We received a pretty standard e-mail recently that included the following sentence:
“We will be using experimental economic sand psychology to explore the motivations behind …”
Wow, I thought — that sounds interesting: experimental economic sand psychology. I wonder how that works. Is each subject given a pile of sand and asked to create a sand castle that represents their view of capitalism? Or maybe do different subjects bid on different lots of sand in an auction/game theory setting?
And then I read it again. Oh. It was supposed to read “experimental economics and psychology,” not “economic sand psychology.”
I saw this late yesterday afternoon when looking over the financial news.
Wait a minute, you think — I knew Groupon is a big deal (or used to be, at least), but $568 billion in revenues in the second quarter? Billion with a “b”? That would rank Groupon in the top 70 countries for GDP.
Okay, of course not. It should have read $568 million, with an “m.” Hey: people make mistakes, no biggie.
But here we are many hours later and, as I type this, the CNBC article remains uncorrected even though many commenters have pointed out the mistake (some quite kindly, others less so).
I recently had occasion to e-chat with Rocky Kolb, a well-regarded astronomer and astrophysicist at the University of Chicago. Talk turned, of course, to the recent likely discovery of the Higgs boson — but, as Kolb talk about that, he raised an even broader and more interesting point about scientific discovery.
He was good enough to write up his thoughts in a guest blog post that I am pleased to present below:
Faster Than Light By Rocky Kolb
After the news coverage of the past week, everyone now understands what a Higgs particle is, and why physicists were so excited about the July 4th announcement of its probable discovery at CERN, a huge European physics accelerator laboratory. (The disclaimer “probable” is because it could turn out that the new particle seen at CERN is not the Higgs after all, but an imposter particle with properties like the Higgs.)
For a few days it was common to see, hear, or read my colleagues struggling to explain why the discovery of a Higgs particle is a triumph for science. But after a week of physics in the news, the media has moved on to cover the Tom Cruise–Katie Holmes divorce and shark sightings near beaches. Perhaps all the public will be left with is a memory that there was a triumph for science. Science works: theories are tested and confirmed by experiment.
I think that the CERN Higgs discovery was, indeed, a triumph for science. However, the Higgs was not the only dramatic announcement at CERN in the past year. But the other dramatic result is something many physicists would rather forget.
Gizmodo lists eight “Regrettable Tech Inventions” and their inventors’ apologies for them, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s apology for the double-slash in web addresses — “Really, if you think about it, it doesn’t need the //. I could have designed it not to have the //”
I visited Bogota, Colombia last week. When I was introduced to my translator, he told me how good it was to see me again.
I complimented him on having a great memory (my last visit to Colombia was almost a decade ago) and made the usual sorts of excuses I make when I can’t remember someone I should clearly remember. (By now I have a great deal of practice with this particular line of conversation.)
A few years back Time magazine teamed with automotive critic Dan Neil to compile a list of the 50 worst cars of all time. It is pretty amusing to read. My own opinion is that they are way too tough on SUV’s — among the handful included on the list is the Ford Explorer (one of the best-selling vehicles in this country for over a decade), for example, because its success helped trigger the super-sizing of American vehicles.
The American Economic Association meetings are taking place. There is a young economist whom I have never met, but who is doing some really interesting research. So I wrote him and asked if he wanted to get together over a beer to talk about his work. The first sentence of his response was: I would really like to be very . . .
Last week, I learned two important things. They both happened as the result of a post I wrote about various errors, typographical and otherwise. I noted that the excellent Economist magazine dropped an “r” from the word “pastries,” inadvertently rendering it “pasties.” Well, The Economist was not wrong but I sure was. Many readers informed me that a pasty (pl.: . . .
A few years back Dubner and I wrote a piece on Slate heralding a remarkable young economist, Emily Oster. She has continued to do great work. She also has done something incredibly rare for an academic economist: she has admitted she was wrong. In places like India and China, there are many “missing women.” In other words, the sex ratios . . .
No typo is a good typo. I’ve had more than my share. In a long-ago article about Central Park, I referred to its bridal trail, which implies it is a place that brides, not horses, do their running. Another memorable snafu wasn’t technically a typo, but it was still pretty terrible. For a profile of Catherine Abate, the commissioner of . . .
The Education Life supplement in yesterday’s Times included an intriguing article simply called “Data” and subtitled “Law and Order.” It listed crime statistics for roughly 120 urban college campuses across the country. A brief introduction warned that the statistics could easily be — well, junk: With so many ways to consider and report crime, statistics are inconclusive. But by federal . . .
Any history book will give you a chapter on the Treaty of Versailles, during which delegates from around the world gathered in France to hammer out peace terms following World War I. The men (and occasional woman) who negotiated the outcome may have had their own individual and national agendas, but their decisions arguably set the stage for decades of . . .
We are very fortunate to get some incredibly interesting and perceptive mail from readers. Occasionally, we share these queries (like here and here). We also get some hardcore snark, and we sometimes share those too (like this recent one). An e-mail that showed up the other day was so interesting that I wrote back to ask if I could simply . . .
For the record, I do not hate Wikipedia, as I tried to make clear here. As a showcase of communal knowledge, it is astonishingly interesting and useful. But it is also, alas, a showcase of communal knowledge, which can lead to complications. There are other issues too. Back in July, Stacy Shiff published a really interesting piece about Wikipedia in . . .