Number Crunching

by Kieran Healy on October 29, 2003

Kevin Drum is keeping score in an argument about data on global warming. “M&M” (don’t ask me, I’m only reporting this) re-analyzed data for a famous graph and claimed to find serious errors. Now, Kevin says

bq. Somebody — it’s not entirely clear who — exported the original raw data to Excel but somehow exported 159 columns of data into a 112-column spreadsheet. M&M failed to compare the spreadsheet to the original data and thus produced a “correction” that was riddled with errors.

Here’s something you can try at home: Walk up to a statistician, shake their hand and say “When I reanalyzed your data using Microsoft Excel, I found numerous errors.” Stand well back. Wait.

It’s all the worse, really, given that one of the best pieces of software for statistical computing is available for free. In fairness to these guys, though (and in response to a comment below from Kevin), I should say that data management is an often error-prone business that I’ve been bitten by myself. It’d be tough on them if an otherwise well-conducted reanalysis got tripped up because they used an incorrect version of the dataset.

Opera on a budget

by Chris Bertram on October 29, 2003

I went to see “The Opera Project’s”: production of Cosi Fan Tutte last night at Bristol’s “Tobacco Factory”: . I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, since my previous experience of the venue had been for the excellent “Shakespeare”: productions there, rather than for anything musical. The theatre is very small and the audience entirely surrounds the “stage”. Anyway, it worked marvellously. Musically, of course, it wasn’t going to be on a par with Covent Garden or the Met since only a very small orchestra could possibly fit in the space. But dramatically it was tremendous with the players in very immediate contact with the audience. The singing was pretty good, but Richard Studer’s very colloquial English translation of the libretto — “You’re winding me up!” etc — and the unfussiness of the production made for a very engaging evening.

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Casual rights scepticism

by Micah on October 29, 2003

Group blogs seem to be picking up steam, especially among law students and “legal academics”: Over at “En Banc”:, “Unlearned Hand”:, who is now dividing his time between his eponymous blog and the very promising new one, argues, in this “post”:, that prisoners at Gitmo have no moral rights because such rights are impossible to identify.

bq. If “rights are intrinsic”, then define them. Come on, I’m really interested to hear all about my instrinsic rights. Which rights are these? Who gets to define them? What enforcement mechanisms? Don’t waste your time. It’s a bunch of pseudo-ethical mumbo jumbo that has little meaning in print and even less in practice . . . all this talk of instrinsic rights will get you absolutely nowhere, except perhaps into the good graces of a DPhil candidate at Oxford.

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Weapon of Choice

by Henry on October 29, 2003

From James Buchan’s _Frozen Desire: The Meaning of Money_ (as nice an example of limpid prose as you could ask for, by the way) comes the following.

bq. Sir William Petty, when challenged to a duel in Ireland by Sir Aleyn Brodrick, readily accepted, though he was so short-sighted as to be purblind. He merely asked for choice of weapons and selected, according to Evelyn and Aubrey, ‘an hatchet or Axe in a darke cellar.’

Bad language

by Henry on October 29, 2003

Thanks to “Jeffrey Atkinson”: for pointing me to the Chronicle’s recent “review”: of a collection of essays in defense of bad academic writing in the humanities. Or, more precisely,

bq. exposing to interrogation the history, conventions, and assumptions underlying the designation ‘bad writing’ and its almost inarguable efficacy [as a rhetorical weapon].

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