On the LRB podcast a few weeks ago, David Runciman and I got into a discussion about the ‘hot hand’ phenomenon. He wrote about it in the London Review in 2006, in a piece on José Mourinho:
The quintessential instance … occurs in basketball, where certain players suddenly and inexplicably acquire the ability to nail three-point baskets one after another (in basketball you get three points for any basket scored from a distance of over 23'9", a formidably difficult feat which means even the best players miss more often than they score).
With the start of the NBA season last week, I’ve been thinking about it again (actually, I think about this stuff pretty much year round, but the season is a good excuse to talk about it). As David wrote in his piece, statisticians will tell you there’s no such thing as a hot streak.
As I was preparing to speak at Seymour Papert’s memorial last month, I turned to my 1980 copy of Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. The hardback first edition. The one with the orange cover that had the photo insert of a young girl commanding a floor Turtle. She had programmed a computer in Logo to instruct the Turtle to sketch out a bear, and she looks happy as she surveys the results of her work. Next to her is a young boy. He is laughing, joyful. His body cradles the Turtle, his hand lovingly grazes its back. The girl is Miriam Lawler, the daughter of the psychologist Bob Lawler who was one of Seymour’s students and collaborators. The boy is the nephew of John Berlow, Seymour’s editor. These children grew up with Logo. The joy in the photo is part of their everyday experience of living in the Logo culture. It illustrates many of Seymour’s most powerful ideas about objects and learning.
'Wild' would be a generous way to describe the use of historical detail in The Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing. 'Based on', 'sourced from', so they say, but what in The Imitation Game isn’t invention? And why? Anyone who's read Andrew Hodges’s biography of the mathematician, or Mavis Batey’s book about Dillwyn Knox, with whom Turing worked at Bletchley from 1939 until Knox's death in 1943, will ask themselves why the movie made up so much when the tales of Turing and his colleagues are unbeatable stuff.
When Alan Sokal tricked Social Text into publishing a nonsensical parody of postmodernist criticism, he thought the journal’s failure to spot that the article was a hoax revealed a shocking lack of intellectual rigour. John Sturrock, writing about it in the LRB, noted that Social Text exists in a different realm of discourse from Nature and that Sokal’s contribution, for all its faults, was a ‘jauntily expressed’ piece of ‘extreme provocation’, and as Sokal knew, the kind of thing that Social Text existed to promote. Well yes, but, as legions of letter writers responded, don’t things you publish sort of have to make sense? Last month That’s Mathematics! reported another landmark event in the history of academic publishing.