|Source Noah Smith|
A lesson for students learning to write papers: Don't needlessly annoy readers before you get to your point. If a reader disagrees, finds something wrong, or insufficiently documented, of if you offend a reader, he or she will leave without getting to the main point. Once a reader finds one thing he or she thinks is wrong, he or she will distrust the rest of the argument. Grand methodological statements and criticisms of swaths of literature are especially dangerous.
Noah's post is a great example. As you can see, Noah never got to the main point of McCloskey's review, and happily admits it.
And Noah's criticisims are spot on. The first four pages of McCkoskey's review are full of grand, outrageous, and arguably false statements, having nothing to do with Piketty, inequality, or anything else that follows. McCloskey, author of a splendid essay on writing in economics, should really have known better. My review said as much too. Interestingly, I quoted quite a few of the same points Noah found. (I put that at the bottom of a "too-long post on a far-too-long review of a enormously-too-long book" because my main point was not about writing and for once I followed my own advice and put the secondary point at the bottom.)
So, dear students, learn the lesson: write the minimum up front needed to make your main point later. If you think everyone runs too many regressions, or you don't like non-cooperative game theory, and unless this point is absolutely necessary to your criticism of Piketty, save it for another day. Only offend people you really really need to offend. Otherwise, you risk having a potential reader like Noah give up in disgust before he gets to your point. Noah, hold your nose and plow on, it gets better.