Weekend Roundup

The Internet seems to have bred a peculiar subspecies of troll that cheerfully devotes enormous effort to refuting arguments nobody ever made. While they seem to have infinite time to construct these pointless rebuttals, these troll-types seem to have no time at all in which to actually digest the arguments they think they’re rebutting. They start with a guess as to what someone else might have said, and seem all but incapable of entertaining the notion that they might have guessed wrong. Is there a name for these people? “Crank” and “troll” are too general. If it were up to me, we’d reserve the word “Bozo” for this purpose, but it too is already in more general use. We need a new word! Give me your suggestions!

A title like More Sex is Safer Sex is like red meat to these folks and on Monday we took a moment to defend that argument against the latest Bozo Barrage (I’ll stick with this name till you give me a better one). Then on Tuesday we confronted a different subspecies of troll — the statistical obfuscator. Our reader Windypundit did some detective work and discovered that the offending graph was produced by an agency of the United States government. That, of course, is no excuse for perpetrating the deception.

Our graphical escapade led to a discussion of the gender gap in wages and whether it can be plausibly explained by employer discrimination. It’s often argued that it can’t, because that would require employers to sacrifice a profit opportunity. On Wednesday, I rejected that argument on the grounds that employers sacrifice profit opportunities all the time — but offered a (slightly) more sophisticated version that rejects the employer-discrimination hypothesis because it would require employers to sacrifice a very large profit opportunity. Of course, as our reader Patrick observes, this still doesn’t rule out the hypotheses of customer-discrimination or employee-discrimination. (In the latter case, male workers refuse to accept female colleagues. And again, the argument I gave can’t reject this. On the other hand, a different argument probably can — if the wage gap were driven by employee-discrimination, firms could profit not by hiring a few more females, but by hiring only females. In equilibrium, you’d expect half of all firms to be all female, half all male, and wages to be equalized across firms.

Thursday I reran a year-old post on how to add all the positive integers and get -1/12. This post generated just one comment! I’m not sure whether this was because none of you like this kind of thing, or whether you found it too awesome to remark on.

And Friday I pointed you to the upcoming Gatherings for Gardner and encouraged you to attend one in your area — or to consider hosting one.

(Yes, I was in fact put up to this by a publicist for the Gathering-for-Gardner organization. No, I don’t get any compensation for this beyond the satisifaction of doing a good turn for my readers. For the record, I get several emails a day from publicists wanting me to hawk their clients’ events and books, and only the tiny handful that I believe my readers will care about actually make it to the blog.)

I have a full weekend coming up and am likely to be AWOL on Monday. I’ll see you Tuesday at the latest.


12 Responses to “Weekend Roundup”

  1. 1 1 AC

    I find the math very interesting, but as a layman (even having studied some analysis years ago), I despair of ever understanding why Euler’s result is deep and important. Would you begin to learn that with an introductory course in complex analysis?

  2. 2 2 Pyramid Head

    The math post was quite interesting, but few people are knowledgeable enough to make a useful comment (“awesome post” is just a step above spam).

    But do keep it up – there’s plenty of people interested.

  3. 3 3 Steve Reilly

    Surely the new word should be based on the word “strawman”, no? “Strawmanner” is the obvious one, but it doesn’t quite sit right with me. Does “straw” work?

    And I’m another who enjoys the mathematical posts but has little to add beyond “Cool!” Keep ‘em coming.

  4. 4 4 Neil


  5. 5 5 Matthew Ozanich


    You are the man. Keep it up.

  6. 6 6 Patrick

    Thanks for acknowledging my comment that the gender wage gap could result from discrimination by customers/employees rather than by managers. Your argument “firms could profit not by hiring a few more females, but by hiring only females. In equilibrium, you’d expect half of all firms to be all female, half all male, and wages to be equalized across firms” is certainly true for industries with low barriers to entry. In my original comment I mentioned investment banking, for example, as an industry with high barriers to entry, where it might be difficult to start such an all-female competing firm. So barriers to entry might explain the wage gap in specific industries, but I agree that it probably doesn’t explain the overall gap, because such industries probably employ a small fraction of the nation’s total workforce.

    As for the math posts, I agree that they are very interesting, but harder to comment on than the economics ones. But I hope you keep doing them!

  7. 7 7 Steve Landsburg


    Re barriers to entry: Point taken.

  8. 8 8 Scott F

    In response to the math posts:
    I liked it so much in fact I shared it on Facebook where it was met with general acceptance and aw (please don’t be mad that I posted a link to you’re blog on FB). The reason I didn’t comment (not that I’m exactly a regular) is because I’m still just as equally ill-equipped to make any sort of intelligent comment as I was the first two times I saw this bit info.
    In short I was awed, please continue, still gonna be ignorant about future posts.
    Also is there any kind of brief summary as to how Euler and others decide to line up those columns (Summing all positive integers for Dummies kinda deal)?

  9. 9 9 nobody.really

    Are you acquainted with a gentleman by the name of Paul Krugman? He gets in the papers a lot. Because he’s a fellow economist, I could imaging that you guys might have a lot to talk about – in particular, his Theory of Interstellar Trade.

    I had never really considered how the relativity of time would affect interest payments….

  10. 10 10 dave

    trawlman or maybe trahlman? =]

    fireman.policeman. there is gender gap in names, thats for sure. we even award actors and actresses as being seperate but equal. arent they all ‘acting’? i say double the weight of oscar and just give out one.

    fact: dominant cultures become the normative. in word, thought, and deed.

    ps. as one who often comments about things i only partially understand i also must register an emphatic yes vote on the math posts.

  11. 11 11 kingstu

    Would the word “scrote” (rhymes with “note”) work or is this too…lowbrow?

  12. 12 12 Steve Landsburg

    Kingstu: Go for it.

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