HNTBW publicity roundup 2

How Not To Be Wrong got a really nice review from Laura Miller at Salon.  I like that she foregrounds the interweaving of mathematical and humanistic ways of treating problems, which is really central to the book, by me anyway.

In the Guardian, I get the “digested read” treatment; Jim Crace boils the book down to 800 words.  It’s sort of weird seeing your own style parodied:

Now let’s move on to some other more straightforward problems. Like is there a God? If you’re using the standard p>0.5, then yes, but don’t just take it from me. Look at the probabilities. Now as we’ve already seen in Boylais’s postulate, every straight line is a curve and every curve is a straight line and if we add everything up then 75% x 1000 + 24% x (-200) = 750 – 50 = 700. So there is more likely to be a God than not, especially if you employ Pascal’s wager. Take the sequence RRRRRR and RLLLRL. One appears more uniform, the other more random. Except they both have the same probability of coming up. Spooky? Then get this. Neither was a random sequence because I wrote them down.

My British editor has taught me that this is called “taking the mick.”

Steven Mazie is more or less on board with my criticism of the argument by design in Big Think.

Becky Holmes has a piece about me and the book in Madison’s alternative weekly, Isthmus.  It features a photo of my head superimposed atop a drawing of a classical geometer in a robe!

New York magazine’s Maggie Lange generalizes the “handsome guys are jerks” theorem.

Good stuff on the role of “geniuses” in research math at Persiflage, with many number theorists weighing in in the comments.

And the claim that I know what time you should get to the airport crosses back over the Atlantic to appear on the Today show.  I gotta say, in a minute and a half the hosts do a better job explaining the idea than any of the British newspapers.  U – S – A!  U – S – A!







12 thoughts on “HNTBW publicity roundup 2

  1. Nick Addington says:

    So by the same token, if you’ve never gotten a speeding ticket then you’re not driving fast enough?

  2. Jim says:

    I think the answer to that question may depend on whether or not you live in the I-95 corridor megalopolis.

  3. JSE says:

    In principle, yes — driving in such a way that means there’s a 0% chance of your ever getting a speeding ticket would probably mean driving substantially under the limit all the time, which would be bad. But in practice, we have way more control over our driving speed than we do over our travel time, and speeding tickets are in my experience NEVER given unless you’re at least 10 miles over, so if you constantly drive at around the limit, I think the chance of getting a ticket — while nonzero — is so small that you might not distinguish it from zero.

  4. Still, “expected frequency of tickets” as a function of “driving speed” has (my impression is) a reasonably moderate derivative in that range of speeds — it doesn’t look like a Heaviside function — so the argument surely still applies, that in optimising travel time against expected penalty, the optimal solution will not have negligible expected penalty; nor negligible probability of penalty, since the penalty (when it occurs) is not disproportionately large in utility.

    On the other hand, at least for me, the largest negative contribution in that optimisation is not “getting ticketed”, but “getting in an accident”. The argument does still show that in an optimal strategy, “expected negative utility from accidents” should be non-negligible; but since the negative utility of each accident is huge, it’s reasonable that “probability of accidents” for the strategy should be tiny, as intuition would have us hope!

  5. APS says:

    Crace usually does this kind of pastiche pretty well, but this time he just comes across as an ignoramus.

    On the plus side, getting the DIgested Read treatment puts you in the same company as Beckett, Kerouac, and, eh, Sarah Palin.

  6. Nick says:

    By the way, you should get slate to fix the link the to amazon book page (they’re sending it to

  7. JSE says:

    Which article is using that link, Nick? The ones I looked at had a working link.

  8. Matthew Emerton says:

    Dear Jordan,

    You can also say “taking the mickey” or “taking the piss”.



    P.S. Wikipedia suggests that the first of these is a actually rhyming slang variant
    of the second. I didn’t know that before now.

  9. NDE says:

    …or alternatively that “mickey” is short for “micturition”, which again means “urination”.

  10. JSE says:

    I’m familiar with “taking the piss,” but I thought it was just a synonym for “making fun of” — does it have this specific connotation of “making fun of by imitating?”

  11. Would it all be fair to say that a more accurate subtitle for your book is “The power of statistical thinking?”

    I’m not saying that would have been a better title — it may well be worse (it carries a certain connotation of mindlessly applying a menagerie of statistical tests to any situation, which is almost in complete opposition to your main point). But obviously this does not apply to “statistics done right.”

    To put the question more provocatively, do you think that there are any insights in your book which could not have equally been given by, say, Andrew Gelman? (Leaving completely aside matters of style, pedagogy, etc.) Assuming the answer to this question is no, are there any lessons at all for the general public from the specific way that higher mathematics is carried out?


  12. alex says:

    I read your article in WSJ. Just curious, who are the 2 Harvard professors? Jacob Lurie I presume is one, if he was part of the data. And the researchers said 3 are now mathematicians … who is the third?

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