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Carol Burnett (4) vs. the Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest; Albert Brooks advances

Yesterday was a tough matchup, but ultimately John “von” Neumann was no match for a very witty Albert Einstein.

The deciding argument, from Martha:

I’d like to see Von Neumann given four parameters and making an elephant wiggle his trunk. And if he could do it, there would be the chance that Jim Thorpe could do it if they met in a later round.

No way do I think that Neumann could fit that elephant. As I wrote earlier, that elephant quote just seems like bragging! For one thing, I can have a model with a lot more than five parameters and still struggle to fit my data.

I almost want to invite Neumann to speak, just so we can put him on the spot, ask him to fit the damn elephant, and watch him fail. But that’s not cool, to invite a speaker just for the purpose of seeing him crash and burn. That way lies madness.

Today’s contest features two unique talents. Carol Burnett was the last of the old-time variety-show hosts, she can sing, she can dance, and according to Wikipedia, she was “the first celebrity to appear on the children’s series Sesame Street.” But she’s facing stiff competition, from the Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest. That’s an accomplishment, to have done something so impressive that this one feat defines you. So I think that whoever advances to the next round will be a strong competitor. Neither Carol Burnett nor the Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest are top seeds, but both of them are interesting dark horse candidates.

Again, the full bracket is here, and here are 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.

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!


  1. Dzhaughn says:

    The hot dog eating guy might be the inventor of bitcoin.

  2. Marcus says:

    I would imagine that the hot dog eating guy would have some fascinating stories about the response of his digestive system in the 24 hours following a contest. That’s a Q&A session I would stay behind to see.

  3. J Storrs Hall says:

    Actually, you can fit any scatterplot to arbitrary precision with just one parameter. Note the elephant:

  4. The hot dog guy would eat all the pre-seminar cookies, so that’s a definite no.

  5. Yuling says:

    According to Wikipedia, the hot dog eating guy “is known for his trademark body wiggle”. Therefore, if von Neumann hadn’t been kicked out, he would be invited to fit the number of hot dogs that Japanese dude ate in each contest, and an extra parameter for his wiggle.

  6. Christopher B Pounds says:

    Carol Burnett must win at least one round, if only to see what kind of outfit she can make from the auditorium curtain. She also has the patience to wait to the end of an elephant story. Not sure the hot dog guy could be so polite.

  7. Gerardo Okhuysen says:

    Carol Burnett is more likely to be able to bridge differences, maybe by wearing a curtain rod festooned with hot dogs.

  8. D Kane says:

    Off topic, but your latest article — What Statistics Can’t Tell Us in the Fight over Affirmative Action at Harvard — will be of interest to your many fans!

    Might want to post a link in a new thread, without the usual 6 month wait, so that we can discuss . . .

  9. Jonathan (another one) says:

    The John von Neumann award has gone to very distinguished set of social scientists, though only one of 25 has gone to a woman. By contrast the Carol Burnett Prize for distinguished achievement in TV has only gone to women. (Actually, just to Burnett since it was only established this month.) Kobayashi, as far as I an determine, has no trophies named for him at all. So I’m going with Burnett here, but if she faces von Neumann, I’m going to go with him because his prize recipients are more diverse.

  10. Martha (Smith) says:

    I vote for Burnett, just because I remember her as sounding like one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered (although not personally; just seeing her on TV). You can’t go wrong with her!

  11. Joshua says:

    Hot dog guy.

    Burnett’s strength is that she’s a commedianne, but hot dog guy beats her at her own game, as he would obviously be bunnier

  12. oncodoc says:

    Can hot dog guy do the the Tarzan yodel? No?
    Carol Burnett can!

  13. Jake says:

    Carol Burnett’s a pioneer in her own way, but she has never represented the entire human race (in an eating contest against a Kodiak bear, per wikipedia). You could have a seminar just on the pressure of being the champion of all humanity, not to mention all of Kobayashi’s other accomplishments.

  14. Martha (Smith) says:

    Andrew said, “No way do I think that Neumann could fit that elephant. As I wrote earlier, that elephant quote just seems like bragging! For one thing, I can have a model with a lot more than five parameters and still struggle to fit my data.”

    That is so different from how I see the Neumann quote — I’ve always seen it (and used it) as a humorous way to caution against overfitting.

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