk about The Bill James Baseball Abstracts, Judgment under Uncertainty, How Animals Work, The Honest Rainmaker, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Objects of the class “Objects of the class”

Objects of the class “Foghorn Leghorn”: parodies that are more famous than the original. (“It would be as if everybody were familiar with Duchamp’s Mona-Lisa-with-a-moustache while never having heard of Leonardo’s version.”) Objects of the class “Whoopi Goldberg”: actors who are undeniably talented but are almost always in bad movies, or at least movies that […]


This one is no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but . . . wow! Pretty blatant. Maybe someone could endow the Raymond Keene Chair of Cut-and-Paste in the statistics department at George Mason University. Anyway, say what you want about this dude, at least he’s classy. He steals not from Wikipedia but […]

I’ve already written next year’s April Fools post!

Good to have gotten that one out of the way already. (Actually, I wrote it a few months ago. This post is itself in the monthlong+ queue.) I don’t know how easy it is to search this blog by date to find the Fools posts from previous years.

Writing for free

Max Read points to discussions by Cord Jefferson and Tim Krieger about people who write for free, thus depressing the wages of paid journalists. The topic interests me because I’m one of those people who writes for free, all the time. As a commenter wrote in response to Cord Jefferson’s article: It’s not just people […]

Gladwell and Chabris, David and Goliath, and science writing as stone soup

The only thing is, I’m not sure who’s David here and who is Goliath. From the standpoint of book sales, Gladwell is Goliath for sure. On the other hand, Gladwell’s credibility has been weakened over the years by fights with bigshots such as Steven Pinker. Maybe the best analogy is a boxing match where Gladwell […]