Back by popular demand . . . The Greatest Seminar Speaker contest!

Regular blog readers will remember our seminar speaker competition from a few years ago.

Here was our bracket, back in 2015:


And here were the 64 contestants:

– Philosophers:
Plato (seeded 1 in group)
Alan Turing (seeded 2)
Aristotle (3)
Friedrich Nietzsche (4)
Thomas Hobbes
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Bertrand Russell
Karl Popper

– Religious Leaders:
Mohandas Gandhi (1)
Martin Luther King (2)
Henry David Thoreau (3)
Mother Teresa (4)
Al Sharpton
Phyllis Schlafly
Yoko Ono

– Authors:
William Shakespeare (1)
Miguel de Cervantes (2)
James Joyce (3)
Mark Twain (4)
Jane Austen
John Updike
Raymond Carver
Leo Tolstoy

– Artists:
Leonardo da Vinci (1)
Rembrandt van Rijn (2)
Vincent van Gogh (3)
Marcel Duchamp (4)
Thomas Kinkade
Grandma Moses
Barbara Kruger
The guy who did Piss Christ

– Founders of Religions:
Jesus (1)
Mohammad (2)
Buddha (3)
Abraham (4)
L. Ron Hubbard
Mary Baker Eddy
Sigmund Freud
Karl Marx

– Cult Figures:
John Waters (1)
Philip K. Dick (2)
Ed Wood (3)
Judy Garland (4)
Sun Myung Moon
Charles Manson
Joan Crawford
Stanley Kubrick

– Comedians:
Richard Pryor (1)
George Carlin (2)
Chris Rock (3)
Larry David (4)
Alan Bennett
Stewart Lee
Ed McMahon
Henny Youngman

– Modern French Intellectuals:
Albert Camus (1)
Simone de Beauvoir (2)
Bernard-Henry Levy (3)
Claude Levi-Strauss (4)
Raymond Aron
Jacques Derrida
Jean Baudrillard
Bruno Latour

We did single elimination, one match per day, alternating with the regular blog posts. See here and here for the first two contests, here for an intermediate round, and here for the conclusion.

2019 edition

Who would be the ultimate seminar speaker? I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

Our new list includes eight current or historical figures from each of the following eight categories:
– Wits
– Creative eaters
– Magicians
– Mathematicians
– TV hosts
– People from New Jersey
– People whose names end in f

All these categories seem to be possible choices to reach the sort of general-interest intellectual community that was implied by the [notoriously hyped] announcement of Slavoj Zizek Bruno Latour’s visit to Columbia a few years ago.

The rules

I’ll post one matchup each day at noon, starting sometime next week or so, once we have the brackets prepared.

Once each pairing is up, all of you can feel free (indeed, are encouraged) to comment. I’ll announce the results when posting the next day’s matchup.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!

As with our previous contest four years ago, we’re continuing the regular flow of statistical modeling, causal inference, and social science posts. They’ll alternate with these matchup postings.

15 thoughts on “Back by popular demand . . . The Greatest Seminar Speaker contest!

  1. It would be great if we had a sampling of each. I would be curious who are in the running for best in statistics, as one category. However, it also raises the question who we would rank as best overall speaker, in any category.

  2. Ms. Maisel

    Tearing layers off the veneer of Victorian American in the era Trump would have us go back to, she brings sharp humor to the righteousness, prudery, misogyny and bigotry of the 1950’s. No, they weren’t the good ol’ days for a lot of folks.

  3. I propose that “names ending in f” include people whose names ended in a character resembling a “B” in the original Cyrillic. Unless, of course, you are deliberately excluding Dimitry Mendeleev.

  4. I remember the previous contest fondly.

    It’s important for entrants to remember this sentence from above:

    “I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides.”

    Particularly in later rounds, you can make a good case for either, and the decision of the judge often seemed as capricious as that of a PNAS editor. But it’s all in good fun.

    • Zbicyclist:

      Are PNAS editors really capricious? I thought they consistently accept papers that make strong claims based on little evidence, as long as the claims are of the “People predictably make decisions for silly reasons based on irrelevant inputs” variety.

  5. OK, I did hear Bertrand Russell speak when I was a kid. He was a gifted speaker, although i didn’t quite understanding everything he presented. I’m fairly sure that presentation was at MIT b/c my uncle taught there at the time. I venture that it could be characterized as a Seminar.

    Otherwise Richard Posner, in watching a Youtube would count as a super interesting speaker.

  6. After careful consideration, I submit my top (second) contenders:

    Wits: Yakov Smirnoff (Mike Judge)

    Creative eaters: Helen Rosner (Erdos)

    Magicians: Teller (Some other mute magician)

    Mathematicians: Martha Smith (Erdos)

    TV hosts: Kurt Loder (Oprah)

    People from New Jersey: Kurt Loder (Mike Chernoff and Michael Chertoff co-seminar)

    GOATs: Oprah (Oprah)

    People whose names end in f: Yakov Smirnoff (Mike Chernoff and Michael Chertoff co-seminar)

    Top 3, in alphabetical order: Kurt Loder, Oprah and Yakov Smirnoff

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