Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

Discussion with Nassim Taleb about sexism and racism in the Declaration of Independence

Nassim Taleb points to this post from congressmember Ayanna Pressley linking to an opinion piece by Matthew Rozsa. Rozsa’s article has the title, “Fourth of July’s ugly truth exposed: The Declaration of Independence is sexist, racist, prejudiced,” with subttile, “How we can embrace the underlying spirit of the Declaration of Independence — and also learn […]

Leonard Shecter’s coauthor has passed away.

I don’t really have anything to add here except to agree with Phil that Ball Four is one of the best nonfiction books ever. (And, no, I don’t consider Charlie Brown to be nonfiction.)

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

I’m reposting this one from 2014 because I think it could be useful to lots of people. Also this advice on writing research articles, from 2009.

It’s a lot of pressure to write a book!

Regression and Other Stories is almost done, and I was spending a couple hours going through it starting from page 1, cleaning up imprecise phrasings and confusing points. . . . One thing that’s hard about writing a book is that there are so many places you can go wrong. A 500-page book contains something […]

Harvard dude calls us “online trolls”

Story here. Background here (“How post-hoc power calculation is like a shit sandwich”) and here (“Post-Hoc Power PubPeer Dumpster Fire”). OK, to be fair, “shit sandwich” could be considered kind of a trollish thing for me to have said. But the potty language in this context was not gratuitous; it furthered the larger point I […]

John Le Carre is good at integrating thought and action

I was reading a couple old Le Carre spy novels. They have their strong points and their weak points; I’m not gonna claim that Le Carre is a great writer. He’s no George Orwell or Graham Greene. (This review by the great Clive James nails Le Carre perfectly.) But I did notice one thing Le […]

Alternatives and reality

I saw this cartoon from Randall Munroe, and it reminded me of something I wrote awhile ago. The quick story is that I don’t think the alternative histories within alternative histories are completely arbitrary. It seems to me that there’s a common theme in the best alternative history stories, a recognition that our world is […]

Name this fallacy!

It’s the fallacy of thinking that, just cos you’re good at something, that everyone should be good at it, and if they’re not, they’re just being stubborn and doing it badly on purpose. I thought about this when reading this line from Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker: [Henry Louis] Gates is one of the […]

“One should always beat a dead horse because the horse is never really dead”

Paul Alper came up with the above aphorism after reading this news article by Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas, which goes as follows: What These Medical Journals Don’t Reveal: Top Doctors’ Ties to Industry One is dean of Yale’s medical school. Another is the director of a cancer center in Texas. A third is the […]

Works of art that are about themselves

I watched Citizen Kane (for the umpteenth time) the other day and was again struck by how it is a movie about itself. Kane is William Randolph Hearst, but he’s also Orson Welles, boy wonder, and the movie Citizen Kane is self-consciously a masterpiece. Some other examples of movies that are about themselves are La […]

Emile Bravo and agency

I was reading Tome 4 of the adventures of Jules (see the last item here), and it struck me how much agency the characters had. They seemed to be making their own decisions, saying what they wanted to say, etc. Just as a contrast, I’m also reading an old John Le Carre book, and here […]

Jonathan (another one) does Veronica Geng does Robert Mueller

Frequent commenter Jonathan (another one) writes: I realize that so many people bitch about the seminar showdown that you might need at one thank you. This year, I managed to re-read the bulk of Geng, and for that I thank you. I have not yet read any Sattouf, but it clearly has made an impression […]

George Orwell meets statistical significance: “Politics and the English Language” applied to science

1. Political writing: imprecision as a tool for obscuring the indefensible In his classic essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the political journalist George Orwell drew a connection between cloudy writing and cloudy content. The basic idea was: if you don’t know what you’re saying, or if you’re trying to say something you don’t really […]

“The algorithm is named after Hamiltonian dynamics, a model of physics that is used to construct the steps of the computation, and Monte Carlo, the town in Monaco that is associated with casinos and random algorithms more generally.”

I love writing textbooks; you get to explain the things that otherwise never get spelled out.

Storytelling: What’s it good for?

A story can be an effective way to send a message. Anna Clemens explains: Why are stories so powerful? To answer this, we have to go back at least 100,000 years. This is when humans started to speak. For the following roughly 94,000 years, we could only use spoken words to communicate. Stories helped us […]

Becker on Bohm on the important role of stories in science

Tyler Matta writes: During your talk last week, you spoke about the role of stories in scientific theory. On page 104 of What Is Real: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics, Adam Becker talks about stories and scientific theory in relation to alternative conceptions of quantum theory, particularly between Bohm’s pilot-wave interpretation […]

A parable regarding changing standards on the presentation of statistical evidence

Now, the P-value Sneetches Had tables with stars. The Bayesian Sneetches Had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all. But, because they had stars, all the P-value Sneetches Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the Beaches. […]

In which I demonstrate my ignorance of world literature

Fred Buchanan, a student at Saint Anselm’s Abbey School, writes: I’m writing a paper on the influence of Jorge Luis Borges in academia, in particular his work “The Garden of Forking Paths”. I noticed that a large number of papers from a wide array of academic fields include references to this work. Your paper, “The […]

The evolution of pace in popular movies

James Cutting writes: Movies have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Several of these changes in popular English-language filmmaking practice are reflected in patterns of film style as distributed over the length of movies. In particular, arrangements of shot durations, motion, and luminance have altered and come to reflect aspects of the narrative form. […]

Hey! There are mathematicians out there who’ve never read Proofs and Refutations. Whassup with that??

I ran into a colleague the other day who’d never read Proofs and Refutations (full title: Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery). He’d never even heard of it!