Hitler, Trump, and me

There are a hundred notes I’ve wanted to write about this awful Trump era, and mostly I’ve restrained myself. Here though is something that has been with me so persistently, such a permanent puzzle in my thoughts, that I feel I must record it.

The analogy with 1930s Germany is always there. How can the leading people in an educated, sophisticated, world-leading country cave in to the ravings of a madman? And here is what has puzzled me. In 1930s Germany, if you took a stand against the Nazis, you might be killed. But if a leading Republican takes a stand against Trump, yes they might lose their job, but they’ll get another one at a high salary. Almost all the top Republicans must know that Trump is evil. Why do so few take a stand?

This mystery has troubled me for years now. It has always seemed to me that if I were in their shoes, I would behave differently; yet surely that just showed a gap in my understanding. But lately I’ve reached a different conclusion. I think I really would behave differently. If I were a Republican Senator, I think I really would take a stand. I’m not alone in this, but it would seem I’m in a minority. My error was in assuming that ultimately people are all the same.

[16 July 2020]

Impact Factors

I tear my hair out over the widespread habit of listing a journal’s Impact Factor to four digits of precision. Today I attended a journal editorial board meeting in which we were let inside the sausage factory:

Citations in 2 years/no. of papers = \displaystyle{350\over 146} = 2.397.

Abracadabra! Three digits in, four digits out!

But the true problem is larger. With a three-digit sample size, the square-root effect of statistics tells us we should trust the quotient to about 1.5 digits. Not 3. Certainly not 4 — that would require a sample size of 108. This 4-digit Impact Factor is 62.5% garbage.

[4 September 2020]