Archive for 1968

if then [reading a book self-review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2020 by xi'an

Nature of 17 September 2020 has a somewhat surprising comment section where an author, Jill Lepore from Harvard University, actually summarises her own book, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation invented the Future. This book is the (hi)story of a precursor of Big Data Analytics, Simulmatics, which used as early as 1959 clustering and simulation to predict election results and if possible figure out discriminant variables. Which apparently contributed to John F. Kennedy’ s victory over Richard Nixon in 1960. Rather than admiring the analytic abilities of such precursors (!), the author is blaming them for election interference. A criticism that could apply to any kind of polling, properly or improperly conducted. The article also describes how Simulmatics went into advertising, econometrics and counter-insurgency, vainly trying to predict the occurence and location of riots (at home) and revolutions (abroad). And argues in a all-encompassing critique against any form of data-analytics applied to human behaviour. And praises the wisdom of 1968 protesters over current Silicon Valley researchers (whose bosses may have been among these 1968 protesters!)… (Stressing again that my comments come from reading and reacting to the above Nature article, not the book itself!)

my neighbourhood in the New Yorker

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2020 by xi'an

While I was reading (part of) a recent issue of The New Yorker over breakfast, I was surprised to find my neighbourhood city of Bourg-la-Reine (twin city, Kenilworth!) mentioned in a tribune! It was about interviewing the local authors of a boardgame called Kapital! which is presented there as a form of (French) anti-Monopoly, authors who were both CNRS researchers in sociology until they retired. And who produced (even) more militant ouput since then, including this boardgame. The (unintended?) fun in the tribune is the opposition between the May 68 style class warfare denounced by the authors and their apparently well-off conditions (no BBQ in the street there!).