update to the greatest christmas counterfactual ever

Is here. I will admit, I’ve wondered many times what my life would be like if the Internet had never been invented. My main conclusions are that I would have read more books, be less well apprised of current events, and have less geographically dispersed and less interesting friends. I’ve also wondered many times how growing up in rural Iowa would have been different had there been e-mail and the Web back then. There, presumably, I would have grown up feeling much less–shall we say–unusual, probably with both good and bad consequences.

The most farfetched part of It’s a Wonderful Life is the idea that Donna Reed would have ended up a spinster librarian if not for George Bailey.

the problem with optimism.

My parents called this morning to let us know they were leaving for the airport and to talk to B one more time (knowing my mother, this is because she’s always afraid she’s going to crash without saying goodbye to those she loves). At any rate, apparently my mom told B that she’d be in South Bend about 8:30pm. Because I realize the inadequacies of Chicago-O’Hare International Airport and am well aware of the weather-related problems occurring in Chicago, South Bend, and the toll-road between them, I told B that she was being an optimist. B said, “Well, Mom, I prefer to think of it as being positive.”

I take this as a clear indication that my child has only heard me use the word optimist in a negative light and thinks it’s a put-down. I guess I’ve got my first new year’s resolution – work on being optimistic about optimism.

the glamorous life

I am working on a revise-and-resubmit for a comment on a paper published in a prominent journal. Believe me, I am by this point so over being surprised by incompetent work appearing in prestigious places, and yet this paper was beyond the beyonds. The paper has three sections that claim to offer separate scientific contributions. Regarding one of them, here is a sentence I just drafted:

In sum, [author]’s analysis of [thing] treats arbitrary survey categories as natural distinctions, presents overall results that are logically necessary as though they were empirical findings, and characterizes specific results in ways that contradict simple cross-tabulation of the pertinent variables.

The kicker? Continue reading “the glamorous life”

a freakonomic riddle

Fabio recently linked to an argument by the economist historian Deirdre McCloskey against using outside letters for tenure decisions.  The argument is mostly economic: because there are no incentives for outside professors to be exacting or to say anything negative, the letters convey virtually no information because either the outside person is going to be positive or they will turn down the request.  Plus, the most reliable strategy for trying to read through the hagiography in letters of recommendation within a discipline—compare degrees of positiveness in multiple letters written by the same person—is not really available, especially when the tenure case is at the ad hoc level (the level after the person has received a positive vote from their department, where the case is reviewed by a committee of scholars from other departments).

So I was talking to a senior economist recently about the ad hoc process and asked him if his experience was that outside letters were not informative.  He said: Continue reading “a freakonomic riddle”

interview clothes

Pardon my making an executive decision here, but it seems that the “what to wear to an interview” thread that got started in the comments on a prior post should get its own line. Here is the original question: One grad student told me that her adviser said not to wear black at a jobtalk, Continue reading “interview clothes”