[Humanist] 24.575 how to measure The Fall

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Dec 10 09:14:32 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 575.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2010 07:40:07 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: how to measure The Fall

Strictly speaking a countable number of times precede the one I am now 
about to celebrate, but I'd have to remember them all to count them, and 
that from the vantage-point of retirement's misty pasture is not 
possible. (The steam arising from the.... you get the point.) I could 
calculate the probability applying in this case if I knew how, but I do 
not. I'm not to old to learn, just willful and a bit lazy. So let me 
just say that I am grateful once again to my colleague John Lavagnino 
for brightning my day with scholarship both amusing and improving.

The scholarship to which he pointed me from half-way around the world is 
sketched in Martin Tompa's brilliant article, "Figures of merit", SIGACT 
News 20.1 (January 1989), and its sequel, "Figures of merit: the 
sequel", SIGACT News 21.4 (November 1990). I urge you to find and 
download these, from the ACM Digital Library, as Tompa's dry wit should 
be savoured along with its mathematical precision.

Tompa begins,

> In Theoretical Computer Science it is customary to alphabetize the
> names of coauthors on the title page of collaborative publications.
> For those of us whose name will never appear before the phrase et
> al., this can be cause for concern.

Finding several examples of colleagues whose collaborators seem with 
uncanny regularity to have surnames that put these collaborators further 
down the alphabet, hence said colleagues out in front, Tompa defines 
"the spotlight factor" thus:

> Definition : In a collaboration of Xo < X1 < ... < Xk, the spotlight
> factor of Xo is *(Xo) = (1 — .Xo)**k
> In words, the spotlight factor is the probability that k coauthors
> chosen independently at random will all have surnames later in the
> alphabet than Xo ; the lower the spotlight factor, the more
> impressive the achievement of the first author.

Thus he calculates for a selection of articles,

> 0.1889 Ogden, Riddle, & Rounds [19]
> 0.1719 Vishkin & Wigderson [35 ]
> 0.1640 Paul, Seiferas, & Simon [23 ]
> 0.12685 Wong & Yo [36]
> 0.12680 Wood & Yap [37 ]
> 0.1214 Karmarkar, Karp, Lipton, Lovasz, & Luby [13]
> 0.0919 Ruzzo, Simon, & Tompa [27 ]
> 0.0851 Schwartz, Sharir, & Siegel [29]
> 0.0664 Paul, Pippenger, Szemercdi, & Trotter [20 ]
> 0.0255 Santoro, Sidney J., Sidney S., & Urrutia [28]

And he notes,

> There is one known instance in which a resourceful Ph.D. student
> named Yehuda a outspotlighted his advisor Shirnon Even. When it came
> time to publish the results of their collaboration, Even announced
> his inevitable intention of being first author. Yehuda responded by
> legally changing his name to Bar-Yehuda [3].

But examples of a reprehensible form of the spotlight factor came to 
light, forcing Tompa to make a new definition:

> Definition: In a collaboration of Xo < X1 <...< Xk, the coefficient
> of obliviousness of Xi is
 >                L(Xi)=(.Xi— - .Xo)**i
 > for 1<=i<=k.

> In words, the coefficient of obliviousness is the probability that i
> coauthors chosen independently at random will all have surnames that
> precede Xi as narrowly as does X0; the lower the coefficient, the
> more oblivious Xi is to fame.

Those with a mathematical background will please forgive the lack of 
proper symbols. Worst is the "L" in the above, which should be an 
upsidedown questionmark.

And so on and so forth.

Tompa wryly concludes his first article,

> I can only wish that my serious research would stimulate half as much
> enthusiasm in the community.

Yours in the middle, and sharing Tompa's wish,

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

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