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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Steven Pinker on bad and good writing

The psychologist and word-usage expert has produced a new style guide with cognitive sensibilities called "The Sense of Style."

Steven Pinker, a Harvard University professor, in the book 'The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century' according to The Economist steers:

writers towards a “classic style”, in which the writer clearly points out things that may have escaped the reader’s notice, but which anyone can understand with patient guidance. Classic style uses concrete words in straightforward sentences easily parsed by man’s limited brain. Bad writing, exemplified by academese, bureaucratese and bewildering gadget manuals, does the opposite. Sentences are long, filled with abstract words, and make sense only to those who already know most of the information. (Mr Pinker admits that he struggles daily with papers in his own academic field.)

Why, psychologically, is bad writing bad? Working memory, which holds syntactic constructions in mind until they are complete, is easily overwhelmed. Mr Pinker uses memorable (and often funny) examples to show exactly what kind of sentences tax the mind. For example, violating expectations, such as upsetting chronological order, makes the reader do extra work. (When financial journalists say that an equity fell to $76 from $110, they invite confusion.) And the much-derided passive voice can make a passage flow more smoothly by preserving the ideal order of old information, then new.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Chris Soghoian's wake-up call on internet privacy

Digital Editor of The Economist Tom Standage interviews Christopher Soghoian, Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst, Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

China's territorial claims in Asia

The Economist says one reason China’s spectacular rise sometimes alarms its neighbours is that it is not a status quo power. From its inland, western borders to its eastern and southern seaboard, it claims territory it does not control.

In the west, China’s border dispute with India is more than a minor cartographic tiff. China claims an area of India that is three times the size of Switzerland, the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Further west, China occupies Indian claimed territory next to Ladakh in Kashmir, an area called the Aksai Chin. China humiliated India in a brief, bloody war over the dispute in 1962. Since 1988, the two countries have put the dispute on the backburner and got on with developing commercial ties, despite occasional flare-ups.

More immediately dangerous is the stand-off between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese.