Yesterday a couple of people sent me this article about mysterious deaths at JP Morgan. There’s no known connection between them, but maybe it speaks to some larger problem?
I don’t think so. A little back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me it’s not at all impressive, and this is nothing but media attention turned into conspiracy theory with the usual statistics errors.
Here are some numbers. We’re talking about 3 suicides over 3 weeks. According to wikipedia, JP Morgan has 255,000 employees, and also according to wikipedia, the U.S. suicide rate for men is 19.2 per 100,000 per year, and for women is 5.5. The suicide rates for Hong Kong and the UK, where two of the suicides took place, are much higher.
Let’s eyeball the overall rate at 19 since it’s male dominated and since may employees are overseas in higher-than-average suicide rate countries.
Since 3 weeks is about 1/17th of a year, we’d expect to see about 19/17 suicides per year per 100,000 employees, and seince we have 255,000 employees, that means about 19/17*2.55 = 2.85 suicides in that time. We had three.
This isn’t to say we’ve heard about all the suicides, just that we expect to see about one suicide a week considering how huge JP Morgan is. So let’s get over this, it’s normal. People commit suicide pretty regularly.
It’s very much like how we heard all about suicides at Foxconn, but then heard that the suicide rate at Foxconn is lower than the general Chinese population.
There is a common statistical problem called the clustering illusion, whereby actually random events look clustered sometimes. Here’s a 2-dimensional version of the clustering illusion:
Actually my calculation above points to something even dumber, which is that we expected 2.85 suicides and we saw 3, so it’s not even a proven cluster. Although it could be, because again we probably didn’t hear about all of them. Maybe it’s a cluster of “really obvious jump-from-a-building” suicides.
And I’m not saying JP Morgan is a nice place to work. I feel suicidal just thinking about working there myself. But I don’t want us to jump to any statistically unsupported conclusions.
I’m just recovering from a killer flu that had me wheezing and miserable for 5 days. I have a whole backlog of rants and vents but no time this morning to even start, so instead let me suggest you read this article (hat tip Chris Wiggins) about a New York Times reporter who crashed the yearly party of Kappa Beta Phi, a Wall Street secret society. Pretty amazing, if true.
A fascinating and timely study just came out about the “Stand Your Ground” laws. It was written by Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra, and is available as a pdf here, although I found out about in a Reuters column written by Hoekstra. Here’s a longish but crucial excerpt from that column:
It is fitting that much of this debate has centered on Florida, which enacted its law in October of 2005. Florida provides a case study for this more general pattern. Homicide rates in Florida increased by 8 percent from the period prior to passing the law (2000-04) to the period after the law (2006-10).By comparison, national homicide rates fell by 6 percent over the same time period. This is a crude example, but it illustrates the more general pattern that exists in the homicide data published by the FBI.
The critical question for our research is whether this relative increase in homicide rates was caused by these laws. Several factors lead us to believe that laws are in fact responsible. First, the relative increase in homicide rates occurred in adopting states only after the laws were passed, not before. Moreover, there is no history of homicide rates in adopting states (like Florida) increasing relative to other states. In fact, the post-law increase in homicide rates in states like Florida was larger than any relative increase observed in the last 40 years. Put differently, there is no evidence that states like Florida just generally experience increases in homicide rates relative to other states, even when they don’t pass these laws.
We also find no evidence that the increase is due to other factors we observe, such as demographics, policing, economic conditions, and welfare spending. Our results remain the same when we control for these factors. Along similar lines, if some other factor were driving the increase in homicides, we’d expect to see similar increases in other crimes like larceny, motor vehicle theft and burglary. We do not. We find that the magnitude of the increase in homicide rates is sufficiently large that it is unlikely to be explained by chance.
In fact, there is substantial empirical evidence that these laws led to more deadly confrontations. Making it easier to kill people does result in more people getting killed.
If you take a look at page 33 of the paper, you’ll see some graphs of the data. Here’s a rather bad picture of them but it might give you the idea:
That red line is the same in each plot and refers to the log homicide rate in states without the Stand Your Ground law. The blue lines are showing how the log homicide rates looked for states that enacted such a law in a given year. So there’s a graph for each year.
In 2009 there’s only one “treatment” state, namely Montana, which has a population of 1 million, less than one third of one percent of the country. For that reason you see much less stable data. The authors did different analyses, sometimes weighted by population, which is good.
I have to admit, looking at these plots, the main thing I see in the data is that, besides Montana, we’re talking about states that have a higher homicide rate than usual, which could potentially indicate a confounding condition, and to address that (and other concerns) they conducted “falsification tests,” which is to say they studied whether crimes unrelated to Stand Your Ground type laws – larceny and motor vehicle theft – went up at the same time. They found that the answer is no.
The next point is that, although there seem to be bumps for 2005, 2006, and 2008 for the two years after the enactment of the law, there doesn’t for 2007 and 2009. And then even those states go down eventually, but the point is they don’t go down as much as the rest of the states without the laws.
It’s hard to do this analysis perfectly, with so few years of data. The problem is that, as soon as you suspect there’s a real effect, you’d want to act on it, since it directly translates into human deaths. So your natural reaction as a researcher is to “collect more data” but your natural reaction as a citizen is to abandon these laws as ineffective and harmful.
Good morning, fine readers! Aunt Pythia is very happy to be here this morning, and she’s got some wonderful news and a request.
First the news.
It’s not snowing today! I take it back it just started snowing.
Now the request. As readers know, Aunt Pythia never makes up questions, but she’s not above making requests. That’s just how her ethics roll. And Aunt Pythia is itching to discuss this vile Valentine’s Day column from Susan Patton, so please take a look and let the questions roll in, thanks.
After you enjoy my column today – there’s sex at the end – please don’t forget to:
think of something to ask Aunt Pythia at the bottom of the page!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Before reading about the Target data loss, I didn’t realize that each company is responsible for the security of the in-store network that contains and transmits the data entered when I purchase an item. I thought there was some standard national process that controlled/enacted all debit/credit card transactions. How dumb I was. Now I am seriously thinking of trying to switch to using only cash. (This is leaving aside the motivation of achieving privacy in what I purchase.) I trust you to be savvy, so here are some questions:
- Is it worth switching to using only cash in-store?
- What about online? Just use Paypal? (How safe is that?) Have a credit card only used for online purchases, that isn’t linked to my bank accounts?
- To be honest, I am somewhat freaking out that with an all-digital banking system my money (and millions of other people’s) could just vanish from my “bank account” in some hacking extravaganza. After all my “bank account” is just some picture on my screen representing my hard-earned savings. Should we print out bank statements every month and keep them under our mattresses? I have decided that I’ll count on the FDIC, but how do I prove to the FDIC how much money I had if my bank’s been hacked and all my online records destroyed?
Dr. Suspicious Ignorant Naive
Dear Dr. SIN,
Let me try to convince you to be more worried about being tracked than this particular security issue.
Your potential losses on lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards top out at $50 if you report the loss quickly – see the FTC website for more information on this. And by “quickly” that means from the moment you are made aware of it, either by being told by the company or by monthly statements that show erroneous charges. So keep an eye on those statements and you’re pretty well protected.
Credit cards have slightly better protection and you don’t ever actually pay the bad charges, which is why I opt for credit cards over debit cards when I can.
On the other hand, the tracking issue is real, and is happening, and cash purchases will help but won’t be sufficient. Lots of tracking happens just by your phone usage, and even turning off your cell phone might not be enough, although you might like that feature if you lose your phone.
In other words, to get off the grid you’d need to use cash, leave your cell phone at home, and avoid the various cameras and sensors being placed everywhere. Good luck!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
Will the bitcoin protocol disrupt investment banking? Does this finally imply a means for fairer banking practices without putting regular folks on the hook? Here’s a related article.
Quantifried in Canada
I haven’t read that article, but I’ll just go ahead and answer the question anyway: no. The reasons that regular folks are on the hook for crazy bets on things like mortgage backed securities is complicated, deep, and will not go away because of bitcoin.
I’m not sure where or how this mythology got started, but even if an alternative currency worked flawlessly – which bitcoin does not, by far – we’d still have deep ties to Wall Street, and we’d still be bailing them out if and when.
For one thing, people’s retirement savings are increasingly involved in the fate of the markets and the banks, and that’s not gonna change just because our cash system gets separated from bank fees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love the banks to have fewer ways to control their power, and part of their power definitely includes things like fees on international money transfers. Let’s free ourselves! Cool. But let’s not pretend that’s a panacea.
Plus it would be great if we could find an alternative currency where you get more money for saving energy, not for wasting it. Too much to ask?
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I am friends with you on Facebook and I have recently got your book Doing Data Science on my kindle (to give you insight about our one sided relationship). There is more I want to say: with the inspiration and courage from you, I have quit my academic path in number theory.
I looked for jobs in the U.S.. However, a math Ph.D. was not good enough for the employers to jump on me. I now work as an evidence-based policy maker in science and technology matters in my home country.
However there are some problems. One is: I left a boy friend behind to get this job. Second: I do miss U.S., the wild nature, blue sky, fresh air and enough space for everyone. How can I be productive and still feel that I live in a beautiful world? The two notions does not seem to come together after quitting academia. Why is not U.S. more generous to let in people who would like to live there or let them look for jobs without time pressure?
Holy crap, I don’t think I ever told anyone to be like me.
Here’s the thing, you never get rid of problems, you just exchange them for new problems. And your new problems sound pretty deep.
My suggestion for you is to understand your options – all of them – and make a plan to increase those options in the medium and long term so that you have a 5-year and 10-year plan to make your problems closer to your ideal set of problems.
I know that sounds vague, but I can’t help you much more than that because everyone’s ideal set of problems is different. Good luck!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I am visiting U.S.A. from overseas. The guidebook says that a 15% to 20% gratuity based on the bill before sales taxes (with a minimum of 1$) should be given to staff of restaurants, taxis, salons etc. Are there other rounding conventions? And, is any of this discretionary according to customer’s appreciation of the service received?
I am from a country that has spent a generation (and indeed is still making efforts) to eradicate bribery and bring the informal economy into the realm of taxation, so it’s an awkward custom for me. I want to be respectful but prefer not to overpay due to ignorance.
Confused Foreign Visitor
First of all, it’s not bribery. These people depend on good tips for their salary. Waiting staff in restaurants have a minimum wage of $2.13, which is outrageous. They need those tips to survive.
I’m not saying it’s a great system, but it’s a system.
Second, your rules do not jibe with how I understand the rules of tipping. Here’s how I do it:
- For restaurant meals, I tip at least 1/6th of the cost of the food after tax. So if the bill with tax is $60 I pay $70.
- For taxies, I pay 10% for long trips and 15% or 20% for shorter trips.
- For delivery in my neighborhood, I pay the larger of $5 or 10% of the meal’s cost.
- For haircuts it really depends on the situation and whether the person listened to what I asked for. I give between between 10% and 25%. Then again I get about 1 haircut per year.
Good luck, and welcome to our country!
Dear Aunt Pythia,
I’m in the 5th or 6th year of long distance in an almost decade long relationship with my girlfriend. I love her very much and intend to marry her when we settle down eventually. When we’re together we have great sex.
Anyway, I’m a very horny guy. Oftentimes, my mind wanders off to very naughty things. If it wasn’t for my awesome girlfriend, I’d probably be a classic man slut. I’ve never cheated on her, nor have I ever been in a relationship with anyone else actually, but that doesn’t stop me from frequently checking out girls, dreaming of threesomes, and watching porn. Usually it doesn’t really get to me, because there are much more pressing problems in my life I have to deal with (e.g. career), but in moments when those problems get put on the backburner for one reason or another, it’s like my libido starts consuming me alive. I just really, really want to have sex with another girl.
Aunt Pythia, what should I do? What mental pep talk should I give myself in these moments of anguish? I love my girlfriend and want to be with her, but I’m just so goddamn horny.
Brandishing One Nasty Erection Rythmically
First, nice acronym.
Next, I’m pretty sure this is a fake question, but I’ma include it anyway because I’m desperate to juice up this rather tame column.
Why fake? Because, if you were really a man slut, and if you’re really long-distance for your 6th year, then you’re almost definitely 100% already having sex with other people.
I mean, I would be! WTF?! Who stays faithful for 6 years?
OK OK I know what you’re saying – you made an oath. I get that. But nobody – and I mean nobody – can be expected to live apart from their lover for that long. It’s just nuts. My personal opinion, and I can already sense the disgust and dismissal of some people upon reading this. I’m shallow and overly devoted to my cruder instincts, all true. But I also have a standard of decency and quality of life that includes regular physical contact.
My advice to you: start living with your future wife very very soon, or break up with her and get relief with a local. Or tell your GF that you need to take a lover, maybe you guys can work something out.
Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!
Scott Hodge just came out with a column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that reducing income inequality is way too hard to consider. The title of his piece is Scott Hodge: Here’s What ‘Income Equality’ Would Look Like, and his basic argument is as follows.
First of all, the middle quintile already gets too much from the government as it stands. Second of all, we’d have to raise taxes to 74% for the top quintile to even stuff out. Clearly impossible, QED.
As to the first point, his argument, and his supporting data, is intentionally misleading, as I will explain below. As to his second point, he fails to mention that the top tax bracket has historically been much higher than 74%, even as recently as 1969, and the world didn’t end.
Hodge argues with data he took from a report from the CBO called The Distribution of Federal Spending and Taxes in 2006. This report distinguishes between transfers and spending. Here’s a chart to explain what that looks, before taxes are considered and by quintile, for non-elderly households (page 5 of the report):
The stuff on the left corresponds to stuff like food stamps. The stuff in the middle is stuff like Medicaid. The stuff on the right is stuff like wars.
Here are a few things to take from the above:
- There’s way more general spending going on than transfers.
- Transfers are very skewed towards the lowest quintile, as would be expected.
- If you look carefully at the right-most graph, the light green version gives you a way of visualizing of how much more money the top quintile has versus the rest.
Now let’s break this down a bit further to include taxes. This is a key chart that Hodge referred to from this report (page 6 of the report):
OK, so note that in the middle chart, for the middle quintile, people pay more in taxes than they receive in transfers. On the right chart, for the middle quintile, which includes all spending, the middle quintile is about even, depending on how you measure it.
Now let’s go to what Hodge says in his column (emphasis mine):
Looking at prerecession data for non-elderly households in 2006 in “The Distribution of Federal Spending and Taxes in 2006,” the CBO found that those in the bottom fifth, or quintile, of the income scale received $9.62 in federal spending for every $1 they paid in federal taxes of all kinds. This isn’t surprising, since people with low incomes pay little in taxes but receive a lot of transfers.
Nor is it surprising that households in the top fifth received 17 cents in federal spending for every $1 they paid in all federal taxes. High-income households hand over a disproportionate amount in taxes relative to what they get back in spending.
What is surprising is that the middle quintile—the middle class—also got more back from government than they paid in taxes. These households received $1.19 in government spending for every $1 they paid in federal taxes.
In the first paragraph Hodge intentionally conflates the concept of “transfers” and “spending”. He continues to do this for the next two paragraphs, and in the last sentence, it is easy to imagine a middle-quintile family paying $100 in taxes and receiving $119 in food stamps. This is of course not true at all.
What’s nuts about this is that it’s mathematically equivalent to complaining that half the population is below median intelligence. Duh.
Since we have a skewed distribution of incomes, and therefore a skewed distribution of tax receipts as well as transfers, then in the context of a completely balanced budget, we would expect the middle quintile – which has a below-mean average income – to pay slightly less than the government spends on them. It’s a mathematical fact as long as our federal tax system isn’t regressive, which it’s not.
In other words, this guy is just framing stuff in a “middle class is lazy and selfish, what could rich people possibly be expected do about that?” kind of way. Who is this guy anyway?
Turns out that Hodge is the President of the Tax Foundation, which touts itself as “nonpartisan” but which has gotten funding from Big Oil and the Koch brothers. I guess it’s fair to say he has an agenda.
As I’ve already described, I’m worried about the oncoming MOOC revolution and its effect on math research. To say it plainly, I think there will be major cuts in professional math jobs starting very soon, and I’ve even started to discourage young people from their plans to become math professors.
I’d like to start up a conversation – with the public, but starting in the mathematical community – about mathematics research funding and why it’s important.
I’d like to argue for math research as a public good which deserves to be publicly funded. But although I’m sure that we need to make that case, the more I think about it the less sure I am how to make that case. I’d like your help.
So remember, we’re making the case that continuing math research is a good idea for our society, and we should put up some money towards it, even though we have competing needs to fund other stuff too.
So it’s not enough to talk about how arithmetic helps people balance their checkbooks, say, since arithmetic is already widely known and not a topic of research.
And it’s also a different question from “Why should I study math?” which is a reasonable question from a student (with a very reasonable answer found for example here) but also not what I’m asking.
Just to be clear, let’s start our answers with “Continuing math research is important because…”.
Here’s what I got so far and also why I find the individual reasons less than compelling:
1) Continuing math research is important because incredibly useful concepts like cryptography and calculus and image and signal processing have and continue to come from mathematics and are helping people solve real-world problems.
This “math as tool” is absolutely true and probably the easiest way to go about making the case for math research. It’s a long-term project, we don’t know exactly what will come out next, or when, but if we follow the trend of “useful tools,” we trust that math will continue to produce for society.
After all, there’s a reason so many students take calculus and linear algebra for their majors. We could probably even put a dollar value on the knowledge they gain in such a class, which is more than one could probably say about classes in many other fields.
Perhaps we should go further – mathematics is omnipresent in the exact science. And although much of that math is basic stuff that’s been known for decades or centuries, there are probably many examples of techniques being used that would benefit from recent updates.
The problem I have with this answer is that no mathematician ever goes into math research because someday it might be useful for the real world. At least no mathematician I know. And although that wasn’t a requirement for my answers, it still strikes me as odd.
In other words, it’s an answer that, although utterly true, and one we should definitely use to make our case, will actually leave the math research community itself cold.
So where does that leave us? At least for me straight to the next reason:
2) Continuing math research is important because it is beautiful. It is an art form, and more than that, an ancient and collaborative art form, performed by an entire community. Seen in this light it is one of the crowning achievements of our civilization.
This answer allows us to compare math research directly with some other fields like philosophy or even writing or music, and we can feel like artisans, or at least craftspeople, and we can in some sense expect to be supported for the very reason they are, that our existence informs us on the most basic questions surrounding what it means to be human.
The problem I have with this is that, although it’s very true, and it’s what attracted me to math in the first place, it feels too elitist, in the following sense. If we mathematicians are performing a kind of art, like an enormous musical piece, then arguably it’s a musical piece that only we can hear.
Because let’s face it, most mathematics research – and I mean current math research, not stuff the Greeks did – is totally inaccessible to the average person. And so it’s kind of a stretch to be asking the public for support on something that they can’t appreciate directly.
3) Continuing math research is important because it trains people to think abstractly and to have a skeptical mindset.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: one of the most amazing things about mathematicians versus anyone else is that mathematicians – and other kinds of scientists – are trained to admit they’re wrong. This is just so freaking rare in the real world.
And I don’t mean they change their arguments slightly to acknowledge inconvenient truths. I mean that mathematicians, properly trained, are psyched to hear a mistake pointed out in their argument because it signifies progress. There’s no shame in being wrong – it’s an inevitable part of the process of learning.
I really love this answer but I’ll admit that there may be other ways to achieve this kind of abstract and principled mindset without having a fleet of thousands of math researchers. It’s perhaps too indirect as an answer.
So that’s what I’ve got. Please chime in if I’ve missed something, or if you have more to add to one of these.
Crossposted from mathtango.
I’ve been reading Cathy O’Neil’s “Mathbabe” blog off-and-on pretty much since its inception, but either I’ve changed or her blog has, because for the last several months almost every entry seems like a gem to me. Cathy is somewhat outside-the-box of the typical math bloggers I follow… a blogger with a tad more ‘attitude’ and range of issues. She is a Harvard (PhD) graduate (also Berkeley and MIT) and a data scientist, who left the finance industry when disillusioned.
Political candidates often talk of having a “fire in the belly,” and that’s also the sense I’ve had of Cathy’s blog for awhile now. So I was very happy to learn more about the life of the blogosphere’s mathbabe, and think you will as well:
1) To start, could you tell readers a little about your diverse background and how you came to be a sort of math “freelancer” and blogger… including when did your interest in mathematics originally arise, and when did you know you wished to pursue it professionally?
I started liking math when I was 4 or 5. I remember thinking about which numbers could be divided into two equal parts and which couldn’t, and I also remember understanding about primes versus composites, and for that matter g.c.d., when I played with spirographs and taking note of different kinds of periodicities and when things overlap. Of course I didn’t have words for any of this at that point.
Later on in elementary school I got really into base 2 arithmetics in 3rd grade, and I was fascinated by the representation of the number 1 by 0.9999… in 7th grade. I was actually planning on becoming a pianist until I went to a math camp after 9th grade (HCSSiM), and ever since then I’ve known. In fact it was in that summer, when I turned 15, that I decided to become a math professor.
Long story short I spent the next 20 years achieving that goal, and then when I got there I realized it wasn’t the right speed for me. I went into finance in the Spring of 2007 and was there throughout the crisis. It opened my eyes to a lot of things that I’d been ignoring about the real world, and when I left finance in 2011 I decided to start a blog to expose some of the stuff I’d seen, and to explain it as well. I joined Occupy when it started and I’ve been an activist since then.
[Because so many carry the stereotyped image of a mathematician as someone standing at a blackboard writing inscrutable, abstract symbols, I think Cathy's "activism" has been one of the most appealing aspects of her blog!]
2) You’re involved in quite a number of important activities/issues… what would you list as your most ardent (math-related) goals, for say the next year, and then also longer-term?
My short- or medium- term goal is to write a book called “Weapons of Math Destruction” which I recently sold to Random House. It’s for a general audience but I’ve been giving a kind of mathematical version of it to various math departments. The idea is that the modeling we’re seeing proliferate in all kinds of industries has a dark side and could be quite destructive. We need to stop blindly assuming that because it has a mathematical aspect to it that it should be considered objective or benign.
[...Love the title of the book.]
Longer term I want to promote the concept of open models, where the public has meaningful access to any models that are being used on them that are high impact and high stakes. So credit scoring models or Value-Added Teacher models are good examples of that kind of thing. I think it’s a crime that these models are opaque and yet have so much power over people’s lives. It’s like having secret laws.
3) Related to the above, you’ve been especially outspoken about various financial/banking issues and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement… I have to believe that there are both very rewarding and very frustrating/exasperating aspects to tackling those issues… care to comment?
I’d definitely say more rewarding than frustrating. Of course things don’t change overnight, especially when it comes to the public’s perception and understanding of complex issues. But I’ve seen a lot of change in the past 7 years around finance, and I expect to see more skepticism around the kind of modeling I worry about, especially in light of the NSA surveillance programs that people are up in arms over.
4) Your blog covers a wider diversity of topics than most “math” blogs. Sometimes your blogposts seem to be a combination of educating the public while also simultaneously, venting! (indeed your subheading hints at such)… how might you describe your feelings/attitude/mood when writing typical posts? And what are your favorite (math-related) subjects to write about or study?
Honestly blogging has crept into my daily schedule like a cup of coffee in the morning. It would be really hard for me to stop doing it. One way of thinking about it is that I’m naturally a person who gets kind of worked up about how people just don’t think about a subject X the right way, and if I don’t blog about those vents then they get stuck in my system and I can’t move past them. So maybe a better way of saying it is that getting my daily blog on is kind of like having an awesome poop. But then again maybe that’s too gross. Sorry if that’s too gross.
[Let's just say that I may never think about composing blog posts in quite the same way again! ]
5) Is “Mathbabe” blog principally “a labor of love” or is it more than that for you (some sort of means to an end)? i.e., You’re writing a book and you do speaking engagements, along with other activities… is the blog a mechanism to help promote/sustain those other endeavors, or do you view it as just a recreational side activity?
I’ve been really happy with a decision to never let mathbabe be anything except fun for me. There’s no money involved at all, ever, and there never will be. Nobody pays me for anything, nobody gets paid for anything. I do it because I learn more quickly that way, and it forces me to organize my half-thoughts in a way that people can understand. And although the thinking and learning and discussions have made a bunch of things possible, I never had those goals until they just came to me.
At the same time I wouldn’t call it a side activity either. It’s more of a central activity in my life that has no other purpose than being itself.
6) Go ahead and tell us about the book you have in the works and its timetable…
It’s fun to write! I can’t believe people are willing to let me interview them! It won’t be out for a couple of years. At first I thought that was way too long but now I’m glad I have the time to do the research.
7) How do you select the topic you post about on any given day? And are there certain blogposts you’ve done that stand out as personal favorites or ones that were the most fun to work on? From the other side, which posts seem to have been most popular or attention-getting with readers?
I send myself emails with ideas. Then I wake up in the morning and look at my notes and decide which issue is exciting me or infuriating me the most.
I have different audiences that get excited about different things. The math education community is fun, they have a LOT to say on comments. People seem to like Aunt Pythia but nobody comments — I think it’s a guilty pleasure.
[Yes, I was skeptical of Aunt Pythia when you announced it (seemed a bit of a stretch), but it too is a fun read... though I most enjoy the passionate posts about issues tangential to mathematics.]
I guess it’s fair to say that people like it when I combine venting with strong political views and argumentation. My most-viewed post ever was when I complained about Nate Silver’s book.
8) What are some of the math-related books you’ve most enjoyed reading and/or ones you would particularly recommend to lay folks?
I don’t read very many math books to be honest. I’ve always enjoyed talking math with people more than reading about it.
But I have been reading a lot of mathish books in preparation for my writing. For example, I really enjoyed “How to Lie with Statistics” which I read recently and blogged about.
Most of the time I kind of hate books written about modeling, to be honest, because usually they are written by people who are big data cheerleaders. I guess the best counterexamples of that would be “The Filter Bubble,” by Eli Pariser which is great and is a kind of prequel to my book, and “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart which is a dystopian sci-fi novel that isn’t actually technical but has amazing prescience with respect to the kind of modeling and surveillance — and for that matter political unrest — that I think about all the time.
9) Anything else you’d want to say to a captive audience of math-lovers, that you haven’t covered above?
Math is awesome!
Thanks so much, Cathy, for filling in a bit about yourself here. Good luck in all your endeavors!
Cathy tweets, BTW, at @mathbabedotorg and she did this fascinating interview for PBS’s “Frontline” in 2012 (largely on the financial crisis):
(I highly recommend this!)