Archive for book review

a stretched view on Keynes’ Treatise

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 20, 2020 by xi'an

I came across a rather bemusing interpretation of Keynes’ Treatise on Probability, as a tribune in Le Monde of 6 September, as being a statement against the mathematical modelling of economy. Written by Annie Cot, professor of economics at Paris Sorbonne University. While the philosophical thread of the book is inclined towards a subjective perception of probability, albeit rejecting the Bayesian approach, and while the view on statistics is equally pessimistic, falling into the infinite regress of conditioning on the observation itself, outside a Bayesian framework, as I discussed in my 2011 paper, the book makes no mention whatsoever of economics or economic models. As far as I remember the book from reading it ten years ago. To conclude, as the author of this tribune, that Keynes rejected the viability of prevision based on economic models via this book sounds therefore stretching the facts to a fair extent.

sixteen ways to defend a walled city [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2020 by xi'an

The title of this book, sixteen ways to defend a walled city,  enticed me to order it and after a slow beginning I became hooked to the story. I had forgotten I had read and enjoyed a book by K.J. Parker before, namely Devices and Desires, which was quite pleasant as far as I remember! (Not to be confused with another book under the same title by P.D. James.) The concept is somewhat similar, with the same universe if eons laters: boosted medieval warfare seen from an engineer’s perspective. (Devices and Desires started the Engineer Trilogy to make it clear to everyone!) Which makes for a pleasant change as devious ingenuity usually trumps frontal strength and there is at last attention paid to good, I mean in the sense of good delivery, resources, shortage, &tc.! The style is light and funny, the characters are somewhat too nice overall (until they die), but this makes for a tolerable kind of pastiche, most enjoyable to stand a heatwave! A second book just came out and I may be tempted to buy it, heatwave or not. Although the first one concluded in a rather definitive way, making a sequel unlikely… I may also complete the Engineer Trilogy.

in the name of eugenics [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2020 by xi'an

In preparation for the JSM round table on eugenics and statistics, organised by the COPSS Award Committee, I read the 1985 book of Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, as recommended by Stephen Stiegler. While a large part of the book was published in The New Yorker, in which Kevles published on a regular basis, and while he abstains from advanced methodological descriptions, focussing more on the actors of this first attempt at human genetics and of the societal consequences of biased interpretations and mistaken theories, his book is a scholarly accomplishment, with a massive section of notes and numerous references. This is a comparative history of eugenics from the earliest (Francis Galton, 1865) to the current days (1984) since “modern eugenics” survived the exposure of the Nazi crimes (including imposed sterilizations that are still enforced to this day). Comparative between the UK and the US, however, hardly considering other countries, except for a few connections with Germany and the Soviet Union, albeit in the sole perspective of Muller’s sojourn there and the uneasy “open-minded” approach to Lysenkoism by Haldane. (Japan is also mentioned in connection with Neel’s study of the genetic impact of the atomic bombs.) While discussing the broader picture, the book mostly concentrates on the scientific aspects, on how the misguided attempts to reduce intelligence to IQ tests or to a single gene, and to improve humanity (or some of its subgroups) by State imposed policies perceived as crude genetic engineering simultaneously led to modern genetics and a refutation of eugenic perspectives by most if not all. There is very little about statistical methodology per, beside stories on the creation of Biometrika and the Annals of Eugenics, but much more on the accumulation of data by eugenic societies and the exploitation of this data for ideological purposes. Galton and Pearson get the lion’s share of the book, while Fisher does not get more coverage than Haldane or Penrose. Overall, I found the book immensely informative as exposing the diversity of scientific and pseudo-scientific viewpoints within eugenism and its evolution towards human genetics as a scientific endeavour.

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Scepticism in a Data‑Driven World [EJ’s book review]

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

“…this book will train readers to be statistically savvy at a time when immunity to misinformation is essential: not just for the survival of liberal democracy, as the authors assert, but for survival itself.Perhaps a crash course on bullshit detection should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum.”

In the latest issue of Nature, EJ Wagenmaker has written a book review of the book Calling Bullshit, by  Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West. Book written out of a course taught by the authors at the University of Washington during Spring Quarter 2017 and aimed at teaching students how to debunk bullshit, that is, misleading exploitation of statistics and machine learning. And subsequently turned into a book. Which I have not read. In his overall positive review EJ regrets the poor data visualisation scholarship of the authors, who could have demonstrated and supported the opportunity for a visual debunking of the original data. And the lack of alternative solutions like Bayesian analysis to counteract p-fishing. Of course, the need for debunking and exposing statistically sounding misinformation has never been so present.

the biggest bluff [not a book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2020 by xi'an

It came as a surprise to me that the book reviewed in the book review section of Nature of 25 June was a personal account of a professional poker player, The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova.  (Surprise enough to write a blog entry!) As I see very little scientific impetus in studying the psychology of poker players and the associated decision making. Obviously, this is not a book review, but a review of the book review. (Although the NYT published a rather extensive extract of the book, from which I cannot detect anything deep from a game-theory viewpoint. Apart from the maybe-not-so-deep message that psychology matters a lot in poker…) Which does not bring much incentive for those uninterested (or worse) in money games like poker. Even when “a heap of Bayesian model-building [is] thrown in”, as the review mixes randomness and luck, while seeing the book as teaching the reader “how to play the game of life”, a type of self-improvement vending line one hardly expects to read in a scientific journal. (But again I have never understood the point in playing poker…)