Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/377

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373
SHORTER ARTICLES AND DISCUSSION.

SHORTER ARTICLES AND DISCUSSION.

CHARACTERISTIC CURVES OF COMPOSITION.

In the June number of this journal there appeared an interesting article by Dr. Robert E. Moritz, on 'The Significance of Characteristic Curves of Composition,' mostly devoted to an examination and criticism of some conclusions stated by me in a paper published nearly twenty years ago and practically applied in another paper published in 1901. To those who have had enough interest in this somewhat curious application of the doctrine of chance to read all of these papers carefully no comment upon or reply to the criticism of Dr. Moritz need be addressed, but in these piping times everybody is so busy preparing his own papers for the press that he has time only to glance at the results of the intellectual activity of others, and it has become a common, indeed, almost necessary habit to make a hurried hunt for the conclusions of scientific investigations of a subject a little out of one's own field and to accept them when found for lack of time to do otherwise. For this reason I will invite attention to one or two facts having an important bearing upon the question at issue. The assumption of Dr. Moritz is that the form of what I have called the characteristic curve of a composition, plotted as first described twenty years ago, will depend more on what he calls the form of composition (character, as to subject matter, etc.) than upon any personal peculiarities of the author. He believes this, the form of composition, 'to be the predominating factor overshadowing all others' and that 'conclusions regarding the authorship of spurious or disputed writings based upon a comparison of the word curves of work differing either in form (if composition or in other essential respects must be considered worthless.' After (not before) making these and other equally sweeping assertions, he sets forth the evidence by which lie believes they are supported. The principal part of this evidence is an exhibition of results of a series of 'word-countings' of various authors which he has made, from which results he deduces the conclusions quoted above.

Unfortunately these conclusions are of no value whatever because the observations on which they are founded are totally inadequate and, indeed, are specifically 'ruled out' in the very beginning by the author himself in a quotation from my earlier paper. In this it was declared that a count of '100,000 words would be necessary and sufficient to furnish the characteristic curve of a writer,' and yet, in the face of this statement, Dr. Moritz proceeds to make his sweeping deductions from groups including 1,000, 5,000 (generally) and in the case of one author two groups of 1 5,000 words each! He puts the curves of the two latter, including only 30.000 words in all, by the side of the Bacon-Shakespeare diagram which includes 600,000 words (not less than 100,000 being 'necessary') and then makes the charming comment upon the latter that, 'instead of furnishing a convincing proof or even contributory evidence, leaves the problem of disputed authorship wholly untouched!' In this case the value of the evidence depends on some power higher than the first of the number of words, but even if directly proportional it would be twenty in favor to one against, and it is difficult to believe the author serious in condemning so positively and confidently the evidence of a 'characteristic curve'