Archive for book review

Gene Wolfe (1931-2019)

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on May 19, 2019 by xi'an

Just found out that the writer Gene Wolfe, author of the unique New Sun series (and many other masterpieces) had passed away two weeks ago. (The Guardian has a detailed obituary covering his life and oeuvres. Where I learned that he developed the Pringle’s machine for Procter and Gamble, something he can be pardoned for his other achievements!) The style of the New Sun series is indeed unique, complex, carefully designed, crafted in a very refined and beautiful language (missing the translation of the more appropriate langue), and requires commitment from the reader as the story never completely unfolds and sets all details straight, with characters rarely if ever to be taken at face value, making me feel the urge to re-read the book once I was finishing its last page. Which I never did, actually, and should consider, indeed!

Statistics and Health Care Fraud & Measuring Crime [ASA book reviews]

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2019 by xi'an

From the recently started ASA books series on statistical reasoning in science and society (of which I already reviewed a sequel to The Lady tasting Tea), a short book, Statistics and Health Care Fraud, I read at the doctor while waiting for my appointment, with no chances of cheating! While making me realise that there is a significant amount of health care fraud in the US, of which I had never though of before (!), with possibly specific statistical features to the problem, besides the use of extreme value theory, I did not find me insight there on the techniques used to detect these frauds, besides the accumulation of Florida and Texas examples. As  such this is a very light introduction to the topic, whose intended audience of choice remains unclear to me. It is stopping short of making a case for statistics and modelling against more machine-learning options. And does not seem to mention false positives… That is, the inevitable occurrence of some doctors or hospitals being above the median costs! (A point I remember David Spiegelhalter making a long while ago, during a memorable French statistical meeting in Pau.) The book also illustrates the use of a free auditing software called Rat-stats for multistage sampling, which apparently does not go beyond selecting claims at random according to their amount. Without learning from past data. (I also wonder if the criminals can reduce the chances of being caught by using this software.)

A second book on the “same” topic!, Measuring Crime, I read, not waiting at the police station, but while flying to Venezia. As indicated by the title, this is about measuring crime, with a lot of emphasis on surveys and census and the potential measurement errors at different levels of surveying or censusing… Again very little on statistical methodology, apart from questioning the data, the mode of surveying, crossing different sources, and establishing the impact of the way questions are stated, but also little on bias and the impact of policing and preventing AIs, as discussed in Weapons of Math Destruction and in some of Kristin Lum’s papers.Except for the almost obligatory reference to Minority Report. The book also concludes on an history chapter centred at Edith Abbott setting the bases for serious crime data collection in the 1920’s.

[And the usual disclaimer applies, namely that this bicephalic review is likely to appear later in CHANCE, in my book reviews column.]

haunting of tramcar 105 [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2019 by xi'an

A mix of steampunk and urban magic in a enlightened 1912 Cairo sounded like a good prolegomena and I bought P. Djèli Clark’s The haunting of tram car 015 on this basis. As it happens, this is actually a novella of 123 pages building on the same universe as a previous work of the author, A dead djinn in Cairo, which however is even shorter and only available as a Kindle book… I really enjoyed the short read and its description of an alternate Cairo that is competing with Paris and London, thanks to the advantage brought by the supernatural powers of djinns. (And apparently also gaining the independence Egypt could not secure under the British protectorate.) The English suffragettes have also their counterparts in Egypt and the country is about to decide about women right to vote. The story itself is nice if not stratospheric, with mostly well-drawn characters and good dialogues. (The core of the plot relies on smuggling sweets from Armenia, though, a rather weak link.) As in an earlier order, the book itself was not properly printed, with a vertical white band of erased characters on most odd pages, presumably another illustration of the shortcomings of the  print-on-demand principle. (Which means that I sent the book back to Amazon rather than leaving it in the common room.)

the joy of stats [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2019 by xi'an

David Spiegelhalter‘s latest book, The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data, has made it to Nature Book Review main entry this week. Under the title “the joy of stats”,  written by Evelyn Lamb, a freelance math and science writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. (I noticed that the book made it to Amazon #1 bestseller, albeit in the Craps category!, which I am unsure is completely adequate!, especially since the book is not yet for sale on the US branch of Amazon!, and further Amazon #1 in the Probability and Statistics category in the UK.) I have not read the book yet and here are a few excerpts from the review, quoted verbatim:

“The book is part of a trend in statistics education towards emphasizing conceptual understanding rather than computational fluency. Statistics software can now perform a battery of tests and crunch any measure from large data sets in the blink of an eye. Thus, being able to compute the standard deviation of a sample the long way is seen as less essential than understanding how to design and interpret scientific studies with a rigorous eye.”

“…a main takeaway from the book is a sense of circumspection about our confidence in what is known. As Spiegelhalter writes, the point of statistical science is to ease us through the stages of extrapolation from a controlled study to an understanding of the real world, `and finally, with due humility, be able to say what we can and cannot learn from data’. That humility can be lacking when statistics are used in debates about contentious issues such as the costs and benefits of cancer screening.

Отцы и дети [Fathers and Children]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2019 by xi'an
Following a mention made of this book on the French National Public radio, I read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the first time last month. This is a fabulous novel, reflecting about the failed modernisation of Russia after the abolishing of serfdom and the rise of nihilism in the younger generation. Having re-read Dostoievski’s Demons a few years ago, I appreciate the earlier Fathers and Sons and its role in shaping Dostoievski’s book, maybe in a less magistral way but also with a much more humane feeling in Fathers and Sons, while pretty much everyone sounds like an idiot in Demons. The plot of the nihilist attitudes of the sons being gradually swept away when falling in love may sound like a cheap trick, aggravated by the tragic and rather absurd ending of the most extreme character, but this is a more balanced image of the rural Russian society at the time, still exposing the shortcomings of a agrarian system that could not survive the (limited) emancipation of the serfs but also reflecting on the atemporal love of the parents for their prodigal sons!

Lies sleeping [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , on March 23, 2019 by xi'an

This is the seventh book in the Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch, which I have been expecting a long time. Avoiding the teasers like The Furthest Station, which appears primarily as a way to capitalise on readers’ impatience. And maybe due to this long wait or simply fatigue of the writer (or reader?!), I found this volume quite weak, from the plot which major danger remains hidden to the duh? title, to the cavalcade of past characters (most of whom I could not place), to the somewhat repetitive interaction of Peter Grant with his colleagues and the boring description of car rides from one place of London to another, to an absence of hidden treasures from the true London, to the lack of new magical features in this universe, to a completely blah ending… Without getting into spoilers, this chase of the Faceless Man should have been the apex of the series, which mostly revolved around this top Evil, should have seen a smooth merging of the rivers when they join and die in the Channel, but the ending of this book is terribly disappointing. Sounds like the rivers are really drying out and should wait for the next monsoon to swell again to engaging pace and fascinating undercurrents! Although it seems the next book is on its way (and should land in Germany).

La peste et la vigne [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2019 by xi'an

During my trip to Cambodia, I read the second volume of this fantasy cycle in French. Which I liked almost as much as the first volume since the author continues to explore the mystery of the central character Syffe and its relations with some magical forces at play in his universe. As in most stories uniquely centred on a single character point of view the recurring ponderings of Syffe about his role in life, the existence of supernatural forces, and his own sanity may tend to get annoying at time. But the escape from the mines and the subsequent stay in a mountain kingdom are well-paced, especially the description of the plague that allows such an escape. The last section is more connected with the first volume and sees more warfare, again with sudden reversals of fortune (no further spoiler!). The final chapters see a lot explained about many aspects of the story and the raison d’être of the character, even though the very last surprise is somewhat predictable. But opening new vistas for the future volumes. There are still many threads I could have pulled to point some potential influences of earlier cycles, from Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant chronicles, which I simply hated!, to Robin Hobb’s Soldier’s son. Since both stories convey the feeling of a magical force at the level of the whole land (or universe), with the unprepared and imperfect “hero” able to impact this land in dramatic ways. And again Elizabeth Moon’s Deeds of Paksenarion for the depiction of mercenary companies…