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“I have no idea who Catalina Garcia is, but she makes a decent ruler”: I don’t know if John Lee “little twerp” Anderson actually suffers from tall-person syndrome, but he is indeed tall

I just want to share with you the best comment we’ve every had in the nearly ten-year history of this blog. Also it has statistical content!

Here’s the story. After seeing an amusing article by Tom Scocca relating how reporter John Lee Anderson called someone as a “little twerp” on twitter:

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 9.30.07 PM

I conjectured that Anderson suffered from “tall person syndrome,” that problem that some people of above-average height have, that they think they’re more important than other people because they literally look down on them.

But I had no idea of Anderson’s actual height. Commenter Gary responded with this impressive bit of investigative reporting:

Based on this picture:
he appears to be fairly tall. But the perspective makes it hard to judge.

Based on this picture:
he appears to be about 9-10 inches taller than Catalina Garcia.

But how tall is Catalina Garcia? Not that tall – she’s shorter than the high-wire artist Phillipe Petit:

And he doesn’t appear to be that tall . . . about the same height as Claire Danes:anderson4
who according to Google is 5′ 6″.

So if Jon Lee Anderson is 10″ taller than Catalina Garcia, who is 2″ shorter than Philippe Petit, who is the same height as Claire Danes, then he is 6′ 2″ tall.

I have no idea who Catalina Garcia is, but she makes a decent ruler.

In a followup comment, Gary laments that his analysis does not account for footwear-induced height variation. But that additional uncertainty could be incorporated into the above analysis via a simple Stan model, with an error term for each observation.

P.S. Just to be clear, I don’t think all or even most tall people suffer from “tall person syndrome,” nor do I think that most short people have a “Napoleon complex.” But I do think some tall people have this problem. My message to Anderson: (1) Don’t drink and tweet (or, as he would say, Tweet), (2) When you tweet something you shouldn’t, just apologize.


  1. Twitter itself capitalizes “Tweet” in their documentation.

    The rules of English want you to capitalize proper names, but the line is blurry. And just because it’s a common noun, a company can still be named after it (i.e, Apple). Eventually, generification sets in, and you see once proper names like “kleenex” and “xerox” lowercased.

    I was just having this discussion with Michael Betancourt about what should be capitalized (let’s just say I fell on the Andrew side of the debate). What’s the verdict on “chain” in “Markov (C|c)hain Monte Carlo”, for instance? Do you capitalize “Linear Regression”? I find it annoying when technical writing goes all Winnie-the-Pooh and starts capitalizing all the Very Important Things.

    Mike and I were specifically discussing which of the following forms to use,

    • “No U-Turn Sampler”
    • “no U-turn sampler”, or
    • “No U-Turn sampler”.

    And speaking of capitalization, “Stan” isn’t an acronym (it’s named after Stanislaw Ulam with a nod to the Eminem song), so it’s only all caps if you want to shout.

  2. Entsophy says:

    Were any of the females in those pictures wearing heals?

  3. Gary says:

    More investigation: Claire Danes was wearing 4″ heels at that event:

    So now it really depends on whether our ruler Catalina Garcia is wearing the same height heels in the two photos. I am confident that she is in the picture with Anderson (what New Yorker wears flats with a little black dress at an event?) but I have no guess for the picture with Philippe Petit.

    Then again, actors lie about their heights. And I’m guessing that all of the men are wearing similar 1″ or so, but I could be wrong there.

    • Entsophy says:


      Thanks, that helps a lot. I did a simulation on this using Excel rather than stan which seemed like overkill. I used the following (using N(mu,sigma) for the normal distribution):

      Petit’s height is N(66,.75) inches based off the Claire Danes picture.
      Garcia is N(-2,.5) inches shorter based off her picture with Petit.
      Garcia may be wearing heels that picture which I model as P(4in)=.4 and P(2in)=.4 and P(no heels)=.2
      In the Garcia/Anderson one I think your numbers are high. I don’t think the distance from a persons mid ear to top of the head is typically 9 inches. so I used that their height difference is about N(7,1) and included the possibility of heels again.

      I get an estimate of 5′ 11′ +/- 3 inches.

      That’s about an 80% Credibility interval. Most of the width is coming from the uncertainty in the heels.

      • Andrew says:

        Let’s also throw in the likelihood factor from the tweet. What’s Pr (Anderson calls someone a “little twerp” | Anderson’s height)? Or, as some commenters in another thread would ask, what’s Fr (Anderson calls someone a little twerp; Anderson’s height)? I’d think this likelihood function is a strongly increasing function in the 5’9″ to 6′ range.

        • Entsophy says:

          Actually, I forgot to include Danes heels so please add +4 to the point estimates. So,

          6’3” +/- 3 inches


          6’3” +/- 1 inch if Garcia is wearing the same shoes.

          Note this height is unusual. A quick google indicated fewer than .5% of males were taller than 6’4”. So the the above calculation is quite a strong prediction. I’d love to know what his real height is.

        • Chris says:

          This post really made me chuckle, thanks for that. I personally think the addition of ‘little twerp’ corresponds more to his perceived measure of fame/importance than any physical measure of height. Being around his speculated height, I’ll add that though he may be taller than most people, he’s still very much within two standard deviations of the average. So while we may occasionally be the tallest person in the room, over the course of a day he likely comes across a great number of people that are taller than him, which might be somewhat disconcerting if he actually cared about his height that much.

          Given your 5’9 to 6′ hypothesis, I take it we’re on the same page as far as decreasing returns of psychological benefit of being tall, once you’re above average height. In this, I think height is similar to many other human characteristics in that it’s hard for people to properly understand what being say 2 sd above average in any particular area means. Being extremely tall doesn’t help much unless you’re tall enough to be a basketball player. Scoring in the top 5% of an IQ test in childhood might put you in a special group at the time but may just be average in a room full of PhDs and MDs. Being wealthier than 95% of Americans is still playing with monopoly money compared to the top 1% as we’ve heard so much recently. That’s a lesson I think a lot of talented/fortunate people learn the hard way at some point in their lives.

          • Chris says:

            Sorry, missed the newest height, so he’s not with 2 SDs but my point mostly survives

          • Entsophy says:

            Sorry for screwing you up!

          • Entsophy says:


            I think your right on both accounts. I have a young son who is expected to be about 6’8”. I think it will bring him nothing but trouble and that being tall, but not too tall, seems to be the ideal. As an aside it’s interesting that unlike in times past, modern warfare seems to favor smaller troops. Being a shorter male doesn’t seem to come with any disadvantages on the battlefield, but being 6’8” just makes you a big old target.

            Also, I took the “little twerp” to be about status. The guy seems to be limousine liberal who wrote a fawning biography of a psychopathic serial killer (Che Guevara). Like many of that breed, they only seem to like the common man when they don’t get too uppity.

            Even so, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone use the equivalent of “little twerp” when talking about someone taller than themselves. Surely that’s got to increase Pr(Anderson is tall | Anderson calls someone a “little twerp”)

          • Andrew says:


            I’m not saying that Anderson used “little twerp” in his tweet because he was referring to his actual height. Rather, I suspect that (certain) tall people get in the habit of thinking of people they don’t like as “little twerps” and then it comes out without them even thinking about it.

          • Chris says:


            I see what you’re saying. I suppose I don’t think using a diminutive as an insult is in any way unique to tall people with superiority complexes compared to other kinds of people with superiority complexes. I’d assume they come from the same distribution. My understanding of such individuals is that they (possibly irrationally) believe themselves to have more of some perceived desirable quality, and decide to use that quality as a basis for their metric of importance. In this way they are “big.” I’ve enjoyed chatting with you all, take care.

        • Entsophy says:

          Incidentally Andrew, it’s very likely that I’ve seen Anderson up close and personal. Early one morning when I was in the Basic School for Marine Officers (it’s a 6 month training course that comes after OCS “bootcamp for Officers” and located in Quantico Virgina near the FBI academy) I entered an auditorium that we often used for indoor training. There weren’t any Marines in there, but the room was full of wide eyed, often overweight, goofy looking civies, who looked like they raided the clothing section of the nearest sporting goods store. There were about 30 of them give or take.

          It turns out, these guys were all the embedded reporters that the US Military was allowing to follow the troops during the invasion of Iraq. They were on base to get a pre-deployement training course of some kind before the invasion. Apparently, Anderson was one of those imbedded reporters.

    • Entsophy says:

      Also, if Garcia is wearing the same type of shoes in each picture then I get 5’11’ +/- 1inch

  4. Steve Sailer says:

    The world’s great website for getting accurate estimates of celebrity heights is:

    You’ll find lengthy discussions of, say, how tall Liam Neeson is in the morning v. evening, today v. at age 40, the effects of footwear, and so forth.

    However, this John Lee Anderson person doesn’t seem to be enough of a celebrity to qualify for

  5. Tom says:

    What is the changeover height between tall person syndrome and Napoleon complex?

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