Uncertainty Reviewed In The New Criterion


“William Briggs, the civilized world’s most amusing statistician.”

Roger Kimball, author of The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art, Future Tense: The Lessons of Culture in an Age of Upheaval, the classic Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education, and half a dozen more including editor of volumes of David Stove’s work Against the Idols of the Age,
Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution, publisher of Encounter Books, which puts a stream of must-haves, including Stove’s What’s Wrong with Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment and Schoen’s Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence, and scores of others, editor of The New Criterion, the preeminent journal of the arts, and a man who knows how to dress well, very kindly reviewed my book Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics at the New Criterion. Read the review there. Or here:

Nonfiction: Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics, by William Briggs (Springer Publishing): I know it’s the end of August and your preferred reading is something light. But I would be remiss if I did not bring to the attention of any hard-headed truth seekers out there—for whom exerting the cerebellum, even in August, is not an untoward occupation—a new book by William Briggs, the civilized world’s most amusing statistician. I know what you’re thinking: “statistician” and “amusing” do not belong in the same sentence, or, at least, that they cannot refer to the same man. (Disraeli’s comment about “lies, damned lies, and statistics” shows that the subject, anyway, can admit of some humor.) But do not take my word for it: nab a copy of Briggs’s latest, Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s not for sissies, true, but its clear-headed (i.e., Aristotelian) approach to the subject of truth (which, in the end, is what exercises in probability and statistical analysis are all about, notwithstanding what they tell you in school) is refreshing: a long, cool drink of plain speaking about intellectual topics that, in these hot and humid days, is as enlivening as it is enlightening. One sadness that can be remedied in later reprintings: the index refers to a “Stove, S.” It is “Stove, D.,” as in “David Charles Stove,” the Australian philosopher, a patent and healthy influence on this book, who is meant. –RK

So you can see my enemies managed to slip in a typo of Stove’s name. My enemies are relentless buggers, the creatures. I’ve already alerted the production side about the mistake. And I’m sure it will not only be fixed in reprintings, but in the Second Edition.

In any case, listen to what Kimball says: buy the book today!


  1. Computers seem to have made our proofreading worse, not better. Maybe someone can create a program to proofread better, one that looks for more specific things than just spelling and basic grammer. Along with a search engine that really looks for what you asked for, it’s a sure moneymaker.

    Congrats on the book and the New Criterion’s review.

  2. I’m nearing the end of the book, and am greatly enjoying it. It is excellent so far! My biggest hope is that it’s picked up by many researchers of statistical methods to generate new and interesting algorithms, especially in the realm of avoiding infinite approximations (a section I finished last night). I probably should re-read it when done to grok it better, and hopefully come up with my own.

    If anyone does take your research suggestions to heart, I hope they let you know and pass them on to be shared.

    My favorite concept so far is that probability is not decision. That’s one that will get a lot of mileage, at least for my work.

  3. I tried to buy a copy on my Kindle Voyage and it says “not available for this device”. I haven’t encountered that before. Apparently I can buy it for my iphone but not my kindle. Any idea why?

  4. Hey Briggs–you’ve made the big time. I’m familiar with the New Criterion as a conservative publication (what’s the word for a internet equivalent of publication?) that deals with politics and the arts. Never thought they’d get into statistics, so you are breaking the boundaries. Good going!

  5. basic grammer

    Ironically, you mentioned how computers degraded proofreading.
    Still, how did that get past your spell checker?

  6. Now that I know the second edition won’t have that error in it, I’d rather wait for the second edition. But if all prospective readers wait for the second edition, there will be no second edition. Hmmm…

  7. DAV: No spell check on my blog commenting. Not sure why. Actually, I misspelled “computers” but caught that. As I noted in another post, cyberspace is now full of typos and they randomly inject themselves into comments and posts. Kind of like magic.

    (Okay, I am very poor with proofreading and miss things, but blaming cyber space or magic or whatever is so much cooler! 🙂 )

  8. Zippy,

    I have no idea, but I’ll ask my editor. Amazon does say a Kindle version is available, so it seems it should work. Thanks for letting me know.

  9. Briggs:

    It is a strange message. On the desktop computer Amazon gives me the option to buy the Kindle version, but it does not give me the option to send it to my actual Kindle (the Kindle Voyage if that is important). On the Kindle Voyage itself the store simply says that the book isn’t available for my device.

    One possibility I suppose (though I haven’t personally encountered this before) is that there might be color drawings or something else that the standard Kindle’s can’t render. If so I’ll have to decide if I want paper or want to read it on the computer or what have you. But I’ll watch this thread for a bit first to see if your publisher has an answer: I prefer to read it on the Kindle.

    Looking forward to reading the book.

  10. Zippy,

    There are some images (a couple of dozen), but none in color. There are a few equations, but not many complicated ones. However, the whole book is typeset in LaTex, so perhaps that has something to do with it.

    I’ll pass the information on.

  11. James,

    My biggest hope is that it’s picked up by many researchers of statistical methods to generate new and interesting algorithms, especially in the realm of avoiding infinite approximations…

    And my hope is that Briggs himslef can generate new methods and interesting algorithms.

  12. Ultimately I gave up on waiting for a Kindle version I can actually read on my Kindle, and ordered the Kindle version that can’t be read on a Kindle.

  13. Zippy: Probably a good idea. There are apparently a number of books that Kindle Voyage cannot use. It’s not just this one. There were complaints, but computer companies seem pretty much immune to complaints.

  14. @Sheri, it isn’t so much that. Computer programming is an art like medicine practiced by imperfect beings. As it is in medicine that there are things that can’t be cured, there are bugs in computer programs that can’t be fixed. Well, what about rewriting the program? That only changes which bugs can’t be fixed.

  15. cdquarles: I know some bugs can’t be fixed and rewriting the program just changes the bugs. However, creating a Kindle with limited application and selling it as the “latest and greatest” seems a bad marketing practice. This appears to be what happened. (Same thing happens with computer upgrades. I discovered my favorite scanner was non-functional after upgrading my Mac. Fortunately, I know how to find updates and answers via the internet and had the scanner up and running again in a brief period. Most people I would guess just buy a new scanner. I know this is not Mac’s fault, it’s up to Epson to provide the drivers and software. What I object to is the huge hassles encountered with any upgrades. Especially since many of these upgrades only have one or two significant changes. Again, marketing is the cause.)

    I’m not blaming the programmers—they program what they are asked to produce. It’s the development and marketing people that seem to be the problem.

    I would have the same objection to a doctor promising a cure where there is none. Arts should be more honest about what they can deliver.

  16. The interesting thing here is that I do not believe that this particular ebook is readable on even the latest Kindle. Amazon appears to have created a “textbook” document class which can be published as a “Kindle book”, but which is not in fact readable on any of their actual Kindle devices (unless the Fire tablets are considered “Kindle devices”).

    This is pretty clearly a marketing and segmentation choice as opposed to a bug. But it is interesting that even the author of the book was not informed of this market segmentation choice.

    It would be similar if Barnes and Noble agreed to distribute a book on its store shelves but then, without informing the author, only actually placed books in affiliated college campus bookstores. My personal annoyance at being unable to read it on my Kindle did not stop me from buying it; but as a market barrier it is likely to stand in the way of some sales, especially given that ebooks now far outstrip physical books in terms of unit sales (AFAIK — I am not an expert on the ebook market, obviously).

  17. Zippy,

    Thanks again. I’ll pass this information on to my editor, too. He still hasn’t got back to me about the first question, so might take a while.

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