Saturday, April 02, 2005

Biologically improbable phrases

Via Kieran Healy and Kevin Drum I see that Amazon has a new feature:’s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or "SIPs", show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.
Kieran notes that "SIPs effectively convey the essence of an author’s ideas, provided that the author is a phrase-maker," and provides some examples from sociology. Since I'm a biologist, here are some examples from important works in my own field. Some of them are statistical artifacts, but most really do convey the message of the book.
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: constant speedism, tossing tournament, artifact hermeneutics, awful stretcher, greedy reductionism, amber strings, pervasive adaptation, adaptationist reasoning, greedy reductionists, adaptationist thinking, universal acid (!), somatic line, mindless purposeless forces, real intentionality, habitat tracking, original intentionality, hidden constraints, feasible algorithm, biological possibility, idea that evolution, typographical change, human mathematicians, adaptationist explanation, daughter species, language organ

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene: fluke genes, selfish machine, evolutionarily stable set, optimum clutch size, snail genes, philanderer male, nasty strategies, caddis houses, selfish gene theory, extended phenotypic effects, forgiving strategies, conscious foresight, new replicators, baby cuckoo, replicator molecules, nice strategies, survival machines, celled bodies, group selection theory, gene machine, generation distance, parental altruism, meme pool, parasite genes, nonzero sum game

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species: temperate productions, genera descended, arctic productions, transitional gradations, perfect fertility, unknown progenitor, fossiliferous formations, our domestic breeds, aboriginal species, naturalised plants, consecutive formations, sessile cirripedes, our domestic productions, modified offspring, doubtful forms, neuter insects, closely allied forms, domesticated productions, profitable variations, enormously remote, transitional grades, very distinct species, diversified habits, mongrel offspring, transitional varieties

Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul: vivid visual awareness, first visual area, awareness neurons, percept changes, reverberatory circuits, single cortical area, cortical sheet, correlated firing, neural terms, distinct cortical areas, visual hierarchy, figure from ground, illusory contours, real neurons, subjective contours, particular neuron, different cortical areas, primal sketch, iconic memory

Mark Ptashne, Genes and Signals: activator bypass experiments, activators that work, polymerase bearing, recruiting protein, transcribing machinery, contacts polymerase, activating regions, amino domain, lytic genes, regulated recruitment, acidic activators, three activators, polymerase interaction, yeast activators, eve gene, establish lysogeny, activators work, repressor concentration, lac genes, activating loop, lac case, repressor synthesis
By comparison, one of my favorite books is relatively poor in SIPs, reflecting its role as a popularizing book, and not, perhaps, a seminal book full of groundbreaking (or, at least, originally phrased) ideas:
Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct: mental dictionary entry, doggie paper, discrete combinatorial system, flapping rule


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I shudder to think what they'd come up with if they analyzed my blog... 

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