Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, November 2007
A. Berk, Regression Analysis: A Constructive
- Presumes at least minimal familiarity with the math and practicalities of
doing a multiple linear regression. The point of this book is to explain very
clearly what regression can and cannot do, and especially to drive home the
meaning and force of all the assumptions which are required to make the
machinery of statistical inference for linear regression work. These
assumptions are, or ought to be treated as, scientific hypotheses,
which need to be not just taken for granted, or even listed mechanically and
then ignored, but supported. (Many of them are hard to even assert
with a straight face about important kinds of real data, never mind back up.)
As he rightly says, the requirements for using regression for causal
inference are even stronger, and the common practice of ignoring these issues,
or hoping that they'll go away if you just use instrumental variables, has
nothing to recommend it. (However, the discussion of Judea Pearl's work on
causal inference in section 10.5 seems to me to be somewhat superficial, and
book more than a little.) Of course, as descriptive summary of a data set,
regression has much to recommend it; but not necessarily more than newer
methods of data-mining, which he considers briefly in the conclusion.
- I won't say this belongs on every practitioner's shelf, because it's not
the kind of book you'll come back to again and again. I will say that anyone
who is becoming a practitioner of regression needs to learn these lessons
thoroughly, for their own sake and for the sake of anyone who might have to
rely on their findings.
- Errata: p. 66, the statistic oscillates between being S
and being W, and the function Q is nowhere defined; p. 129,
the first two terms in the numerator of eq. 8.9 should be grouped together
in a parenthesis.
- Terry Pratchett, Making Money
- One of the great humanist writers of our time takes as his text Emerson's
dictum that "Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly
spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as
beautiful as roses." (This line does not of course appear in the book.) Along
with golems, eleven-dimensional cabinets of
computers constructed by mad economists, etc., etc.
- Christian Gouriéroux and Alain Monfort, Simulation-Based Econometric Methods
- A book on a very important advance in connecting complicated simulation
models to empirical data, relevant far more broadly than just in econometrics.
The key trick, which I think is simply a stroke of genius, is the authors' idea
of "indirect inference", which goes as follows. Find some "auxiliary" model
for the kind of data you've got --- it doesn't have to be at all
a good model, just one whose parameters are easy to estimate. Now fit
the auxiliary to simulations from different settings of your real
model, and to your actual data. Go with the value of the primary
parameter whose auxiliary model looks most like the data's. In other words,
use the model to predict what you get when you fit the auxiliary,
instead of directly predicting what the data look like. This sounds
bass-ackwards but it really works, provided the auxiliary model is sensitive
enough to tell apart different parameter settings in the primary model.
Unfortunately, they wrote this for hardened addicts of theoretical statistics
and econometrics only.
- Full review: By
Indirection Find Direction Out.
A. Dahl, Preface to Economic Democracy
- An extended argument for introducing democratic
decision-making inside economic enterprises, i.e., some form of
democratic worker self-management and self-ownership.
- The argument for economic democracy is presented as resting on a prior
argument to a right to democratic self-government, that is, that one has a
right to participate in deciding how one will be ruled, and in holding those
with power of you accountable. This is a very basic form of liberty, which
entails other liberties and rights if it to be effective. This given, Dahl
then argues that there are enough power relations in a modern
enterprise, even with the nominal "exit" option of quitting one job in the hope
of finding another, that workplaces, too, should be governed democratically. I
should add that he envisages this as being representative democracy,
at least in enterprises of any size, and probably with professional managers
hired by the workers and responsible to them. (Here, as in the larger polity,
one advantage of representative over participatory democracy is that one can
enjoy what Arendt somewhere calls "freedom from politics", or
"liberty of the moderns", if one so chooses; I don't think Dahl mentions
- After the consideration of rights, Dahl turns to the possible secondary
costs and benefits: whether economic democracy would make workers better
citizens, whether it would excessively reduce investment and innovation, etc..
He concludes, plausibly but of course by no means conclusively, that there is
little reason to think it would have much immediate negative or positive effect
on any of these matters. (As he points out, the circumstances under which it
is now most common for a firm to become self-governing are when it's otherwise
going to go under, and it's hardly surprising that worker ownership isn't a
panacea for economic distress.) He does go so far as to express the hope,
however, that the long-run effects of wide-spread economic democracy would be
- The issue which sticks in my mind about this is that of determining the
limits of the self-governing unit. The natural guide here would seem to be
power relations rather than physical contiguity --- the firm rather
than the plant. But even so there could be all kinds of oddities.
If, say, the senior management unit of a large firm got itself legally spun off
as a separate corporation, which just so happened to have locked in long-term
contracts to run all the other divisions, well, it would somewhat defeat the
purpose to have those divisions and the management unit all be internally
self-governing. To some extent Dahl's vision may have been superseded by
events, such as the changes in corporate form and
of corporate networks which concentrate control even as they disperse
ownership. This creates a problem if one finds his arguments on behalf of
economic democracy appealing...
- Nonetheless, I strongly recommend reading this: it is well-written,
well-thought-out, well-argued, and short.
- This seems like a much more connected story now than when I was ten or
- Pluses: it's actually really rather creepy and atmospheric. (I
particularly like the wordless, almost silent opening sequence.) It's also
good that we don't spend too much time actually looking at the alien --- which
doesn't seem cheesy yet, despite the advances of special effects and its
innumerable cinematic progeny (raptors,
anyone?). The crew's concern for the ship's cat is, also, a nice touch.
- Minuses (including potential SPOILERS): The shower scene was
cheesy. Ditto the alien slowly extending a tentacle up the inside of the legs
of the other female character. The crew's general disregard for what seem like
obvious safety protocols. (E.g., if an alien thing is sitting on your
crew-mate's face and looks like it's going to be there for a while, train a
camera on it. E.g., if said alien thing has just disappeared, and you go in to
look for it, close the door behind you. E.g., do not wander off alone
in search of the ship's cat.) Of course, the computers were much too
implausibly primitive. Finally, it's hard for me to work out a scenario where
"the Company" (1) knows about the alien and what kind of creature it is, and
(2) knows where to find one but (3) needs to divert another mission to pick up
a specimen in this way.
- Still, like I said: creepy.
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
The Dismal Science;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
Enigmas of Chance;
The Progressive Forces
Posted by crshalizi at November 30, 2007 23:59 | permanent link