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Announcing the ultimate seminar speaker contest: 2019 edition!

Paul Davidson made the bracket for us (thanks, Paul!):

Here’s the full list:


Oscar Wilde (seeded 1 in group)
Dorothy Parker (2)
David Sedaris (3)
Voltaire (4)
Veronica Geng
Albert Brooks
Mel Brooks
Monty Python

Creative eaters:

M. F. K. Fisher (1)
Julia Child (2)
Anthony Bourdain (3)
Alice Waters (4)
A. J. Liebling
Nora Ephron
The Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest
John Belushi


Harry Houdini (1)
George H. W. Bush (2)
Penn and Teller (3)
Steve Martin (4)
David Blaine
Eric Antoine
Martin Gardner
Ira Glass


Carl Friedrich Gauss (1)
Pierre-Simon Laplace (2)
John von Neumann (3)
Alan Turing (4)
Leonhard Euler
Paul Erdos
Stanislaw Ulam
Benoit Mandelbrot

TV personalities:

Oprah Winfrey (1)
Johnny Carson (2)
Ed Sullivan (3)
Carol Burnett (4)
Sid Caesar
David Letterman
Ellen DeGeneres
John Oliver

People from New Jersey:

Bruce Springsteen (1)
Chris Christie (2)
Frank Sinatra (3)
Philip Roth (4)
William Carlos Williams
Virginia Apgar
Meryl Streep
Joe Pesci


Jim Thorpe (1)
Babe Didrikson Zaharias (2)
LeBron James (3)
Bobby Fischer (4)
Serena Williams
Simone Biles
Lance Armstrong

People whose names end in f:

Riad Sattouf (1)
Ian McKellen (2)
Boris Karloff (3)
Darrell Huff (4)
Yakov Smirnoff
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Adam Schiff
Anastasia Romanoff

The rules!

We’re trying to pick 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 eight categories listed above.

I’ll post one matchup each day at noon, starting tomorrow.

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 be in their usual 9-10am slot, alternate with these matchup postings which will appear at noon each day.

Last time we did this competition was a few years ago. See here and here for the first two contests, here for an intermediate round, and here for the conclusion of that one.

I’m stoked for this new tournament. The above bracket features some interesting pairings. Johnny Carson vs. Paul Erdos! Frank Sinatra vs. Virginia Apgar! Carl Friedrich Gauss vs. Nora Ephron! Harry Houdini vs. Yakov Smirnoff! Julia Child vs. Ira Glass! Lots of upsets are possible.


  1. Shecky R says:

    You realize that making Steve Martin and David Letterman face off in the very first round de-legitimizes the entire contest!

  2. Clyde Schechter says:

    Maybe I’m missing something that’s obvious to most people, but how is Ian McKellen a person whose name ends in f?

  3. Manoel Galdino says:

    I’m glad the tournaments is back. Didn’t know more people besides me were asking for it.

  4. Obviously, I need to update my priors (but, I’m not sure exactly how):

    | People whose names end in f:
    | Ian McKellen (2)

  5. Mark White says:

    Very excited in LBJ being the GOAT instead of MJ.

  6. anon says:

    “The Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest”: Takeru Kobayashi

    I don’t know if it’s that this list was written in one quick “off the top of your head” situation or if you think he’s less of a household name than everyone else. I had to look up several peoples’ names, for what it’s worth–I had to look his up, too, but that would’ve been easier had we had his name listed.

  7. Daniel Weissman says:

    Why doesn’t Takeru Kobayashi get to use his name? It’s shorter than the replacement, and he’s not particularly obscure.

    Were Persi Diaconis or Gurdjieff close to making the cut?

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