[Humanist] 24.67 passionate numeracy

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri May 28 08:18:01 CEST 2010

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 67.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 28 May 2010 07:14:28 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: passionate numeracy

Many here will enjoy the following transcript of the words to a song 
sung at one of the annual meetings of the Cowles Commission for Research 
in Economics. The Cowles Commission was an early group of 
econometricians named after the wealthy American investment analyst 
Alfred Cowles, who after the crash in 1929 donated $12,000/year because 
he was of the opinion that stock analysts did not know what they were 
doing, and he wanted to do something about their ignorance. Herbert 
Simon was a member of this Commission.

Anyhow, here's the song, sung to the Gilbert & Sullivan tune of "The 
American Patrol":

> We must be rigorous, we must be rigorous
> We must fulfill our role.
> If we hesitate or equivocate
> We won't achieve our goal.
> We must investigate our system complicate
> To make our models whole.
> Econometrics brings about
> Statistical control!
> Our esoteric seminars
> Bring statisticians by the score,
> But try to find economists
> Who don't think algebra's a chore.
> Oh we must urge you most emphatically
> To become inclined mathematically,
> So that all we've developed
> May some day be applied!

In case you think I have made this up, see the Commission's "Economic 
Theory and Measurement: A Twenty Year Research Report 1932-1952", 
http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/reports/1932-52.htm, where after quoting 
this song the author of the Report comments, "Its exact authorship is 
surrounded by a certain degree of obscurity, which perhaps is just as 
well." The actual singing of this at a meeting of the Commission is 
claimed by Hunter Crowther-Heyck, in Herbert A. Simon: The Bounds of 
Reason in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2005): 126.

I'd be happy to join in at DH2010 if anyone can furnish the music and 
wishes to sing along. I won't do a solo performance!

But seriously, as we say, the rationalized depiction of the rationalism 
which came in a torrent with computing -- what Thomas Nagel called in 
his Tanner Lecture, "The Limits of Objectivity", delivered at Brasenose 
College Oxford in 1979, "this bleached out physical conception of 
objectivity" -- omits the very real passion with which Simon et al 
pushed their view of computing and what they thought it was for. We 
inherit their bleached out conception; we build computing systems that 
manifest it. Isn't this a fatal mistake in which we must not persist if 
we are to have a digital *humanities* worthy of the name?



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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