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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Saying things that are out of place

Basbøll points us to a column by Michael Shermer, a journalist and self-described skeptic who’s written a lot about skepticism, atheism, etc. Recently, though, Shermer wrote of an event that “shook [his] skepticism to its core”—it was a story about an old radio that didn’t work, then briefly started to work again, then stopped working. […]

Steven Pinker on writing: Where I agree and where I disagree

Linguist and public intellectual Steven Pinker recently published an article, “Why Academics Stink at Writing.” That’s a topic that interests me! Like Pinker, I’ve done a lot of writing, both for technical and general audiences. Unlike Pinker, I have not done research on linguistics, but I’ll do my best to comment based on my own […]

Who should write the new NYT chess column?

Matt Gaffney gives these “three essential characteristics” for writing “a relevant, interesting weekly chess column” in 2014: 1. It must be written by someone who is deeply involved in the chess world. Summaries of information that is already available online won’t cut it anymore. And since newspapers can’t afford to send columnists around the world […]

How to read (in quantitative social science). And by implication, how to write.

It all started when I was reading Chris Blattman’s blog and noticed this: One of the most provocative and interesting field experiments I [Blattman] have seen in this year: Poor people often do not make investments, even when returns are high. One possible explanation is that they have low aspirations and form mental models of […]

“Patchwriting” is a Wegmanesque abomination but maybe there’s something similar that could be helpful?

Reading Thomas Basbøll’s blog I came across a concept I’d not previously heard about, “patchwriting,” which is defined as “copying from a source text and deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one synonym for another.” (See here for further discussion.) As Basbøll writes, this is simply a variant of plagiarism, indeed it’s […]

Illegal Business Controls America

The other day I wrote: After encountering the Chicago-cops example I was going to retitle this post, “The psych department’s just another crew” in homage to the line, “The police department’s just another crew” from the rap, “Who Protects Us From You.” But, just to check, I googled that KRS-One rap and it turns out […]

Ray Could Write

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections, To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. . . . You were silly like us; your gift survived it all: For chess makes nothing happen: it survives In the […]

Hoe noem je?

Haynes Goddard writes: Reviewing my notes and books on categorical data analysis, the term “nominal” is widely employed to refer to variables without any natural ordering. I was a language major in UG school and knew that the etymology of nominal is the Latin word nomen (from the Online Etymological Dictionary: early 15c., “pertaining to […]

Statistical Communication and Graphics Manifesto

Statistical communication includes graphing data and fitted models, programming, writing for specialized and general audiences, lecturing, working with students, and combining words and pictures in different ways. The common theme of all these interactions is that we need to consider our statistical tools in the context of our goals. Communication is not just about conveying […]

My course on Statistical Communication and Graphics

We will study and practice many different aspects of statistical communication, including graphing data and fitted models, programming in Rrrrrrrr, writing for specialized and general audiences, lecturing, working with students and colleagues, and combining words and pictures in different ways. You learn by writing an entry in your statistics diary every day. You learn by […]

I didn’t say that! Part 2

Uh oh, this is getting kinda embarrassing. The Garden of Forking Paths paper, by Eric Loken and myself, just appeared in American Scientist. Here’s our manuscript version (“The garden of forking paths: Why multiple comparisons can be a problem, even when there is no ‘fishing expedition’ or ‘p-hacking’ and the research hypothesis was posited ahead […]

“Regular Customer: It was so much easier when I was a bum. I didn’t have to wake up at 4am to go to work, didn’t have all these bills and girlfriends.”

Love the Liberry is still going strong.

“Derek Jeter was OK”

Tom Scocca files a bizarrely sane column summarizing the famous shortstop’s accomplishments: Derek Jeter was an OK ballplayer. He was pretty good at playing baseball, overall, and he did it for a pretty long time. . . . You have to be good at baseball to last 20 seasons in the major leagues. . . […]

What is the purpose of a poem?

OK, let’s take a break from blogging about economics. OK, I haven’t actually been blogging so much about econ lately, but it just happens that I’m writing this on 19 July, a day after poking a stick into the hornet’s nest by posting “Differences between econometrics and statistics: From varying treatment effects to utilities, economists […]

Some time in the past 200 years the neighborhood has changed

“In that pleasant district of Merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.  The remains of this extensive wood are still to be seen at the […]

Updike and O’Hara

I just read this review by Louis Menand of a biography of John Updike. Lots of interesting stuff here, with this, perhaps, being the saddest: When Updike received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, in 1998, two of [his second wife’s] children were present, but his were not invited. Menand’s […]

Battle of the cozy comedians: What’s Alan Bennett’s problem with Stewart Lee?

When in London awhile ago I picked up the book, “How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian,” by Stewart Lee. I’d never heard of the guy but the book was sitting there, it had good blurbs, and from a quick flip-through it looked interesting. Now that I’ve read […]

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 […]