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Daniel Seligman, RIP
Dan Seligman, my role model as a quantitative journalist, has died at 84. Dan was the Bill James of public policy journalism.
I can recall sitting up all night in 1981, when I was supposed to be writing an MBA term paper at UCLA, with a shelf full of bound volumes of Fortune, reading years worth of his Keeping Up column.
The first time I ever spoke about becoming a professional journalist was 15 or 20 years ago when I mentioned to my wife that if Seligman ever retired from writing his "Keeping Up" column for Fortune, I'd make a good replacement.
Dan was the one of the first people I invited to join my Human Biodiversity email list ten years ago, and I was proud when he became a regular participant.
From the NYT:
Daniel Seligman, Longtime Fortune Columnist, Dies at 84
By DENNIS HEVISI
Daniel Seligman, who with gentle wit, ornate syntax, statistical acumen and a decidedly conservative bent engaged readers of his “Keeping Up” column in Fortune magazine for more than two decades, died Jan. 31 in Manhattan, where he lived. He was 84.
The cause was multiple myeloma, his daughter, Nora Favorov, said.
Mr. Seligman, who later wrote for Forbes magazine and other publications, was an editor and writer at Fortune from 1950 to 1997 and wrote more than 400 “Keeping Up” columns in his last 21 years at the magazine. Among the array of subjects Mr. Seligman poked fun at were political correctness, affirmative action, overbearing bureaucrats and what he considered loony leftists.
He also disputed those who doubted the value of I.Q. tests, a topic he fully examined in his 1992 book, “A Question of Intelligence: The I.Q. Debate in America.”
Many of Mr. Seligman’s opinions were grounded in his own application of mathematics, and while he was an ardent anti-communist in his early years, he sometimes used statistics to criticize the right, as well. In a 1992 column he tweaked a fictitious Conservative member of the British Parliament who wondered why so many of his colleagues had been ensnared in sex scandals.
“Imagine,” Mr. Seligman wrote, “a jar filled with 600 marbles, 331 of them blue and 269 red (these being, respectively, the numbers of Conservative and Labor MPs last fall, before the wave of scandals broke).”
“An observer wearing a blindfold — this would be the media,” he continued, “reaches into the jar and pulls out six marbles. What is the probability that all six will be blue? The answer is 2.76 percent, meaning there is only one chance in 36 of the Tory monopoly on parliamentary sex scandals being attributable to chance.”
Statistical analysis laced Mr. Seligman’s writings about genetics, the link between mortality and socioeconomic status, the efficacy of using horse-race betting as a means of money laundering, and whether there is correlation between the income of lawyers and their physical attractiveness.
For 12 years, starting in 1966, Mr. Seligman held several high-level editing positions at Fortune. In 1988, he stepped down as associate managing editor, but continued to write “Keeping Up.”
Marshall Loeb, the managing editor at the time, wrote in the magazine that Mr. Seligman “uses elegance and trenchant wit to wage his never-ending battle against fustian thinking.”
Born in Manhattan on Sept. 25, 1924, Mr. Seligman was a son of Irving and Clare O’Brien Seligman. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Meg Sherburn; his son, William; his brother, Paul; his sister, Susan Cohn; and four grandchildren.
After serving in the Army in World War II, Mr. Seligman earned his bachelor’s degree from New York University. He wrote for The American Mercury, Commonweal and The New Leader before joining Fortune.
After leaving Fortune, Mr. Seligman became a contributor to Forbes magazine. Sometimes, based on his assessment of their statistical inaccuracies, he spoofed fellow journalists.
“After many years of observing media colleagues at work,” he wrote in 2002, “I would say most of them were standing behind the door when quantitative skills were handed out. They quote T. S. Eliot but are babes in the woods when it comes to correlations or the basic laws of probability. Even when the math is simple, they get bollixed up.”
In the early 1990s, when I got a Nexis account at work, I downloaded years worth of his columns. I thought I had had to delete them all at some point in the 1990s when my 300 meg hard disk ran out of room, but I just found a hidden-away copy on my hard drive. I will dig some up over the next week to show how much of my work is just an updating of what Dan was doing in the 1970s and 1980s.
Here's Peter Brimelow's 1993 interview with him. And here's Charles Murray's 1992 review of Dan's IQ book, A Question of Intelligence, in Commentary.