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In which I demonstrate my ignorance of world literature

Fred Buchanan, a student at Saint Anselm’s Abbey School, writes:

I’m writing a paper on the influence of Jorge Luis Borges in academia, in particular his work “The Garden of Forking Paths”. I noticed that a large number of papers from a wide array of academic fields include references to this work. Your paper, “The garden of forking paths: Why multiple comparisons can be a problem, even when there is no “fishing expedition” or “p-hacking” and the research hypothesis was posited ahead of time”, is one of these.

If you don’t mind, I would like to ask some questions about the work’s influence on you. Was your paper’s title directly influenced by the “The Garden of Forking Paths”? If the work directly influenced the title, what relation does the story have to the content of your paper? Since I’m not a statistician, I would appreciate if you could explain this in layman’s terms. If you have read the story, what was your opinion of it? When did you first encountered the story? Did you expect other people in your field to recognize the reference? If they did, what was their reaction?

My reply:

Yes, the title and concept came straight from the Borges story. But I have not ever read the Borges story; I’ve only heard of it. Also, some people recognize the reference but many people do not. Indeed, when we published our article in the magazine American Scientist, the editors insisted on changing the title because they thought it was too obscure.


  1. Brian J. Reilly says:

    Oh do please read it! It is wonderful, as so much of Borges is. Also, the audio version available is narrated by George Guidall — yet another treat!

  2. Hmmm, I’ve read the story (it’s short and easy to find online btw) after learning about it from your works. I wonder how many people discovered it only because of you.

  3. Chris says:

    Gosh, Andrew, you should read it. It’s pure pleasure, as so many of the earlier Borges stories are.

    • Andrew says:


      My Spanish is weak, but I’ll give it a try. In any case, it’s a good way to learn!

      • Andrew,

        This may seem like a weird comment. I think my Dad’s life would have been enriched if he had conversations with someone like you b/c of your wide ranging interests. My Dad was like that too. He would have enjoyed John Ioannidis, Sander Greenland, and Keith O’Rourke. Well I get the benefit of you all. Hee hee.

      • Hernan Bruno says:

        English translations of Borges are as good as they can be. Like in any translation, some things get lost. In the case of Borges, the translated work is not always able to capture the extremely precise choice of words and the craft of each individual sentence that made Borges a genius. But Borges grew up bilingual, had erudite knowledge of English literature and supervised some of the translation of his work. So I would start with the English version ( if I were not a native Spanish speaker.)

  4. Ethan Bolker says:


    I think you should read the Borges story (now), and tell us what you think of it.

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