What role does “for reasons of parsimony and relevance” have in the last sentence? Is it a feature of “abstention”? And is “or parsimony and relevance” adjective for “reasons”? If so, then what does it mean to say a reason is of parsimony?

If we think of reasons why someone might not vote, it becomes clear that the list is long and varied and goes beyond political motivations. Some people are ill on the day of the election and are unable to get to the voting booth. Others go on holiday and forget to order a proxy vote before they leave. Some people simply forget to go to the polling station before it closes. Yet we must abandon any attempt to try to introduce these apolitical events into a model of abstention for reasons of parsimony and relevance.

  • for reasons of parsimony and relevance explains why the writer must abandon (or not even start) efforts to expand on the matter being discussed. Specifically, he's not going into additional detail because he wants his text to be brief, and to the point. – FumbleFingers Apr 16 at 15:56
  • @FumbleFingers So you would put a comma before “for”? – Sasan Apr 19 at 22:18
  • I didn't say anything about commas - but now you've brought the matter up, I will say that in this exact context, I would indeed include a comma before that final clause. I should put out the disclaimer that I'm somewhat "old school", in that I tend to use commas more often than most of the best of today's writers. But I'd have the comma there for the same reason I'd pause in speech - as an aid to parsing. Specifically, to make sure my audience/readership aren't misled into thinking they're "reasons for abstention", rather than "reasons for abandoning attempts to do something". – FumbleFingers Apr 20 at 11:53
  • That's to say, the pause / comma is necessary in order to put some "distance" between for reasons... and the immediately preceding words, because those reasons actually refer back to an earlier part of the sentence. But I probably wouldn't include a comma if there weren't so many other words intervening between the for reasons... adverbial clause and what it refers back to: As, for example, We wanted to try to introduce these apolitical events into a model of abstention. But we must abandon any such attempt for reasons of parsimony and relevance. – FumbleFingers Apr 20 at 11:59

Although in most instances "parsimony" means to be cheap or overly frugal with money, in this case it is meant to try and be very frugal with the length of the topic analysis. The author wants to try and stick to the main reasons of non-voting without going into every possible reason. An alternate phrasing of the last sentence might be:

"However, instead of going into every possible reason someone might not vote, let's focus on the most common reasons, to keep it short and to the point."

  • So, wouldn’t it be a good idea if the author put a comma before “for”? – Sasan Apr 19 at 22:16
  • Possibly. This is one of those examples where a comma depends on personal preference. – CaptainSkyfish Apr 20 at 18:03

The author of this passage is writing about the extent of nonvoting. To explain or predict now much that did or will happen, they construct a model: a set of assumptions from which to draw conclusions. In a good model those assumptions will be relevant, and there should not be too many of them.

Parsimonious models are simple models with great explanatory predictive power. They explain data with a minimum number of parameters, or predictor variables. The idea behind parsimonious models stems from Occam's razor, or “the law of briefness” (sometimes called lex parsimoniae in Latin)


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