An article entitled “One Republic of Learning” by Armand Marie Leroi appeared on the 13th of this month in the Opinion Pages of The New York Times. I’ve reproduced what I think is most significant below:
It’s easy to see how it will go. A traditional, analog, scholar will make some claim about the origin, fate or significance of some word, image, trope or theme in some Great Work. He’ll support it with apt quotations, and fillet the canon for more of the same. His evidence will be the sort that natural scientists call “anecdotal” — but that won’t worry him since he’s not doing science.
But then a code-capable graduate student will download the texts — not just the canon, but a thousand more — run the algorithms, produce the graphs, estimate the p values, and show the claim to be false, if false it indeed is. There will be no rejoinder; the analog scholar won’t even know how to read the results. Quantification has triumphed in field after field of the natural and social sciences. It will here, too.
If the rudiments of a new cultural science are visible, so are its limits. There is one great difference between human …read more