Great podcast episode discussing how disasters can happen when we get the math wrong. This particular story is about unit conversions but is followed by a great conversation about the nature of math.
“A metre is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a “unit conversion error” when you’re filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143.”
The episode itself is fascinating but the conversation with the author upon whose work this story was based is equally fascinating. Below is a quote from that conversation that explains some of the utility and dangers of math.
“The underlying issue is that as humans we’re not naturally good at mathematics…the human brain doesn’t do maths natively…because we have maths we can do so much more than our brains could do intuitively. We don’t have to make a building by eyeballing it and superoverengineering it, we can do the mathematics and figure out exactly what we need and how it is going to work. Using maths we can do far more than the human brain was ever designed to do. The cost, however, is that we can we are beyond our intuition and have to do the maths and do it very carefully.”
I have the link below queued to the section quoted above.
We like to think that we make up our own minds. That we make our own choices — about how we spend our time and money; what we watch and wear; how we think about the issues of the day. But the truth is, we are influenced into these choices. In ways large and small — and often invisible. Some of this influence may be harmless, even fun; and some of it isn’t harmless at all.
What transforms reasonable people into an angry mob? Why are we so eager to dismiss those who disagree with us as inherently evil? These are questions which Jonathan Haidt has spent his career trying to answer. One of the world’s most influential social psychologists and a member of Persuasion’s Board of Advisors, he argues that a lot of recent cultural shifts are encouraging emotional fragility rather than resilience. A professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Haidt seeks to employ moral psychology to promote dialogue rather than division.
In this week’s episode of The Good Fight, Yascha Mounk sits down with Jonathan Haidt to discuss psychological differences between the left and the right, the human tendency to discriminate in favor of the in-group, and how to build a less tribal culture and country.
Since its inception, the perennial thorn in Facebook’s side has been content moderation. That is, deciding what you and I are allowed to post on the site and what we’re not. Missteps by Facebook in this area have fueled everything from a genocide in Myanmar to viral disinformation surrounding politics and the coronavirus. However, just this past year, conceding their failings, Facebook shifted its approach. They erected an independent body of twenty jurors that will make the final call on many of Facebook’s thorniest decisions. This body has been called: Facebook’s Supreme Court.
So today, in collaboration with the New Yorker magazine and the New Yorker Radio Hour, we explore how this body came to be, what power it really has and how the consequences of its decisions will be nothing short of life or death.
Great episode with some solid TOK connections. At around 30:55, the host talks to economist Ed Glaeser about the value and importance of cities. The arguments he present connect well to concepts of personal and shared knowledge. Cities allow for innovation and progress because of the ease of sharing knowledge.
DUBNER: You call the city “our greatest invention,” which means you’re putting it ahead of mathematics, the computer, antibiotics, rum-raisin ice cream. How so? How is the city the greatest human invention? GLAESER: It is the machine that makes all the other inventions possible, right? And the reason for that is that almost every one of the inventions that you raise, whether it’s mathematics and its development, whether in classical Greece 2,500 years ago or in the House of Wisdom in Abbasid, Baghdad, 1,200 years ago, it is human connections that make that creativity possible. Almost nothing that we have done as a species is a solo creation. We collaborate. We learn from each other. We steal each other’s ideas with some degree of regularity.
Further on, around 39 minutes, the host talks to economist Jennifer Doleac about crime statistics. What I love here is the way in which she talks about data and possible explanations for observed phenomena. All of this is a great representation of the methods of the human sciences and of economics in particular.
Homicide, it’s a bit of a mystery. And I think the mystery is compounded by the fact that we’re seeing different effects in different cities. So, it’s hard to come up with a really clear story. It’s possible that some of this is gang violence. And so, if people aren’t out and about, then there aren’t witnesses and bystanders who might deter violent crime or violent confrontations among people that perhaps don’t care about stay-at-home orders. Something else that has been written about quite a bit now is what happens to domestic-violence rates. We see domestic violence rates increase quite a bit. Some of those surely are turning into homicides. But that probably is not explaining all of the potential effect on homicides in these cities.
Question #1: Is it wrong to enjoy the art of “canceled” artists?
One of the first “canceled” artists Stephen and Angela discuss is, of course, Michael Jackson. To learn more about the allegations against the pop star, read this New York Times article by Ben Sisario, or watch the 2019 Emmy-winning documentary, HBO’s Leaving Neverland.
Angela wonders if it’s okay to enjoy Annie Hall, one of her all-time favorite movies. This 2018 New York Times piece offers a detailed timeline of Woody Allen’s controversial history.
KQs: What knowledge is worth knowing? What makes knowledge valuable?
I have four teenagers. I’ve spent a lot of time working with them on their math homework. More often than not, after helping them answer whatever questions are assigned that day, I’m left with questions of my own — questions that I can’t find good answers to. Why are we teaching kids these things? Does anyone actually use the math we are teaching in their daily life? Is there any benefit at all to learning this stuff? And are there not more interesting and useful things we could be teaching them? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-math. I use mathematical thinking, statistics, and data analysis constantly, whether I’m writing economics papers, trying to get better at golf, or hoping to pick winners at the race track. But here is the thing: the math tools I actually use, and the math tools I see people around me actually using, seem to have nothing to do with what my kids are learning in school. Which makes me think that we must be able to better for our children when it comes to teaching them math.
Monuments don’t mean things on their own. They mean things because we make them mean things. So this Robert E. Lee statue, which I suspect most Charlottesvillians would have walked past and ignored as well, has taken on a new valence. And I think that’s an important reminder. Monuments are not static things that have a single narrative behind them. Monuments are things that we create. Monuments are objects whose meaning and significance we create daily.
The authors of the book, Freakonomics, created some controversy when they laid out the case that the legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s was largely responsible for the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s and beyond. In this podcast, the main author and economist behind the study discusses the fallout and criticism from that case but more importantly discusses several important concepts related to the human sciences and how people acquire knowledge generally.
Some interesting moments:
33 minutes: the challenges for a layperson to learn about social science research and the limitations of media reporting and sensationalism. Also talks about the nature of creating knowledge in economics. 47 minutes: on the challenges of explaining to people what economists do and the validity of their methods despite seeming sophisticated to the nonexpert.
This podcast thoroughly explores and discusses this important question. John McWhorter’s work here is very well researched and very current in the way he addresses more current news articles and studies about this question.
Here is another article that spells it out very well from the Linguistic Society of America.