Category Archives: Advice

Of luck and “failures”

Robert Frank writes in the Upshot that “Chance events play a much larger role in life than many people once imagined.” Maybe so, but this piece is poorly argued. Frank is first quoting some small marginal effects, like time of year birh effects and author order effects. These factors probably play a role, however, in absolute size I am pretty sure they are dominated by other non-random factors. Being born in the right country is a good example, though.

This reminds me of Johannes Haushofer‘s “CV of Failures,” which made the rounds in the blogosphere and several newspapers earlier this year. (He got the idea from a piece by Melanie Stefan.) He writes in his CV of Failures:

Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.

I like this a lot, and kudos to Haushofer (and others he references as having done the same thing), but of course he is doing this as a hugely succesful guy. His actual CV lists PhDs from Harvard and Zurich, academic positions at Princeton, Harvard, and MIT, along with publications in top journals. What about the “failures”? Several other top schools and papers rejected at AER, QJE, Science, …

This point is that although there is some randomness along the way, it is not random or due to luck that Haushofer have accomplished a great deal.

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The benefits of blogging

When deciding to start this blog, I searched the web for some thoughts on starting up a blog. Much of what I found was fairly standard generic writing advice, like prioritize quality over quantity, write clearly, take a break from what you have written and then reread/rewrite before publishing. I am surprised at how few make the arguments that a blog may serve as a notebook of interesting stuff, originating from both oneself and others, and as a way of clarifying one’s own thoughts. These are benefits even in the case of 0 readers, and to me seem like major ones.

From some of my favorite blogs: Chris Blattman: Should junior faculty blog? Yes, just do not spend too much time on it. And Twitter takes him to unexpected places. John Sides from The Monkey Cage: Publicizing others’ research improves appreciative thinking. Finally a small collection of others’ advice from marginalrevolution.