Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Igon Value"

Steven Pinker's review of Malcolm Gladwell's new book is quite good. (You don't actually need a background in linear algebra to appreciate it.)

Also, "hurled it across the room" may have a replacement: it looks like Pinker has coined a resonant phrase: "had me gnawing on my Kindle."


S. J. Gould said...

Anyone else notice that Pinker began his dismantling of Gladwell with a misspelling?:
He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “saggital plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra).

Sagittal has one "g" and two "t"s saGittal not saGGital

Brendan said...

I'm pretty sure from the context that Pinker preserved the existing error to make his point.

S. J. Gould said...

Amazon's Search Inside This Book finds sagittal spelled correctly on page 135 of What the Dog Saw.

Brendan said...

If you say so. Following both the top Google result and the Amazon link from MG's own site, I am unable to confirm that -- I get 0 results, no matter how I (mis)spell it.

I do, however, find "igon value" on p.71. As printed at the top of the image of the book page, that is -- Amazon says it's p. 69 in the search results listing, for some reason.

Maybe Pinker was working from an advance proof, and not the final (electronic) version as it now appears? Or, since we're only talking about another bucket of bits here, it might have been easy enough for the misspelling to be corrected after the review ran.

In any case, it seems like too small a matter to be concerned over. If Pinker and and the NYT's editors and copyreaders did blow it, it wouldn't be the first time someone made a mistake making fun of someone else's spelling or grammar mistakes. I think I've seen a "Law" to this effect, but I can't remember its name.

Maybe we should call it Saggital's Law?


(Yes. Sic.)

P.S. Just had the bright idea of searching for "plane," since you were kind enough to provide the page number. Turns out it's


in the Look-Inside book, due to line breaks. Stupid computers! ;^)

But, anyway, I am now able to confirm your report -- the Amazon Look-Inside version, at least, has the word spelled correctly. And now, I think you should acknowledge Pinker's larger point, that the word is usedincorrectly. Gladwell says:

There he is, talking to Patrice and Scott. He has his hands in front of him, in what Laban analysts call the sagittal plane -- that is, the area directly in front of and behind the torso.

I do not think that word means what Gladwell thinks it means.

Oh, and all this aside, I never heard of sagittal plane before. Thanks for encouraging me to look it up.