The Information Structuralist

Bad taste of monumental proportions

Posted in Papers and Preprints, Probability by mraginsky on October 16, 2010

This passage from “The Glivenko-Cantelli problem, ten years later” by Michel Talagrand (J. Theoretical Probability, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 371-384, 1996) will most likely be remembered forever as the best example of wry self-deprecating wit in an academic paper:

Over 10 years ago I wrote a paper that describes in great detail Glivenko-Cantelli classes. Despite the fact that Glivenko-Cantelli classes are certainly natural and important, this paper apparently has not been understood. The two main likely reasons are that the proofs are genuinely difficult; and that the paper displays bad taste of monumental proportion, in the sense that a lot of energy is devoted to extremely arcane measurability questions, which increases the difficulty of the proofs even more.

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2 Responses

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  1. Anand Sarwate said, on October 17, 2010 at 10:40 am

    See, and that is exactly the kind of writing we should encourage! When you find a little gem like that you can’t help but giggle. Sometimes I giggle for the rest of the day.

    • mraginsky said, on October 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

      Here’s another gem, also from a paper by Talagrand:

      … it must be pointed out that while our approach is unlikely ever to yield optimal constants, it essentially does not use chaining (that makes the search of sharp constants hopeless). We have, however, felt that the search of sharp numerical constants is better left to others with the talent and the taste for it.

      Also, Bremaud’s excellent Point Processes and Queues: Martingale Dynamics is chock-full of little witty chestnuts.


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