Archive for The New York Times

Bayes @ NYT

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2020 by xi'an

A tribune in the NYT of yesterday on the importance of being Bayesian. When an epidemiologist. Tribune that was forwarded to me by a few friends (and which I missed on my addictive monitoring of the journal!). It is written by , a Canadian journalist writing about mathematics (and obviously statistics). And it brings to the general public the main motivation for adopting a Bayesian approach, namely its coherent handling of uncertainty and its ability to update in the face of new information. (Although it might be noted that other flavours of statistical analysis are also able to update their conclusions when given more data.) The COVID situation is a perfect case study in Bayesianism, in that there are so many levels of uncertainty and imprecision, from the models themselves, to the data, to the outcome of the tests, &tc. The article is journalisty, of course, but it quotes from a range of statisticians and epidemiologists, including Susan Holmes, whom I learned was quarantined 105 days in rural Portugal!, developing a hierarchical Bayes modelling of the prevalent  SEIR model, and David Spiegelhalter, discussing Cromwell’s Law (or better, humility law, for avoiding the reference to a fanatic and tyrannic Puritan who put Ireland to fire and the sword!, and had in fact very little humility for himself). Reading the comments is both hilarious (it does not take long to reach the point when Trump is mentioned, and Taleb’s stance on models and tails makes an appearance) and revealing, as many readers do not understand the meaning of Bayes’ inversion between causes and effects, or even the meaning of Jeffreys’ bar, |, as conditioning.


Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2020 by xi'an

on an absurd climbing competition

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2020 by xi'an

The New York Times has a very interesting piece on why Adam Ondra, arguably the best sport climber in the World, who climbed the very first 9c route in 2018, with a supernatural move involving hanging head down, actually has little hope of winning the Olympics. Assuming there will be Olympics this year. It is essentially because there is only one single medal for the sport, merging the radically different skills of bouldering, lead climbing and the absurd addition of speed climbing, which involves a single route, always the same, not particularly hard (6b) but to be climbed as fast as possible. To be a top contender on two categories is already pretty rare, with Ondra an exception. To master all three… Only cumulated athletic categories like heptathlon or pentathlon compare, but they come on top of existing competitions for every single of the seven or five events they are made of. Ondra came second or first in bouldering and lead, but closer to last for speed climbing. At least he made it through the qualifications.

the exponential power of now

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2020 by xi'an

The New York Times had an interview on 13 March with Britta Jewell (MRC, Imperial College London) and Nick Jewell (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine & U of C Berkeley), both epidemiologists. (Nick is also an AE for Biometrika.) Where they explain quite convincingly that the devastating power of the exponential growth and the resulting need for immediate reaction. An urgency that Western governments failed to heed, unsurprisingly including the US federal government. Maybe they should have been told afresh about the legend of paal paysam, where the king who lost to Krishna was asked to double rice grains on the successive squares of a chess board. (Although this is presumably too foreign a thought experiment for The agent orange. He presumably prefers the unbelievable ideological rantings of John Ioannides. Who apparently does mind sacrificing “people with limited life expectancies” for the sake of the economy.) Incidentally, I find the title “The exponential power of now” fabulous!

the ninth house

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2020 by xi'an

“Monsters often operate metaphorically in fantasy. We can banish those literal monsters, but to banish the figurative monster at the same time does a tremendous disservice to readers, because trauma doesn’t finish with the last page of a book,. And for those of us who live with any kind of trauma in our past, the idea of purging it in some kind of magical way is offensive.” L. Bardugo, Bustle, Oct 9, 2019

As I had rather enjoyed the style of her YA Grisha series (despite a superficial scenario and equally superficial Russification of the fantasy universe there), I followed another Amazon link to Leigh Bardugo’s first “adult” novel. (Which denomination means not purposedly “young adult”!) The Ninth House. After a highly laudatory New York Times book review.

The story is rather unsurprising at one level, namely a college town (Yale, New Haven), “secret” societies (nine of them), some happy (?) few having access to magical powers, a parallel world, ghosts and demons, a freshwoman coming from a highly traumatic past and an unprivileged background, brushing with much more privileged classmates and catching up amazingly well in English literature and languages (but staying away from STEM, why is that?!), not so much an anti-hero as the author would us like to believe but who single-handedly solves a murder (or a few) and exposes some of the murderers for her own sense of justice. With a pending sequel to seek a missing paladin and mentor. With an elaborate enough style and enough twists and surprises in the plot to keep the reader hooked, especially readers with a past or a present in said college town. Or another Ivy League town.

However, there is more depth to the book than a mere exploitation of successful tropes, in that the main character is building meaning all along the book, with her supernatural abilities more curse than blessing and a massive past trauma that cannot heal and threatens to define her. Which makes the above statement from the author quite powerful. I thus found the book equally powerful, despite not being a big fan of ghost and horror stories, to the point of looking for the next installment, whenever ready.