Open Thread

It’s been a long time since I had one of these.

Some random stuff I’ve come across:

i. Reviews of Anything. Some pretty funny stuff there. Examples include:  Our solar system: 1 star. Reviews of this review. The 5 star Rating System: 9/10. Obese Americans, 1 out of 4. Spell Checker: 1 satr.


iii. The Bad Writing Contest. A quote from the link:

“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”

In contexts where you socialize with people who write that way, dumbpiphanies may happen.


v. I’m not actually sure I liked this lecture very much (I was very much annoyed by the word ‘cristal’ in the slides in the last part of the lecture; he repeatedly misspells the word crystal in the slides. I find that kind of sloppiness irritating, because I tend to use the existence of spelling errors in lecture notes/slides in mathematical lectures as what might be termed a caution heuristic; if the lecturer did not bother to correct spelling errors, I figure he probably also didn’t bother to correct other errors in the slides – and if you start to think along the way that there might be errors in the slides, a lecture to me becomes less enjoyable to watch, especially when the lecture deals with complicated stuff which is hard enough to follow as it is), but I figured I might as well share it anyway:

vi. arXiv vs snarXiv.




September 30, 2014 - Posted by | Lectures, Mathematics, Open Thread


  1. Well, considering that he is French, I’d cut him some slack, albeit reluctantly.

    Comment by Maxwell B. | October 1, 2014 | Reply

    • I have to, reluctantly, point out that he is in fact Belgian, not French.. (related link?)

      If you’re willing to cut him some slack, even if reluctantly, I should probably do that (you’re not exactly the most permissive individual I know when it comes to these sorts of things..) – but in a way that’s already too late, as I’ve already watched the lecture and had my experience impacted negatively by the misspelling. I assumed French was his first language and French is my third language so I was aware of the likely explanation for the mistake which you indicate. But the reason for the mistake didn’t enter the picture for me because I didn’t think it was relevant; it’s a detail that’s wrong, and you don’t want any of those in these contexts. If you’re sloppy with the language, you might be sloppy with the math as well. Whether you think of it as a sign of sloppiness or -overconfidence (he assumed he knew how the word was spelled in English, even if he didn’t) (the two need not be mutually exclusive), the same conclusion to me seems to be indicated; the listener might do well to be more careful about trusting the information presented than s/he was before encountering the error.

      Comment by US | October 1, 2014 | Reply

      • “If you’re sloppy with the language, you might be sloppy with the math as well.”

        I don’t think it applies in this context. Let’s take a look at his Wikipedia page (with my emphases):

        “Jean Bourgain (born 28 February 1954) is a Belgian mathematician. He has been a faculty member at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and, from 1985 until 1995, professor at Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques at Bures-sur-Yvette in France, and since 1994 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.[1] He is currently an editor for the Annals of Mathematics.”

        If I can’t trust this guy’s mathematical ability, well, …

        Given his glowing credentials — it is safe to say that the IAS only hires very talented people, and that you have to be very respected professionally to be an editor for the Annals of Mathematics — I do think that focusing on one spelling mistake (that is actually not a mistake in his native language, no less) is unnecessarily harsh. You could be extremely gifted in one area and only be above average in another. (Yes, he is far above average in terms of his grasp of English, even when compared to native English speakers!) It is a sign of sloppiness in a field in which he does not claim to be an expert — I am not sure that it indicates anything about whether he is sloppy in other areas. In fact, considering how his professional work has been vetted by lots of other very smart mathematicians in his community (e.g., professors who granted him his PhD, those who served on his hiring committee at IAS, people who nominated him to be an editor for the top mathematics journal in the world, journal referees who have given their approval to publish his works, …), I’d be willing to bet money that his mathematical work is world-class. And since he was giving a presentation in math, what is most relevant to me is whether he is a skilled mathematician — and it seems very much like he is.

        Comment by Maxwell B. | October 2, 2014

      • In fact, taking into account his stellar career, I suspect the most appropriate way to interpret his spelling mistake would be to suppose that he thinks: “I am a mathematician who have so unquestionably proven my mettle and established my reputation that when I talk about mathematics I can expect to be taken seriously regardless of whether I write ‘crystal’ in English or in French.” And in this case I’d say he is absolutely right.

        Comment by Maxwell B. | October 2, 2014

      • who has*

        Comment by Maxwell B. | October 2, 2014

      • I’m pretty sure he says explicitly during the lecture that half the lecture was basically prepared by someone else, and that he just gave the talk. I didn’t mention this above but I probably should have because it’s important. Can’t recall exactly where. That remark made me unsure if he was even the guy who’d made those slides (or if he’d made all of them?). I’m not questioning his mathematical abilities, but he may not have been the one making all the slides. If some of them were made by some (Belgian? French?) PhD student who had been given the task of doing that, the lecturer’s credentials do not enter the picture except to the extent that he’s approved of the material which was prepared.

        The guy’s got a damn Fields medal. I’d be stupid to question his math abilities. It’s not his math abilities I’m questioning.

        Comment by US | October 2, 2014

  2. “If some of them were made by some (Belgian?) PhD student who had been given the task of doing that, the lecturer’s credentials do not enter the picture.” His credentials do still enter the picture, because I’d find it hard to believe that he didn’t at least look through the slides and approve them before the presentation itself.

    Comment by Maxwell B. | October 2, 2014 | Reply

    • I revised my comment after you’d posted your comment 🙂

      And yes, that is true. But if you’re looking through the slides shortly before a presentation, you may not spot all errors – especially not if you ‘know what’s supposed to be in that formula’.

      Comment by US | October 2, 2014 | Reply

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