Saturday, October 27, 2018

an acknowledgment

Not as often as some people, but I do get acknowledged in books from time to time, usually books about Tolkien. But this one that's just come out is a bit different:

Michael Crick, Sultan of Swing: The Life of David Butler (Biteback Publishing)

The title suggests the biography of a baseball player, but the swing in question is political swing, the change in party vote in a given area in successive elections. David Butler was (he's still alive, but quite retired) an Oxford academic who essentially invented election statistics; he used to appear on BBC election night programs in the UK with a little pendulum device to measure swing with. He also wrote a lot of books on British elections, which is where I'd heard of him, BBC election night broadcasts being largely out of my ken.

So where does my acknowledgement come in? Well, David Butler's mentor in psephology, the science of elections, was an older Oxford academic named Ronald McCallum, and McCallum was a member of the Inklings, one on whom I'd once written an article. Does the connection begin to take shape now? It gets clearer:

McCallum's book on the 1945 general election was the first time it had ever occurred to anyone to study an election while it was going on; it's commonplace now, but McCallum thought of it first, thereby creating psephology. Butler, only an undergraduate at the time, contributed the statistics, the first time anyone had performed that kind of analysis on an election, and eventually he took over the consequent series of Nuffield College election analysis books.

Butler always thought McCallum invented the word "psephology", but Crick and his researchers found a letter of McCallum's that says otherwise. He says he met with "Lewis and the Choice Spirits" one day and told them he was practicing Electionology. They were shocked at the horrid Latin-Greek hybrid and suggested psephology instead, after the word for the pebbles with which the ancient Greeks voted.

This is when the researchers wrote me, as an Inklings scholar who'd written on McCallum. Was that the Inklings? they asked. I said it very probably was, noting that Tolkien once similarly referred to the Inklings as "the Lewis séance." I also pointed out that the day of the meeting in the letter was a Tuesday, indicating that it was a Bird and Baby pub meeting which were on Tuesdays at the time.

So that got into the book and got me an acknowledgement, as well as tickled to know that the Inklings apparently invented the name for a social science.

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