[Quote] The “Bible”

Although it is a great read, Numerical Recipe[1] is no more suitable as a statistical bible than Ptolemy is for astronomy.

J. Horowitz, Page 255 of Statistical Challenges in Modern Astronomy II (Eds. G.J.Babu and E.D.Feigelson), Springer, 1997

I wonder if the new edition of Numerical Recipe could change the name Ptolemy to someone or some book from the 20th century.

  1. W.H.Press, S.A.Teukolsky, W.T. Vetterling, and B.P.Flannery, 2nd ed., 1992[]
  1. vlk:

    I think Ptolemy gets a bad rap. For someone modeling geocentric projections of planetary paths as perturbative Fourier components, he was way ahead of the times.

    01-08-2008, 10:36 pm
  2. TomLoredo:

    Ouch! Quite a remark by Horowitz. I sympathize with it to a great extent. But I think many NR detractors mistake its purpose. I don’t know if it’s put so clearly in the books themselves, but Press & Teukolsky, in a paper on the history of the books (in Computers in Physics IIRC), say their goal was to get scientists up to 1960‘s state-of-the art in numerical technique (i.e., not circa 1990, the time the books were orginally written). Their contention is that 90% of scientists’ numerical work is adequately handled by old technology. I think this was a reasonable goal/motivation, and that they achieved it well.

    As to statistical practice in the new edition, apart from a nod to MCMC, it really isn’t much improved over the original (which was okay in most respects, as far as it went). I was particularly disappointed to see no significant changes in the section on the bootstrap, which has misled several astronomers. At the least, the reference list should have been updated.

    What I would have liked to see more of (in both the old and new editions) is “diagnostic” advice regarding whether your problem is adequately addressed by 1960s technology, and then a pointer or two to modern developments. I also wonder if statistics isn’t really in the same boat as numerics, when it comes to the adequacy of 1960s technology for modern problems. But I suppose every expert in some particular area will have a gripe with NR in that area (and probably happily use it in other areas!).

    The NR project is so ambitious that I don’t suppose there is anything they could have done that would have really satisfied someone with significant expertise in any one of the many areas they cover. However, as a non-expert in many of those areas, I am very grateful for the books, which helped introduce me to many tools that I now take for granted. It’s hard to imagine a better job being done on that breadth of topics without it becoming a many-volume encyclopedia!

    01-09-2008, 6:38 pm
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