Wednesday, February 8

You Got An Algorithm That Explains Why, If You Let Your Math-Major Roommate Do The Decorating, You'll Wind Up Staring At Fifteen M.C. Escher Posters?

Tim Hartford in Slate: "Who's the Greatest Artist of the 20th Century? This economist has figured out the answer."
I've noticed a similar tendency in economists. We spent decades perfecting the theoretical tools and the software to gather and analyze noisy data in a messy world. Most of the data were produced by laborious counting of the most obvious things: goods sold, prices, people out of work. Now the tools are so good and so simple to use, and data so easy to gather and disseminate, it's hard to resist the temptation not to count, well, something different.

A nice exponent of this is Chicago-based economist David Galenson , who recently demonstrated that Picasso was by far the greatest artist of the 20 th century. Galenson's method is simplicity itself: round up every art history textbook of the past 15 years and see whose art is reproduced most frequently. Picasso, with 395 illustrations in 33 textbooks, scores nearly as many as his three closest rivals (Matisse, Duchamp, and Mondrian) put together.

See, this is why I much prefer to hang out with artists in their cockroach-infested hovels rather than accountants in a skybox. Because I think I can guarantee that no artist is stupid enough to write a book naming the Great Economists of the 20th Century as sorted by their choice of shirt/tie color combinations.

I know nothing whatever about statistics, except not to fuck with them, and believe me, that's by choice. But whenever you see something like this there's always a little voice saying, "Gee, just a dollar for the whole bottle? And it cures scrofula?"

You can survey various 15-year periods of lit crit and determine that the Bard is a) way down the list of English playwrights; b) more of a poet; or c) hopelessly poncy. I just don't understand this burning desire we have to quantify the unquantifiable. Besides, it's Duchamp. I thought everybody knew that.


Anonymous said...

It's a Google algorithm gone mad.

Or, "Just because you have data does not mean you have facts."

Anonymous said...

Such "social observers" are soulless fucks who can't see past their own need to blather something just to justify their existence.

Tlachtga said...

Per my boyfriend, "If that's true, then I think Hitler has [Picasso] beat."