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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

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!

Tom Wolfe

I’m a big Tom Wolfe fan. My favorites are The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, and I have no patience for the boosters (oh, sorry, “experts”) of modern art of the all-black-painting variety or modern architecture of the can’t-find-the-front-door variety who can’t handle Wolfe’s criticism. I also enjoyed Bonfire of the Vanities, […]

“35. What differentiates solitary confinement, county jail and house arrest” and 70 others

Thomas Perneger points us to this amusing quiz on statistics terminology: Lots more where that came from.

“Imaginary gardens with real data”

“Statistics” by Marianne Moore, almost I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine. Hands that can grasp, eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise if […] A souped-up Arxiv with pre- and post-publication review

Harry Crane writes: I’m writing to call your attention to a new peer review and publication platform, called RESEARCHERS.ONE, that I have recently launched with Ryan Martin. The platform can be found at Given past discussions I’ve seen on your website, I think this new platform might interest you and your readers. We’d also […]

Robert Heinlein vs. Lawrence Summers

Thomas Ball writes: In this article about Nabokov and the influence of John Dunne’s theories on him (and others in the period l’entre deux guerres) you can see intimations of Borges’ story The Garden of Forking Paths…. The article in question is by Nicholson Baker. Nicholson Baker! It’s great to see that he’s still writing. […]

Where that title came from

I could not think of a good title for this post. My first try was “An institutional model for the persistence of false belief, but I don’t think it’s helpful to describe scientific paradigms as ‘true’ or ‘false.’ Also, boo on cheap laughs at the expense of academia,” and later attempts were even worse. At […]

BD reviews

I read BD’s (bandes dessinées or, as we say in English, graphic literature or picture storybooks) to keep up with my French. Regular books are too difficult for me. When it comes to BDs, some of the classic kids strips and albums are charming, but the ones for adults, which are more like Hollywood movies, […]