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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Friday music

The weekend's here; time for some musical genius: Michael Hedges' cover of She Drives me Crazy.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Changeling

Robin Jenkins' The Changeling is one of the best novels I've read for a long time. To my shame I'd never heard of Robin Jenkins and I had no real idea what I would find inside the covers. It seems that north of the border Jenkins is still well known and  his novels even feature in school examination syllabuses. Down here he gets zero name recognition. That's a real shame because he is, in my estimation, much more than a minor regional novelist.

The book's West Coast of Scotland setting  appealed to me partly because it brought back childhood memories of being taken on the boat to Rothesay  (a vicious gull stealing a banana from my five-year old hand is indelibly etched on my brain) and of going from Glasgow on family outings to Helensburgh, Largs, Garelochhead and Loch Long. One of the the oddities of that part of the world is that you can easily take a day trip from some of the worst urban deprivation in Western Europe, to an area of outstanding natural beauty where incongruously you can  see the sinister black shapes of submarines floating on the deep (and extremely cold) water.

The easiest way to sum the novel up is that it is about geographical, social and moral liminality. Boundaries are transgressed, certainties are disrupted,  home truths are brought to the surface and left unresolved. A good but somewhat sanctimonious school teacher tries to do a good thing, possibly for bad reasons and simply doesn't understand the damage he is going to cause both to the object of his generosity and to those around him that he loves.

The bleakness of the tale is relieved by an element  of grim humour  in the episodes that describe the collision of different social worlds. The ending is perhaps a little melodramatic but by this point the tension that has been created by so many misunderstandings, changes of mind and partial insights into self-delusion is so great that some kind of catharsis, albeit a tragic one, is needed to bring the book to an end. Perhaps if he had been writing today he would just have left things hanging in the air. 

The moral of the story: the Good Samaritan had it easy.

Friday, 11 March 2016

P. Values and all that

I feel I should write something about the  ASA pronouncement on p-values, but reached the conclusion that to say anything that's in any way  useful and that won't be misconstrued by fools or knaves will be so time consuming that it will seriously interfere with doing stuff I really need to be getting on with.

It's an important issue, requires careful discussion and, perhaps most importantly, requires that some attention be paid to disciplinary context. It also requires an understanding that science doesn't take place in a knowledge vacuum. Usually no single experiment or piece of data analysis is decisive (at least in the fields I work in).

Already the usual cranks and buffoons are bellowing nonsense about it down their megaphones, but since a defining feature of crankiness is incorrigibility in the face of  reason it is a waste of time to include them in the conversation.

For what it is worth I  find  the ASA statement in itself  to be entirely reasonable. It doesn't condemn the use of p-values; it does point out that p-values are often used or interpreted inappropriately. Who could disagree with that? There are good  comments by Senn, Mayo and Benjamini among others. You can catch the latter on Mayo's blog

I even liked Gelman's 'garden of forking paths' routine though I fear where that would take us with regard to most of the quantitative empirical work in sociology.  I tend to think of most of the work I do in terms of estimation and data smoothing rather than hypothesis testing but whatever you are doing you do need to think about all of the data dependent decisions you have made and how those might have gone the other way if the data had been different.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Peppers and Tomatoes

This explains why I have an intense dislike of  identity politics.   I'm also fairly indifferent to salad, but if it's put on my plate I'll eat it.