[Humanist] 28.742 evidence of value is evidence of worry

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Feb 18 07:50:25 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 742.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:53:27 +0100
        From: Daniel Herzig <danielherzig2014 at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 28.737 evidence of value is evidence of worry
        In-Reply-To: <20150217062507.C11219EA at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Paul, 

To clarify my post. I didn't go into detail, because I assumed the topic to
be a survey of common critical statements, that can arise discussing
computing in the humanities. Judging by your question and the links found in
the last issue of this letter, I understand to be a bit off-topic.
Nevertheless I'd like to explain myself. 

My statement below is a didactical one, taken from a seminar focussing on
statistical methods in general. In short, it's not meant to criticize
"statistical conclusions" but to be a warning for (re)using them without
analyzing the underlying axioms properly. As an example: even a skeptic of
deep cultural differences reflected in language structures can be tempted to
see a "kernel of truth" in an argument, that states a "higher relevance of
'friendship'" in Russian-language than in English-language cultures, if the
right empirical data is presented. Who would reject some truth about the
argument, if the term "friend" appears some 300 times in 10 000 words in
English corpora, while the term "drug" (a closely corresponding term to
"friend" in Russian) appears almost 1000 times in equivalent Russian
corpora? In fact, if common phrases like "drug k drugu", "drug na druga",
"drug s druga", etc. ("to/at/away from each other") are removed from the
results, the terms "friend" and "drug" pretty much equal each other
regarding their relative frequencies on a comparable semantic level. If the
last paragraph is not delivered with the argument regarding
culturally-specific relevances, quantitative argumentation can seriously
blur scientific evidence. 

To sum up - my post was not aimed at expressing skepticism about
quantitative methods in humanities (rather the opposite), but at the growing
complexity of traceability, once humanistic knowledge is transferred to

Thank you for mentioning "Nullius in verba", I didn't know that one. If you
permit me I'd even expand it to "nullius in verba et numeri (si non dicit
quid numeravi)". 

I hope I could clarify my point of view!

Best regards,

> Dear Daniel:
> I find your post interesting. If you will
> permit me to follow up with some of the points to gain a deeper
> understanding of the issues that you raise. You state:
>> a pretty widespread scepticism towards quantitative-empirical data in
>> general can be framed in the well-known saying "don't believe in
>> statistical conclusions that you didn't influence by yourself".
> Can you document this "widespread criticism?" Let us examine whether
> the skepticism has merit.  I recently observed a note by Willard that captured
> the essence of the Royal Society: "Nullius in verba" which translates as
> "take nobody's word for it." In millennia prior to this enlightenment, the
> idea of truth was unfortunately dictated by those in 'authority' or 'power.'
> How could returning to a culture of "I donâ't believe X because I wasn't
> an influence for X" be of any merit in the academy? Would, for example,
> someone be skeptical of flying an airplane on the argument that all of
> the tests done on the airplane (most of which were quantitative) to make
> it safe to fly were not in the presence of that person? How are quantitative
> methods employed in the humanities any different?
> Perhaps I have misunderstood the argument, and await clarification. Thank
> you.
> -paul
> Paul Fishwick, PhD
> Distinguished University Chair of Arts & Technology
>     and Professor of Computer Science
> Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
> The University of Texas at Dallas
> Arts & Technology
> 800 West Campbell Road, AT10
> Richardson, TX 75080-3021
> Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
> Blog: creative-automata.com

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