Archive for November 8th, 2007

Reading order for Freakonomics, Inner Economist and Economic Naturalist

November 8, 2007

Brad DeLong has some pointers:

If you have not read Freakonomics, read it first. Levitt’s ideas and work are justly respected by economists, and he and Dubner have done a very good job of applying economic principles to social patterns involving crime, abortion, drug dealing, parenting, and other matters. I don’t think they get every issue right, but they do make every issue they tackle accessibly interesting. And though their discussions are provocative, the provocation is appropriately secondary to the logic.

If you have read Freakonomics and are a liberal, read Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist for elucidating discussion toward the libertarian-conservative end of the spectrum. If you have read Freakonomics and are a conservative, read Frank’s The Economic Naturalist for equally admirable discussion toward the social-democratic end. Either way you’ll find yourself more intellectually balanced.

Unfortunately, I have not read Freakonomics (yet), but finished reading the other two (and am heading towards Farewell to Alms— which does not appear in DeLong’s list).

HowTo: write your first paper

November 8, 2007

Steven G Krantz is a mathematician whose writings I like next only to that of Paul Halmos (I think Halmos once reviewed a book of Krantz; or, is it the other way around?).

In the latest issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Monthly, Krantz gives some pointers on writing the first paper (pdf). I understand this is the third in a series that is meant for grad students.

Of course, Krantz is ideally suited to give advice of this kind (as he himself notes),

I have published more than 150 articles myself. So I guess that I know how to do it. I have never written an article and then been unable to publish it.

In addition, he is also the author of several must-read books — on TeX, mathematical writing, teaching mathematics, and problem solving techniques.

Krantz, before getting to the nuts and bolts of writing the paper, also has some general advice as to how to come up with good ideas for research (which are not strictly mathematics-specific):

Go to one or more conferences, listen carefully to the best talks, and find out what people are thinking about. Pick two or three good papers and work through them in detail. Talk to people. Go to seminars in your own department. Get involved in some Internet chat groups. Immerse yourself in a field. In the best of all possible worlds, this should be a field that fascinates you, that give you the proverbial “fire in the guts”. Eventually you will find a problem that you cannot let go, that you must solve or else.

So solve it. Make sure it is right. Give a seminar on your result. Discuss it with some friends. When you are confident that you have a winner, then it is time to write it up.

And, then there are some really nice advice about dealing with academic journals (and, heaven forbid, with rejection):

Dealing with an academic journal requires a good deal of patience.

I once waited four years for a referee’s report on a pretty good paper (from a journal now I am too polite to name).

If your paper is rejected, do not lose heart. Most everyone has had papers rejected. Some of my most important and most influential papers have not only been rejected, but were treated rather shabbily. Celebrated authors from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie to Hendrik Ibsen had their best work rejected. Be of stout heart.

I hope my excerpts have convinced you that though ostensibly meant for mathematics grad students, this is an essay that every one of us can benefit from. Go take a look.

Happy reading!