[Milton-L] RE: Culturomics? Genome?

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sat Dec 18 18:32:54 EST 2010

I repeat my suggestion that Tom write up some sort of letter to these folks, and 
then gather signatures to it from the rest of us, so the thing would come to 
them with the voice of a whole community of scholars behind it.

---- Original message ----
>Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2010 15:46:21 -0500
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Thomas H. Luxon" 
<Thomas.H.Luxon at dartmouth.edu>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] RE: Culturomics? Genome?  
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Cc: "C. Robertson McClung" <C.Robertson.McClung at dartmouth.edu>
>On Dec 17, 2010, at 7:54 PM, Jameela Lares wrote:
>> I suppose one rejoinder would be to study the report of the scientists to see 
if they used any word at all that was not in a standard dictionary.
>I am studying their report right now.  They report, for example, that the word 
"aridification" appears in no standard dictionary.  It is true that it does not 
appear in the OED, but of course "aridify" does. These scientists apparently do 
not understand how dictionaries work; they depend on a user's knowledge of 
roots and nominalizations. BTW, "aridification" does have a wikipedia article 
devoted to it.
>The scientists listed for this article include no linguists, no literary scholars 
and no socio-linguists. These people are making claims about their ability to 
answer questions and problems in linguistics, cultural criticism, history and 
literary studies without showing a shred of evidence that they know anything, or 
have read anything, in these fields.  The arrogance is astonishing, might I even 
say admirably astonishing. I have an appreciation of ups-manship, though I find 
it has no scholarly value.
>They claim to have invented a whole new mode of cultural analysis—
><blockquote>Culturomics is the application of high-throughput data
>collection and analysis to the study of human culture. Books
>are a beginning, but we must also incorporate newspapers
>(29), manuscripts (30), maps (31), artwork (32), and a myriad
>of other human creations (33, 34). Of course, many voices –
>already lost to time – lie forever beyond our reach.
>Culturomic results are a new type of evidence in the
>humanities. As with fossils of ancient creatures, the challenge
>of culturomics lies in the interpretation of this evidence.</blockquote> (page 
5 of Jen-Baptist Miche et al, "Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of 
Digitized Books")
>But they have done this without doing any homework into existing modes of 
cultural or linguistic analysis. They appear to have assumed that was not 
necessary, because that work has not been done in what they call a "scientific" 
(i.e. quantitative) manner.  They are wrong to assume that, arrogantly wrong.
>Jean-Baptiste Michel, the lead author, is a post-doc in Psychology at Harvard 
(http://www-test.iq.harvard.edu/people/jean_baptiste_michel). He is part of the 
Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard.
>This work has been described by linguist Geoffrey Nunberg as "arrogant" and 
"almost embarrassingly crude."  I would remove the "almost" and agree. It is 
also opportunistically irresponsible, in a word, bad science.
>Thomas H. Luxon
>Dartmouth College
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>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
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>Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/

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