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Aunt Pythia’s advice

September 27, 2014

Holy crap, peoples!

Aunt Pythia just counted up her readers’ questions and found super high quality (yay!) combined with super small quantity (boo!), a non-ideal situation. Do you know that there are currently fewer than two weeks’ worth of questions in the bin?! That means that next week might be extra short if nobody comes up with (sexual, optionally true) dilemmas between now and next Saturday.

It’s a situation!! If things don’t change Aunt Pythia will be forced to:

  1. Make up questions. Aunt Pythia has never done this but desperate times call for desperate measures.
  2. Force good friends to submit questions. Aunt Pythia has totally done this but it aint pretty.
  3. Answer questions that have been submitted to other advice columns. Aunt Pythia is actually kind of into this idea. Like, there are plenty of Dan Savage answers she disagrees with, although she loves the guy, obv.

So seriously consider mixing that shit up and:

Don’t forget to submit stolen question from old Dan Savage columns,

especially if you are one of Aunt Pythia’s good friends.

Got it? Good! Love ya!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I have a question on your recent post entitled Gillian Tett gets it very wrong on racial profiling, when you say:

Specifically, this means that the fact that black Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession even though the two groups use the drug at similar rates would be seen by such a model (or rather, by the people who deploy the model) as a fact of nature that is neutral and true. But it is in fact a direct consequence of systemic racism.”

Racism is not the only interpretation of data. Another possible explanation is that black Americans are less educated and cannot hide marijuana from the cops as well as whites. So it is a correlate, not a cause. Had president Obama done something about education in the US I don’t think we’d see such terrible racial disparity.


Dear NYCN,

Not sure why this is an Aunt Pythia question instead of a comment on that post, but let me respond by, a “WHAA?”. Clearly black kids are much more educated about cops than the average white kids. Are you kidding?

But you do bring up a great point: white kids smoke pot in their own rooms in suburbia, and it’s harder for them to get caught. Black kids maybe don’t have privacy, so they end up doing more pot smoking in public, which means they get caught more. But obviously both whites and blacks walk around with pot in their pockets, so at the end of the day there’s serious racial bias.

This reminds me that I heard a group of Stuyvesant parents met with cops in the Stuy neighborhood and tried to make a deal that, when their kids were caught smoking pot in the nearby park, the cops would just bring them back to school rather than arresting them. Imagine that deal being made in Harlem.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I saw you asked some good questions at David Madigan’s IDSE Colloquium event this week. I thought it was a really compelling talk (and that Madigan is dreamy…). What were you reactions?

Anyways, when thinking about colloquium in the shower, I started to think about the word. It’s interesting that it’s essentially the same word as colloquial, yet to me they have opposite meanings. Do you think there’s truth to a colloquium really being colloquial?

Curious At the Colloquium

Dear Curious,

First of all, Madigan is awesome and I saw an earlier version of that talk before, in fact I wrote it up in Doing Data Science (Chapter 12). And yes, he’s indeed dreamy, a rare man of integrity. I am a groupie of his, and I don’t mind admitting it. After the talk I gave him a hug and felt a tingle.

Great question about the word colloquium. According to this online Oxford Dictionary, it basically just means “talk together”. Similarly, colloquial just means “conversational”. It makes sense. I wish more things were that informal combined with great.

I just got back from a Day of Data at Yale and I met a guy from the NIH, a really cool motorcycle-driving scientist in fact, and I told him all about Madigan. So I hope that helps the word get out too.

One question, what exactly were you doing in the shower whilst thinking about the talk? Just curious.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m returning back to teaching math after a long illness. I’m starting slow with a modest calculus course at a modest university, somewhere along the north atlantic coast. The budget crisis has taken its toll on the department. The students are barely prepared (serious gaps in algebra and trig.) I have 3 contact hours per week, no discussion sections, no graders.

I’m finding myself with a strange dilemma: should I cut lecturing down to a minimum and rely heavily on the book and youTube videos, while using most of class time for problem-solving and giving insightful examples, or should I go the other way: lecture and relegate homework and quizzes to the online platform that comes with the book.

Please help! I feel like I’m trying to tutor in the midst of lecture and run out of time every time.

Shy and Confounded


Dear Shy,

Given that there are serious gaps in their knowledge, I’d probably try to do at least a few worked-out examples with the students during class to make sure they can handle the mechanics of the solutions in addition to the conceptual ideas you’re presenting.

So maybe that means a 20 minute “review” of the new idea of the day, and then 40 minutes devoted to working out examples, with lots of interaction from the students so you can see what their gaps are and then make announcements about “things to remember”, basically showing them how to do stuff from algebra or trig.

Also consider asking them what is most useful for them to learn the stuff most efficiently in the three hours you have together. And finally, keep in mind that the quiet ones will probably be the ones that feel most behind, so make sure you don’t just listen to the loud people! Maybe a survey monkey?

But I definitely like your idea of offering them lots of online resources to get practice with this stuff if they are having trouble. I definitely think they should be encouraged to do that as well. Keep track of what works so next semester you have something to build on.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’m just starting a tenure track job at a well-known place. Another more prestigious university is currently considering giving me a tenured full professorship. At what point do I mention this? I don’t want to mention it too early, because of course it might turn out nothing happens. But it does also seems like an opportunity for a market correction. Variation: How would a tall handsome man handle this?

Wanting Info on Negotiating Contract Extension


I don’t think you can mention it until the offer is firm. I don’t think a tall man would either, however handsome.

The real question is, how do you handle the negotiation between the two places once they are both actively recruiting you? Some people would try to start a bidding war, some wouldn’t. But since I’m one of those people who wouldn’t, I’m not the right person to ask about how to do that. If you want advice about that, write back and I’ll get my good friend who is the king of bidding wars to weigh in.

Aunt Pythia


Please submit your well-specified, fun-loving, cleverly-abbreviated question to Aunt Pythia!

Categories: Aunt Pythia
  1. cat
    September 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

    This would be easy enough to test. In NYC stop and frisk is the perfect set of data. You can’t hide pot so well that it escapes a frisk every time. So if African Americans are still charge with possession from a stock/frisk encounter at higher rates wouldn’t that be proof of a racial bias in policing?


  2. Min
    September 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    On hiding marijuana:

    Edmund Scientifics at one time sold a fake electrical outlet. 😉


  3. Min
    September 27, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    @ WINCE

    There is more to negotiation than negotiation. Best if each institution hears of the other’s interest in you through other sources outside of negotiations. Friends and colleagues can spread the word.

    Good luck!


  4. Min
    September 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    @ Shy

    IMO the hardest part of calculus is the algebra. It sounds like your students are seriously unprepared. What good is a lecture to people who cannot understand it?

    Your course cannot be remedial algebra and trigonometry. You have to tell your students that to have a chance in your course they have to make sure they are up to speed in those two subjects, spending extra time if necessary. You might facilitate forming study groups.

    I would dispense with lectures almost entirely and focus on problem solving. For instance, you can break the class up into small groups, give each group a problem and have them present their solutions and how they derived them to the rest of the class. Let peer teaching work for you. 🙂

    Good luck!


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