The slipperiness of significant publication

I’ve written before about trying to establish the significance of a philosophy publication, which mostly becomes an issue at tenure and promotion time. In an earlier post, I argued that citation counts are mostly rubbish for philosophy. Still, there are pressures to provide numerical measures.

In support of a recent tenure case, our department gave the acceptance rates at journals as evidence of their significance.1 The danger in using such a measure is that, if widely adopted, it would quickly become uninformative.2 If scholars get more credit for publishing in journals with low acceptance rates, they will preferentially start to submit to those. The journals will get more submissions but still accept the same number. This will, in turn, drive down the acceptance rates of those journals.

I recently learned that there is a name for this general phenomenon, Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

This shifts it from being this hunch I have to being a well-established phenomenon. I can now invoke it with greater conversational gravitas. Continue reading “The slipperiness of significant publication”

Nothing leads where I expect

When I started News For Wombats, I expected to be writing slightly different stuff than I did at Footnotes on Epicycles (my old blog).

I thought I’d post about politics, but I haven’t.

The present scene is alternately too depressing and too crazy. One example of a post that almost happened: I was struck, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, that the New York Times could could still whinge about Trump’s “moral standing as president.”1 I mulled it over a bit before posting, Trump doubled down on deferring to racism, and then the Time’s understatement seemed hardly worth mentioning.

I thought I’d write more capsule reviews, but I haven’t.

For example, the Netflix show Iron Fist is almost unwatchable. I ultimately soldiered through so that I could pick up the continuity of the Defenders. The biggest problem with Iron Fist is that the action scenes are terrible. I don’t just mean that the martial arts are technically poor (which they are) but also that they fail narratively. I am fine with fight scenes in old Star Trek episodes: Kirk takes out aliens with hammy rabbit punches, but it comes across that he’s supposed to be pretty good at punching. Silly fight choreography aside, the narrative is clear. In Iron Fist, Mister Fist is thrown around by even mook-level bad guys. The show doesn’t let me the viewer know that he’s supposed to actually be good at this.2

Hey, now I have written about those things. How about that?3 Continue reading “Nothing leads where I expect”

Tweets point nowhere

Mark Simonson’s blog got me thinking about information technology and the original aspirations of hypertext. Simonson laments that current technology is too much driven by concepts taken from print media. Part of the problem is the lack of a clearly defined alternative. Ted Nelson, who coined the word “hypertext”, had a vision of multiple texts floating on-screen with lines connecting points in one to points in another. I don’t see how that wouldn’t end up like items on a cork board linked by lengths of yarn, the idiom for madness from A Beautiful Mind which has become Hollywood shorthand for crazy conspiracy theories.

Old school blogging actually seems like a pretty good realization of hypertext. Good blog post take a while to write because you’ve got to provide pointers so that someone who hasn’t got context or who is curious can follow up. Someone who wants even more can search on key terms.

All of this crystallized for me what I don’t like about Twitter. In order to cut a thought down to Tweet length, people leave out context. What are they enraged about? What’s the thrust that drew their clever riposte? I can’t always tell.

Sometimes thoughts that won’t fit into a single tweet are written as a stream, possibly with numbered entries 1/9, 2/9,… I see entry 4 of 9 because someone reweeted it, and it’s a serious investment of effort just to view the original series in order. Even then, I can’t always suss out the context.

Twitter, in short, is hypotext. It eschews the links of hypertext but also the context you’d expect from a letter or newspaper article.

Part of the shift is that many people go on-line primarily with phones or tablets, appliances that are great for scrolling and clicking but bad for following multiple threads. Twitter and Facebook turn our feeds into one-dimensional things. We can scroll through, liking and reposting as we go. But reposting just drops another log somewhere into the flume.

Reader query, re: anagrams

Based on your own sense of how words work, pick one of the following:

  • Every word is an anagram of itself.
  • Some but not all words are anagrams of themselves.
  • No word is an anagram of itself.

There’s a principled case to be made for every answer. Cristyn and I hashed it out over goat cheese last night, but I won’t tell you the considerations we mustered on various sides or what we concluded. I’m curious about what you think.