February 7, 2009

Daniel Seligman, RIP

Dan Seligman, my role model as a quantitative journalist, has died at 84. Dan was the Bill James of public policy journalism.

I can recall sitting up all night in 1981, when I was supposed to be writing an MBA term paper at UCLA, with a shelf full of bound volumes of Fortune, reading years worth of his Keeping Up column.

The first time I ever spoke about becoming a professional journalist was 15 or 20 years ago when I mentioned to my wife that if Seligman ever retired from writing his "Keeping Up" column for Fortune, I'd make a good replacement.

Dan was the one of the first people I invited to join my Human Biodiversity email list ten years ago, and I was proud when he became a regular participant.

From the NYT:

Daniel Seligman, Longtime Fortune Columnist, Dies at 84
By DENNIS HEVISI

Daniel Seligman, who with gentle wit, ornate syntax, statistical acumen and a decidedly conservative bent engaged readers of his “Keeping Up” column in Fortune magazine for more than two decades, died Jan. 31 in Manhattan, where he lived. He was 84.

The cause was multiple myeloma, his daughter, Nora Favorov, said.

Mr. Seligman, who later wrote for Forbes magazine and other publications, was an editor and writer at Fortune from 1950 to 1997 and wrote more than 400 “Keeping Up” columns in his last 21 years at the magazine. Among the array of subjects Mr. Seligman poked fun at were political correctness, affirmative action, overbearing bureaucrats and what he considered loony leftists.

He also disputed those who doubted the value of I.Q. tests, a topic he fully examined in his 1992 book, “A Question of Intelligence: The I.Q. Debate in America.”

Many of Mr. Seligman’s opinions were grounded in his own application of mathematics, and while he was an ardent anti-communist in his early years, he sometimes used statistics to criticize the right, as well. In a 1992 column he tweaked a fictitious Conservative member of the British Parliament who wondered why so many of his colleagues had been ensnared in sex scandals.

“Imagine,” Mr. Seligman wrote, “a jar filled with 600 marbles, 331 of them blue and 269 red (these being, respectively, the numbers of Conservative and Labor MPs last fall, before the wave of scandals broke).”

“An observer wearing a blindfold — this would be the media,” he continued, “reaches into the jar and pulls out six marbles. What is the probability that all six will be blue? The answer is 2.76 percent, meaning there is only one chance in 36 of the Tory monopoly on parliamentary sex scandals being attributable to chance.”

Statistical analysis laced Mr. Seligman’s writings about genetics, the link between mortality and socioeconomic status, the efficacy of using horse-race betting as a means of money laundering, and whether there is correlation between the income of lawyers and their physical attractiveness.

For 12 years, starting in 1966, Mr. Seligman held several high-level editing positions at Fortune. In 1988, he stepped down as associate managing editor, but continued to write “Keeping Up.”

Marshall Loeb, the managing editor at the time, wrote in the magazine that Mr. Seligman “uses elegance and trenchant wit to wage his never-ending battle against fustian thinking.”

Born in Manhattan on Sept. 25, 1924, Mr. Seligman was a son of Irving and Clare O’Brien Seligman. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Meg Sherburn; his son, William; his brother, Paul; his sister, Susan Cohn; and four grandchildren.

After serving in the Army in World War II, Mr. Seligman earned his bachelor’s degree from New York University. He wrote for The American Mercury, Commonweal and The New Leader before joining Fortune.

After leaving Fortune, Mr. Seligman became a contributor to Forbes magazine. Sometimes, based on his assessment of their statistical inaccuracies, he spoofed fellow journalists.

“After many years of observing media colleagues at work,” he wrote in 2002, “I would say most of them were standing behind the door when quantitative skills were handed out. They quote T. S. Eliot but are babes in the woods when it comes to correlations or the basic laws of probability. Even when the math is simple, they get bollixed up.”

In the early 1990s, when I got a Nexis account at work, I downloaded years worth of his columns. I thought I had had to delete them all at some point in the 1990s when my 300 meg hard disk ran out of room, but I just found a hidden-away copy on my hard drive. I will dig some up over the next week to show how much of my work is just an updating of what Dan was doing in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here's Peter Brimelow's 1993 interview with him. And here's Charles Murray's 1992 review of Dan's IQ book, A Question of Intelligence, in Commentary.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Mark said...

“Imagine,” Mr. Seligman wrote, “a jar filled with 600 marbles, 331 of them blue and 269 red (these being, respectively, the numbers of Conservative and Labor MPs last fall, before the wave of scandals broke). An observer wearing a blindfold — this would be the media,” he continued, “reaches into the jar and pulls out six marbles. What is the probability that all six will be blue? The answer is 2.76 percent, meaning there is only one chance in 36 of the Tory monopoly on parliamentary sex scandals being attributable to chance.”

Seligman's logical error there is in assuming the media ever wears a blindfold.

I liked Seligman, and remember reading him in my dad's issues of Fortune. RIP, Daniel.

Anonymous said...

This is related to Seligman's work, and I figured the iSteve crowd would get a kick out of it.

The link: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/post_59.html

The headline: "Busting a stereotype 2X at Portland's Science Bowl"

The story: a feel good piece on a Hispanic team from Walla Walla competing in a science bowl competition. The article doesn't say how they perform in the competition.

The sidebar: a list of the "all stars" from the science bowl.

The last names of those "all stars":

• Wong
• Le
• Singh
• Levy
• Nikong
• Soo

Game. Set. Match.

gene berman said...

And what, pray tell, is the state of M. du Lion's health?

gene berman said...

Mark:

Seligman made no logical error. He simply and specifically asked you to assume the conditions as given.

Lucius Vorenus said...

From the NYT: ...Many of Mr. Seligman's opinions were grounded in his own application of mathematics, and while he was an ardent anti-communist in his early years, he sometimes used statistics to criticize the right, as well. In a 1992 column he tweaked a fictitious Conservative member of the British Parliament who wondered why so many of his colleagues had been ensnared in sex scandals.

"Imagine," Mr. Seligman wrote, "a jar filled with 600 marbles, 331 of them blue and 269 red (these being, respectively, the numbers of Conservative and Labor MPs last fall, before the wave of scandals broke)."

"An observer wearing a blindfold — this would be the media," he continued, "reaches into the jar and pulls out six marbles. What is the probability that all six will be blue? The answer is 2.76 percent, meaning there is only one chance in 36 of the Tory monopoly on parliamentary sex scandals being attributable to chance"...


Uh, no, he's using mathematics to criticize LEFTIST journalists: If you make the assumption that Laborites and Tories are equally likely to engage in extra-marital shenigans [an assumption which, BTW, is almost certainly unfair to Tories in the first place], then the probability that only Tories would show up in publicized sex scandals is just vanishingly small, which indicates that LEFTIST journalists are covering up for their own.

Gee whiz, is contemporary NYT copy written by baboons?!?

[That's not a facetious question...]

Anonymous said...

I can recall sitting up all night in 1981, when I was supposed to be writing an MBA term paper at UCLA, with a shelf full of bound volumes of Fortune, reading years worth of his Keeping Up column.

I remember similar displacement activity, only I read The Diceman in a one night sitting. Then I still had to write the essay.

Ben said...

That is sad news. I read his book "A Question of Intelligence" a few months ago. A very level headed and well written overview of the controversy. It also features an interesting chapter on Arthur Jensen based on Seligman's interview with him.

Anonymous said...

gene berman - And what, pray tell, is the state of M. du Lion's health?

La Griffe posted quite recently in fact. So I dont think it was him, time will tell.

Steve Sailer said...

La Griffe du Lion and Dan Seligman aren't the same person.

Reg Cæsar said...

If you make the assumption that Laborites and Tories are equally likely to engage in extra-marital shen[an]igans [an assumption which, BTW, is almost certainly unfair to Tories in the first place]... --Lucius

You're right, it is. Tories are significantly more likely to be tempted because, unlike the Left, they actually have a sex drive. Lefties have a power drive instead. Which might explain why they go ape over those few of their own, like John Kennedy or Bill Clinton, who display both drives in spades. (Come to think of it, those two were seen as centrists as well. I rest my case.)

The smartest thing Ayn Rand ever said was that the Right cares about sex rather than money, and the Left about money rather than sex, and each wants strict control over its preferred drive, while being indifferent to the other.

...then the probability that only Tories would show up in publicized sex scandals is just vanishingly small...

... or perhaps guaranteed...

which indicates that LEFTIST journalists are covering up for their own.

... or that leftist journalists are covering up the LACK of their own!

I read somewhere that it's conventional wisdom among caterers in DC that right-wing shindigs will be a lot wilder than left-wing ones.

Reg Cæsar said...

...Mr. Seligman was a son of Irving and Clare O’Brien Seligman. --NYT

Oy and begorra! Now there's hybrid vigor for you!

Gene Berman said...

Much relieved, Steve; thanks.

Gypsum said...

Re. the Brimelow interview with Seligman. Mention is made of the University of Minnesota identical twin study and 'In one case, the twins were raised respectively as a Hitler Youth member and as an observant Jew.' For real? Any more information?

Mark said...

Reg Cæsar -

You make an interesting argument, but...Gary Condit, Gary Hart, Mel Reynolds, John Edwards, Jesse Jackson, Eliot Spitzer, Jim McGreevey, Antonio Villaraigosa, Gavin Newsom, The Kennedys...

Aside from press bias the one reason I can think of that liberal pols might get caught less is because, perhaps, they're less likely to be married.

togo said...

Re. the Brimelow interview with Seligman. Mention is made of the University of Minnesota identical twin study and 'In one case, the twins were raised respectively as a Hitler Youth member and as an observant Jew.' For real? Any more information?

I recall reading about that.The non-HJ grew up in Trinidad (of all places) and later migrated to SoCal. I don't remember him as being at all religious.

Creepy said...

Reg Cæsar said

Tories are significantly more likely to be tempted because, unlike the Left, they actually have a sex drive....the Right cares about sex rather than money, and the Left about money rather than sex, and each wants strict control over its preferred drive

On the campaign trail Bush the First once replied to Ted Kennedy's mocking question "Where was George?" by shouting: "Unlike you, I was at home and in bed with my wife and children!"

Anonymous said...

he dies in 2009. i write this in 2012. I can't find a picture of the man nor one "keeping up" column online.

Steve Sailer said...

That's terrible. I'll have to post more of his old columns. I'm very busy right now, but email me in the future and remind me.