A Little Logic Goes a Long Way (Weekend Reading)

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

Journalists, authors, publishers: all dying (?) industries whose introspection should be eminently readable. Most fail on this account: they are mostly unreadable because they lack sound logic.

One of the best things I've read this week breaks that mold, and excellently so. Richard Nash's VQR piece on the business of publishing is, as my authoritative tweet said, surprisingly readable.


What makes it readable is its clear thinking, its logic. To cut apart most analysis of the publishing industry, NAsh cites the availability heuristic. Wonderful.

The story of the book as technology—the book as revolutionary, disruptive technology—must be told honestly, without triumphalism or defeatism, without hope, without despair, just as Isak Dinesen admonished us to write. A great challenge in producing such an account, however, is the “availability heuristic.” This is a model of cognitive psychology first proposed in 1973 by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, which describes how humans make decisions based on information that is relatively easy to recall. The things that we easily recall are things that happen frequently, and so making decisions based on the samples we have at hand would seem to make sense. The sun rises every day; we infer from this that the sun rises every day. A turkey is fed every day; it infers that it will be fed every day—until, suddenly, it isn’t. Heuristics are great until they aren’t. A person sees several news stories of cats leaping out of tall trees and surviving, so he believes that cats must be robust to long falls. These kinds of news reports are far more prevalent than ones where a cat falls to its death, which is the more common event. But since it is less reported on, it is not readily available to a person for him to make judgments.
Article of the week, by Richard Nash,  What is the Business of Literature? available at VQR.

More reading:

Chana Joffe-Walt has an insightful piece at NPR on the rise of disability in America. The page is well designed too. Read it on your computer or tablet.

Do you have a weird penchant for Alaska having never been there? I do. This N+1 piece on a weird Alaskan town should please you. Notable fact: all of this town's residents live in one building.

This is the new approach to work and life: The No-Hour Work Week. It's where your life and your profession aren't at war, but instead in sync. The money quote:

Our team has full flexibility over their hours and workplace, while we ask that they be accountable for the tasks they’re working on. We help them focus on priorities and time management, and we ask them to make the most of their unlimited vacation. 

Remember, you can see everything I read and like in real time using this feed.

Read other posts