I think it’s worth a short post to explain where the name ‘Quixotic Quant’ came from.
This word sums up my intent to use this blog to ‘tilt at windmills’, in the metaphorical style of Don Quixote. By ‘tilt’ I mean it as it’s meant in jousting. Take a direct charge against an idea and try to topple it, or at least have an exciting clash of intellectual arms, and hopefully have some fun and amuse onlookers while you’re at it.
I’ve decided to take this approach because lately I’ve become persuaded that the surest way of burying a great idea that’s well supported by good evidence is to try make it sound so objective, reasonable, and comprehensively supported that it can’t be refuted. The more worrying corollary is that plenty of ideas which are stupid and not even slightly supported by good analysis have become ascendant only because colourful, opinionated people have been less bashful about articulating them succinctly. Good ideas won’t win any more by staying above the fray. If people can’t see what you’re driving at, they switch off. So I figure on balance that it’s generally better to go headlong into an argument with a healthy measure of vigour, even if you’re not sure it’s beyond refute, or don’t know quite where it leads. It makes it easier to understand and heightens the spectacle to the onlooker, and will probably do better at arousing some constructive criticism and conversation. If you find yourself a target, please charge back in defence, rather than take offence. I’m just as keen to discover flaws in my own arguments as I am to expose ones I think I’ve found in others.
I’ve also found that my favourite sorts of targets are in many ways the ‘windmills’ of the modern world. That is, they’re large slow-moving fixtures in our public intellectual consciousness that seem so enduring, obvious, and innocuous that people have lost all willingness to challenge them. It’s these ideas, the faulty foundations and enduring obsolete, which I think are the hidden ‘ferocious giants’ of our day. They’re both the most fun to poke some holes in, and potentially most dangerous for society to leave entirely unmolested. Most genuine tragedies of human policy and planning occur because some simple assumption that was widely held to be safe and reliable wasn’t challenged enough until it was too late.
I’ve had at least as tumultuous a career as any millennial should hope for. I’m probably at least as well-qualified to be a barista or bartender as I am to claim the title of economist, statistician, physicist, manager, data-scientist, though lately I spend almost all my time working in the latter roles. Quant seemed to capture the common theme of those latter experiences, and also sum-up the approach I would generally try to take many of the issues that I’d be discussing. That’s not to say that I don’t value non-quantitative skills and ideas. Being too ‘data-driven’ is possible, in fact qualitative skills and ideas are the essential complement to quantitative research. But mostly I find that what I want to contribute to debate has to do with something that can and should be quantified.
Where things can be quantified and analysed as such, I’ll make the R-code which I’ve used to generate the charts and numbers available for anyone else to inspect, interrogate, and build-upon, as well as the original data-source, or at least the path to it. You can inspect the repository on Github for each post, and use a package with functions that the scripts might require. While I’m most interested in spending time discussing the interpretation of data and the policy implications of that interpretation, having the correct data is at least as important. If you think there’s a mistake in my work please find it, I’ll be glad to hear from you and fix it. Or if there’s more or better data which you know of that I could use, please let me know.
I must also give my thanks to Ross Ireland from Trendlock who’s done a great deal to advance my R skills over the last year or two, and even more in the last month or so to help me build the machinery that sits behind this blog.