Monday, May 17, 2010

More Contested Cant

In recent days, you've probably seen a few reviews of James Shapiro's Contested Will. The man's a best-selling author and clearly doesn't need our help generating clicks.

But thanks go to reader SJW who pointed out the LA Times blog's recent post offering up some new old trout by reviewer Ward Elliott -- the author of a series of computer studies involving Edward de Vere's letters and the youthful poetry (mostly song lyrics) published under de Vere's name.

This may come as a surprise to those not familiar with academia, but Elliott published well-funded studies in the 1980s and '90s using computers to prove, among other things, that letters and song lyrics are very different from Shakespeare plays.

It never ceases to amaze this blogger (and part-time tech journalist) how often computers are enlisted to re-tell us things that are in fact already quite obvious. But Elliott points toward his CT scan of an apple and his CT scan of a glorious orange and says with the assurance of a good professor of number-crunching that never mind those trifling quibbles over the input data: The point is the computer says the apple couldn't ever no never have been an orange! So de Vere weren't Shakespeare, see?

I'm not a professor of number-crunching. But I think I have a fair nose for picking out hornswoggle just from the whiff of it.

I'm also a writer working on a second book and haven't the patience or time right now to deal with taking on Elliott's nonsense point-by-point. Fortunately, that's already been done.

Here [PDF] is a fine study of Elliott -- which it should be fairly noted Elliott replied to which was in turn replied to as well.

So, to those seeking deeper truths than "an apple ain't an orange," please seek above and you shall find!

Meantime, it's also worth noting one Canadian critic who's had enough of Shapiro's "anemic" scholarship.

That plus the skeptical review of Shapiro blogged about earlier has been picked up by the National Book Critics Circle.

Seems cant doesn't go down easily everywhere.