Friday, February 7, 2014

Was Curly from City Slickers right all along?

One thing. Just one thing.
The Telegraph in London reports that “Scientists find secret to writing a best-selling novel.” Boy, was I eager to read that story. What claptrap. It concludes by stating, “Previous work has attempted to gain insights into the ‘secret recipe’ of successful books. But most of these studies were qualitative, based on a dozen books, and focused primarily on high-level content - the personalities of protagonists and antagonists and the plots. Our work examines a considerably larger collection - 800 books - over multiple genres, providing insights into lexical, syntactic, and discourse patterns that characterize the writing styles commonly shared among the successful literature.”

In other words, they counted the number of nouns, conjunctions, and such. Yup, I’m sure that’s the trick—arithmetic. According to these scientists, bestsellers shun action for introspective protagonists.

There used to be an old axiom of computing, GIGO, which meant garbage in, garbage out. Computers are obedient creatures. They do what they are told at the speed of light. If a scientist starts with faulty logic or data, the results smell rank. There is some good news in the study. Since it occurred in England, American tax dollars didn’t fund this particular busy-work. 

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