From the monthly archives:

October 2003

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”:http://www.nowt2do.co.uk/TPreview_TobAut_Cosi.htm production of Cosi Fan Tutte last night at Bristol’s “Tobacco Factory”:http://www.tobaccofactory.com/theatre.htm . I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, since my previous experience of the venue had been for the excellent “Shakespeare”:http://www.shakespeareatthetobaccofactory.co.uk/ 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”:http://therightcoast.blogspot.com/. Over at “En Banc”:http://www.enbanc.org, “Unlearned Hand”:http://www.unlearnedhand.com/, who is now dividing his time between his eponymous blog and the very promising new one, argues, in this “post”:http://www.enbanc.org/archives/000123.html, 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”:http://chemiris.labs.brocku.ca/~chemweb/faculty/atkinson/ for pointing me to the Chronicle’s recent “review”:http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i09/09b01101.htm 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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All Things Bright and Easterbrook

by Kieran Healy on October 28, 2003

Following up on yesterday’s great “spiritual plane debate,” I see via Atrios and Carl Zimmer that Gregg Easterbrook may subscribe to the theory of Intelligent Design. Best known in the version presented by William Paley, this is the view that, as Easterbrook puts it, “organic biology [sic] is so phenomenally complex that it is illogical to assume that life created itself. There must have been some force providing guidance.”

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Let It Be – Naked

by Harry on October 28, 2003

Sorry to lower the tone, but Terry Wogan proimised that today he would have a world exclusive of the first radio play of ‘Let It Be’ from the ‘new’ Beatles album on Wake Up To Wogan. You have to listen on the Listen Again feature you’ll find on the page. It is about 38 minutes into the show. My guess is that it’ll be available today only.

It’ll take a better ear than mine to identify precisely how it is superior to the Phil Spector version, but it is only the title track.

War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength.

by Kieran Healy on October 28, 2003

Bush Says Attacks Are A Sign of U.S. Progress.

Criteria for identifying a lack of progress to follow. Presumably will not include “fewer attacks.” (Via Billmon.)

Gregg Easterbrook is having a bad month

by Kieran Healy on October 28, 2003

Fresh from that thing about them greedy, violence-lovin’ jews (for which he paid a big price), Gregg Easterbrook posts something about God. We all know that bloggers say posts from people they like are “characteristically insightful.” Here we have Gregg Easterbrook being atypically sophomoric. Again.

bq. Cosmologists talk rather casually of alternate dimensions during the Big Bang or of the “many worlds” hypothesis in which there are billions of parallel universes, perhaps an infinite number, occupying an infinity of different dimensions. … Speculation about other dimensions is interesting, but there isn’t the slightest evidence–not a scintilla, as lawyers say–that other dimensions are genuine. Nor is it clear what, exactly, other dimensions could be like on a physical basis. The whole idea of other dimensions is mushy, to say the least.

Hang on, did you just say the legal department will be arbitrating this issue? And where is this line of thought going, anyway?

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Blogs for the Boys

by Kieran Healy on October 28, 2003

Jacob Levy asks an interesting question about group blogs staffed by academics:

bq. For purposes of academic conflict-of-interest norms, what sort of relationship do co-bloggers have to one another?

He wonders whether people who post on the same blog should do things like review one another’s papers or write tenure letters and so on. I have a mental picture of a rapidly branching tree of hypothetical cases that needs to be pruned near the base. Things like tenure letters seem like an easy case: you’re supposed to disclose your relationship to the person you’re evaluating anyway. (“Prof. Healy’s ill-informed pot-shots have been a constant irritant in my comments threads for years, despite my numerous attempts to ban him.”) You’d just need to get over the hump of embarrassment about admitting you know someone through a blog.

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We’re only human after all.

by Maria on October 27, 2003

Last Friday night, I went along with a friend to a cello recital in the Marais, an arty area of Paris. We missed the right door three times in the dark, but finally found our way upstairs, through an ordinary old apartment building complete with post boxes, lights on a timer, little old ladies and exhortations to keep the door shut, to the last remaining temple in Europe of Comte’s humanist religion, the Chapel of Humanity.

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Book cites

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2003

Starting today, searches on Amazon.com will look for your terms in the entire text of over 120,000 books. Not only do you get a list of books that cite an author or mention a concept, but you can also view a pdf copy of the page where the citation occurs.

As an academic, this serves as an extremely helpful complementary tool to the Social Science Citation Index (or other citation index equivalents), which allow similar searches for journal articles.

It is also a fun procrastinatory tool as I try to figure out which of the Hargittai references are to my work and not to the work of my parents.:) (Thanks go to my Mom for calling this new feature to my attention.)

Journal Boycott

by Brian on October 27, 2003

The SF Chronicle reports that two UCSF scientists are leading a boycott of six journals published by Cell Press, a division of Reed-Elsevier. The immediate cause of the boycott is that Cell wants the UC system to pay $90,000 for electronic subscriptions to the six journals, and the scientists regard that as exorbitant.

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Fox in charge of chicken coop

by Chris Bertram on October 27, 2003

Via “Libertarian Samizdata”:http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/004847.html#004847 and the “Telegraph”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/10/26/nnazi26.xml&sSheet=/portal/2003/10/26/ixportal.html comes further evidence that the British police are not particularly careful whom they employ:

bq. A detective responsible for investigating racially motivated crime lives in a home filled with Nazi SS uniforms and tributes to Hitler, The Telegraph can reveal.

bq. Det Con Linda Daniels, who is married to a known racist and BNP member who believes the Holocaust was “exaggerated”, works in the community safety unit at the police station in Notting Hill, one of the most ethnically diverse areas of London.

bq. The unit, one of many set up across the city as a result of the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, investigates “hate crimes”, including “racist crime, domestic violence, homophobic crime and hate mail”.

bq. Her home, however, which she shares with her 52-year-old husband Keith Beaumont, contains a life-size mannequin of a Nazi SS soldier, with swastikas on its helmet and belt, in the hallway.

Kudos to Samizdata’s David Carr for pointing to the story. The sentiments expressed in the accompanying comments thread (her private business, political-correctness-gone-mad, Trevor Phillips just as bad, blah , blah blah) are somewhat alarming).

Geras on copyediting (revised and lawyered)

by Daniel on October 27, 2003

Crikey, if you guys regularly had to get something through a legal department, you would never again complain about mere copyediting … I’ve made a few illustrative comments which need to be taken into account before we resubmit this piece to Norman for a redraft ….

I do not generally [consider deleting, or move to beginning of sentence] hold people in contempt because of for their profession, their job^, or their calling.

[Can we prove this? Could we provide at least three examples of each (ie, three of not holding people in contempt because of their profession, three of not holding in contempt because of job, and three of not holding in contempt because of calling). Otherwise change this to “I do not always hold people in contempt ….”]

But copy editors editing!

[This sentence may be unclear to non-native English speakers]

That is something [Make consistent with either ‘editors’ or ‘editing’ in previous two sentences] different.

[Different from what? Can we prove this? Could we find someone else saying that it was different and just quote them?]

Not as bad, I will grant, as war criminals or child molesters

[Need specific examples here rather than making a value judgement. Perhaps we could provide a table of the numbers of people tortured and children molested by each of the three categories? At the very least, we need to say why we think copyeditors are not as bad as war criminals or (I really would prefer “and/or”) child molestors]

, they nevertheless belong in one of the very lowest categories of human intelligence^, and indeed morality.

[Specifically which category? How many categories are we using, and where do copyeditors, war criminals and child molestors come respectively? This sentence can’t be printed unless we provide a sidebar giving our scales of categories of human intelligence and morality. Ideally, we should also combine the two into a weighted average intelligence/morality scale. We should also give examples of where saints, charity workers and tenured professors come in order to demonstrate how much differentiation there is in our scale.]

You will [consider ‘may’] object that copy editors perform a most useful and necessary function, turning what is often ill-formed and error-strewn text into something more presentable. This, too, I will grant.

[This doesn’t appear to be consistent withour view above, and could be taken out of context. Need to rephrase the sentence to make sure our view is clear].

However, it there is no excuse for what copy editors they [referent is clear] also do

[Avoid unequivocal statements of this kind – of course there must be some excuses. Suggest “there is no excuse meeting what a reasonable man would consider to be a reasonable standard of exculpatory value”]

– which is to [run-on; consider breaking into two sentences] interfere with people’s painfully-crafted stuff
[lazy choice of word] when there is no reason whatever for doing so

[As above, there are preumably lots of reasons – you give one below – once more, suggest “no reason meeting what a reasonable persion would consider to be a reasonable standard of rationality”. BTW, the piece is too long as it stands and needs to lose 50 words]

, other than some quirk in the ^mind of the particular copy-editor ing mind which is at work….

[“Quirk” is an ambiguous term. Do we mean an idiosyncracy or do we intend to imply incompetence or something worse? If the former, we need to make it clear. If the latter, we will need to support this claim]

I have charged £541.63 to the Normblog profit centre for this advice, as per usual overhead conventions.