Statistical analysis of science fiction authors and fans

The classic science-fiction related excerpt that follows after the jump is neither up to-date nor analytically robust. I tidied it a bit, but to do a decent job would require re-running the data, not to mention collecting data with a more recent vintage. But it is entertaining, and the concept may be of use to others. To whom? Well, I have spent a fair amount of time on Stack Exchange sites recently. Let me tell you all about it.

What is Stack Exchange?

Question and answer websites are popular. Stack Exchange is a free, mostly user-run Q&A site. It was co-founded and managed by Jeff Atwood a.k.a. @Coding Horror and Joel Spolsky. EDIT: Joel now runs Stack Exchange, as The Coding Horror has departed.

The prototype version of the site was known as Stack Overflow, and continues to thrive. There are many stacks on Stack Exchange. Most are computing or analytically-themed e.g. programming, systems administration, website design, mobile applications development, mathematics and quantitative finance. Others are more eclectic, and thus of a more experimental nature. They are labelled as such, by a beta designation, and guided along by the whimsically named Area51 Stack Exchange site. Now that you’ve been enlightened by that tangential aside, I’ll get to the point. I was thinking of Literature Stack Exchange in particular.

The problem at hand

Literature Stack Exchange was initially overrun by book-recommendation inquiries. This was unfortunate. Why? Because suggestions about subjective matters are nearly impossible to provide to friends and relatives, let alone on an online forum. Fortunately, the issue has resolved itself for the time being, through better site administration.

Update – The issue has resolved itself permanently, because the site was closed due to a general lack of interest in early May of this year. Stack Exchange does have a thriving Science Fiction community, which enjoys a great deal of activity! So let us continue, along the same, still relevant theme.

Perhaps the following approach might provide inspiration for those seeking reading material recommendations.

Classic science fiction writers and reader politics

Politics is the horizontal dimension, with the right-wingers at the right and the left-wingers at the left. Hard-science science fiction is the vertical dimension, with hard-science authors at the top and anti-hard-science authors at the bottom. While hard-science tended to be somewhat Righty, New Wave was strongly Lefty, having a correlation of -0.51 with politics. Not surprisingly, there is a correlation of -0.25 between hard-science and New Wave.

We learned all kinds of odd facts about fans and the things that inspired them to like different authors and styles.

  • Student fans like both Ellison and Heinlein more than  average, and like Vance and McCaffrey less.
  • Female fans are more likely than men to prefer McCaffrey and sword-and-sorcery fiction.

SourceNew Maps of Science Fiction by William Sims Bainbridge and Murray M. Dalziel, first published in Analog Yearbook 1977, pp 277-299.

To summarize, the chart captures the political leanings of sci-fi fans circa 1977, not the authors. H.P. Lovecraft is a good example, see the lower left quadrant of the chart. Lovecraft fans tend to be liberal sorts, supportive of all manner of progressive liberal ideology. H.P. Lovecraft has lain dreaming in R’yelah (or on Pluto, or in New Englander heaven) since 1937. If he were with us today, he’d probably support the Tea Party.

I find the heavy use of negative correlations rather confusing. (There are ways of remedying that though.)


Especially useful curation

A list of uncommonly useful links and news items by an uncommonly astute person, Greg Linden (formerly of Amazon search in the early days) follows below. This is the best of all worlds: Having access to someone who has superior insights due to field of expertise, is reasonably articulate, and is willing to share without ulterior motive or bias.


Ultra short epistemology post

So many clever people, such good writing, so little time!
I read something that I liked today. Let me share the joy. It seems fitting, particularly in these uncertain times, with a possible rapture scheduled for the weekend, amongst other things:

Probabilities are for understanding… Truth is a rhetorical device.


eBook Reader Product Review

This is the best review of an eBook reader that I’ve run across yet. It was written by a bona fide computer scientist, too!  His assessment was not biased by the novelty of the technology. That can happen. I know. I’ve experienced it.

An eBook reader is a device such as the Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. Giorgio Sironi addresses certain issues that I would  expect to encounter while reading text on an electronic device instead of an physical book. Yet Giorgio’s review is the only one that describes these difficulties, despite the many eBook reviews I’ve read.

“The only problem with reading eBooks is the device you use to read them. My Asus PC is good for writing articles, and skimming blog posts, or for a bit of PHP programming… But for reading extensively, LCD screens will kill us. You know when, as a child, you were told not to stare at the Sun? Here is the same mechanism, on a lesser scale… The LCD screen has a very different light intensity from the surrounding environment, which causes eyestrain due to continuously adapting between the screen and the rest of the world.”

The brighter the environment, the less you see on the screen.

“With an e-ink screen like Kindle’s, you must have … external light to read. This is an advantage for e-ink devices.”

The actual post goes into more detail. But the conclusion is that an LCD-based device is unsuitable for regular use as an eBook reader. Not if you want something that isn’t a headache to use!

“Forget about iPads– They make wonderful trays for Martini glasses but not as an e-Reader.”

Physical books v.s. eBooks

I guess that’s why I like paperback books so much. They are small, very durable, replaceable, inexpensive and very green, because they continue to provide value to owner after owner. That makes me seem like a Luddite. Or jealous, because I don’t have an iPhone of my own!

The biggest problem for me is eyestrain. I find it so much easier to use any of the following:

  1. a portable electronic device that is NOT light-emitting and allows large font sizes,
  2. a book, or
  3. a full-size desk top monitor with all the usability features activated.

xkcd with Love and Geohashing is an on-line comic (web comic) of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.

Who’s responsible for xkcd?

Randall Munroe has been writing xkcd for at least five years. Maybe longer.

He describes himself as

… just this guy, you know? I’m a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

physical science

The Personal World Clock

Need to know the time, exactly? The display on one’s wireless telephone is usually sufficiently close to an atomic clock for most purposes. However, if you want a world clock with cities and/or times zones customized specifically for you, then it would be worth having a look at Time and Date dot com, the most frequently used time-and-date site on the internet, according to Alexa, the web analytics company.

The site has numerous offerings, two mainstays are Time and Date’s configurable World Clock as well as a variety of traditional, clever modern and even historical calendars.