A Black Friday misquote from Slashdot
The Browser has long been a bit flummoxed by the term "Black Friday"; in part because it is the title of a grim-but-catchy Steely Dan song, we can't help but feel that it sounds like the name of a very bad day on Wall Street, rather than a really busy day in the malls. It seems oddly appropriate, then, that The New York Times chose today to run a fascinating story on automatic algorithms that make stock trades, which, advocates claim, can execute huge volumes of trades nearly instantaneously, based on pattern recognitions that mere humans might never discern.
The article contains some debate about the ultimate value of such systems. Some investors swear by them, while some scientists and others argue that the amount and type of data needed to match the complex understanding of stocks and markets that professional traders have ultimately limit what these systems can do. Indeed, the Slashdot entry for the article originally highlighted this terrific quote from Andrew Lo, director of the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering: "I'll build a stock market neural network for a couple thousand (you'll just need five thousand years of market data to train it before it actually works)."
Oddly, however, this quote is not in the dead-tree version of the Times in The Browser's office; neither is it currently on the nytimes.com site. The Browser wrote to Times reporter Charles Duhigg to inquire about this discrepancy, and he wrote back: "i have no idea where that supposed second half of the quote came from. Certainly not from anything I wrote, and Lo never said anything like that to me."
Slashdot's Zonk, who initially posted the item Friday morning, acknowledged to The Browser that "Looking through the article again, [the Lo quote] doesn't seem to be there. I'm not sure whether this means it was removed, or the submitter was overzealous with his quotation marks." At approximately 1:45 PM EST, after our Browser item was originally posted, Slashdot changed the entry on its site and removed the non-existent Lo quote.
The Browser accepts that this is an unintentional foul: most likely, a quote from the original story was mixed up with a comment from the person who submitted it. Still, all the more reason to read carefully in the blogosphere.
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