Tuesday, August 5, 2008

David Galenson

The NYT recently featured David Galenson whom I've always thought of as an economist with an interesting research agenda. Therefore, I was equally surprised to find that Edward Tufte whom I had always thought of as a statistician with equally interesting research on visualizing data disparaging Galenson's research. Examples of Tufte's critiques are:
"For one thing, the book presents 15 data tables with 2,029 entries (artists' birthdates, deathdates, ages, and frequency of appearances in exhibitions and art history textbooks) - but not a single auction price or price index or anything else that might measure an economic transaction. Likewise for the text in the 265-page book: no prices at all. The book's 2 graphs show a vertical axis, Ln(Price) = natural logarithm of prices, along with age/price curves for Cezanne and Picasso. These 2 tidy curves, without any actual data points, are the only quantitative evidence about auction prices in the book. Readers are not told the number of paintings plotted graphically. The Cezanne age/price curve could result from all sorts of underlying data."
(Good Point - and taken. Galenson should have known better.)
And here:
"David Galenson begins with an intellectual history of the work, disarmingly written in the first- person singular with 35 self-references in the first 2 pages."
(I thought that this was a low blow. And although I dislike the trend where the reporter inserts himself/hereself into the story I've begin to accept it as a trend. See writer Caroline Kettlewell's opinion on narrative non-fiction.)
And here's the unkindest but perhaps not totally untrue cut of all:
economisting: (e kon' o mist' ing) 1. The act or process of converting limited evidence into grand claims by means of rhetorical ploys, especially punning. 2. The belief or practice that empirical evidence can only confirm and never disconfirm a favored theory. 3. Conclusions that are theory-driven, not evidence based. See also confirmation bias, painting with a broad brush, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, post-modern critical theory, marketing.
Ultimately, I feel that Tufte has an axe to grind against economists and when I sense such feelings of animosity in any kind of writing it leads me to believe that the author is biased and as such cannot be taken seriously. Pity.
See also comments here and here which seems to imply that Galenson is a sloppy/bad writer and no worse but I view this as being generous. I think that if a person is sloppy/bad that will reflect into his or her other areas as well. In the case of a book, such as this that I think is trying to extend the reach of economics, Galenson has a responsibility to write clearly and with more careful thought.

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