Author Archive

The Swing-State Power of Black Voters Is Real

I wrote an uncharacteristically non-nerdy political opinion piece for Bloomberg, my way of finding yet another way of celebrating Stacey Abrams:

The Swing-State Power of Black Voters Is Real

After the 2020 election, discouragement campaigns shouldn’t work anymore.

For more of my Bloomberg pieces, go here.

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Let’s Detox From Polling

I cannot believe I fell, once again, for the polling that gave me the information I wanted to hear. It is indeed an emotional addiction, rather than a scientific curiosity, and I think we’d all be better off shedding our addiction to political polling. My latest Bloomberg Opinion column:

Polling Failed. It’s Time to Kick the Addiction

Doubling down won’t help Americans understand themselves.

For more of my Bloomberg columns, go here.

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Get ready for an epic hangover

In my latest Bloomberg post, I make the case that, in the best case scenario that Trump is gone in January, we have a massive amount of work to catch up on, especially with regard to combatting the power and malevolence of big tech.

If Biden Wins, Prepare for an Epic Policy Hangover

There’s so much to fix beyond what Trump has broken.

For more of my Bloomberg columns, go here.

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We need more pre-existing condition clauses, not fewer

October 15, 2020 Comments off

In today’s Bloomberg column, I wrote about how we should protect our medical “pre-existing condition” clause and agitate for many more:

This Essential Part of Obamacare Needs Expanding

The problem of pre-existing conditions extends far beyond health.

For more of my Bloomberg columns, go here.

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A working vaccine might not end well

September 23, 2020 1 comment

I wrote a Bloomberg column in which I argued that we’re terrible at anticipating feedback loops, especially in the world of coronavirus. One consequence of this is that we keep overreacting to good news by making things worse. I’m worried that, once a safe and effective vaccine is announced, people will change their behavior dramatically, undermining the good news and making it effectively bad.

People, Please Don’t Throw Your Masks Away

They can keep saving lives even after a vaccine becomes available.

You can read more of my Bloomberg pieces here.

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TikTok’s Algorithm Cannot Be Trusted

September 21, 2020 Comments off

My newest Bloomberg column is one in which I explain what I know about recommendation engines, which concludes with my claim that whoever controls TikTok’s algorithm can of course tamp down or emphasize whatever kind of content they want, misinformation or otherwise (and to be clear, being able to manipulate recommendation algorithms is in general a good thing!):

TikTok’s Algorithm Can’t Be Trusted

If it operates like other recommendation engines, it can be used for good or for evil.

Read my other Bloomberg columns here.

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Three Updates

Good afternoon! I hope you are well. I have three updates for mathbabe readers.

First, I wrote a new Bloomberg column, in which I suggest that the recent algorithmic grading scandals in the UK (the IB exam and the A-levels) are just the beginning of an oncoming mutant army of crap algorithms:

Mutant Algorithms Are Coming for Your Education

Grading scandals are just the beginning.

Next, I reviewed mathematician Eugenia Cheng’s new book, X+Y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto on Rethinking Gender for the New York Times:

Third, I was in a movie that’s coming out on Netflix tomorrow called The Social Dilemma:

Documentary Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski Uncovers Invisible Threat With ‘The Social Dilemma’

Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to two new pieces:

  1. Meredith Broussard’s op-ed in the New York Times today When Algorithms Give Real Students Imaginary Grades
  2. Yael Eisenstein’s new TED talk, How Facebook Profits from Polarization.
Categories: Uncategorized

School reopening is a disaster. This is deliberate.

Hi all,

After talking to a bunch of my friends and acquaintances in public education I’ve realized that not only is the school reopening plan a total freaking disaster, but it’s absolutely deliberately so. My newest Bloomberg piece:

School Reopening Is a Disaster in the Making

From New York City to Florida, students and teachers are pawns in a political game.

You can read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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I’m taking Trump seriously

Yesterday I wrote a new Bloomberg column in which I took Trump seriously when he repeated for the nth time that our problem is that we do too many tests, which thus shows too many confirmed COVID-19 cases.

And when I say “seriously”, what I mean is I thought through what kind of model of the world Trump must have in his head that would be consistent with this statement. For him, metrics like case counts or TV ratings are somehow more real than people dying of coronavirus. It’s weird but consistently true, and I think we should understand it. Here’s my column:

Here’s More Evidence That Trump Is an Algorithm

The president is focused on data, independent of substance.

You can read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

Categories: Uncategorized

I was wrong about Florida COVID deaths. But not as wrong as I wish I were.

I just wrote a new Bloomberg column about how I was wrong to predict 600 daily deaths by COVID in Florida by now; right now it’s at 184. But the fishy data coming out of Florida makes me think I’m not as wrong as I wish I were. Narrow definitions of what counts as a COVID death, lagging data, and changing methodologies make me doubt the official numbers.

Why Florida Doesn’t Look as Deadly as New York

I was wrong about Covid-19 deaths. But not as wrong as I wish I was

For more of my Bloomberg columns, go here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Let’s crowdsource CO2 levels

Hey guys,

Let’s face it, the federal response to COVID has been counterproductive. We’re on our own. In my newest Bloomberg piece, I suggest that we should crowdsource CO2 levels in places like schools, airports, and buildings where people work, so we know the ventilation is good:

People need a way to crowdsource data on indoor air quality.

This App Could Solve a Big Reopening Problem

For other Bloomberg columns, go here.

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The political uprising we should have expected

A few months ago (it was published March 19th), Politico asked me and other “thought leaders” to predict how Coronavirus would change the world.

The answers are here, and include various fancy people predicting “a decline in polarization”, “less individualism”, “a healthier digital lifestyle”, “science reigns again,” and my personal favorite, Tom Nichols’s prediction that we will have “a return to faith in serious experts.”

I think my prediction was the least optimistic, entitled “Expect a political uprising.” The full statement is this:

The aftermath of the coronavirus is likely to include a new political uprising—an Occupy Wall Street 2.0, but this time much more massive and angrier. Once the health emergency is over, we will see the extent to which rich, well-connected and well-resourced communities will have been taken care of, while contingent, poor and stigmatized communities will have been thoroughly destroyed. Moreover, we will have seen how political action is possible—multitrillion dollar bailouts and projects can be mobilized quickly—but only if the cause is considered urgent. This mismatch of long-disregarded populations finally getting the message that their needs are not only chronically unattended, but also chronically dismissed as politically required, will likely have drastic, pitchfork consequences.

It makes me sad to feel so right about this.

Categories: Uncategorized

IB’s grading algorithm is a huge mess

In my newest Bloomberg column, I wrote about a boy named Hadrien, interested in studying engineering, whose future has been put in doubt by the International Baccalaureate Organization’s new grading algorithm, which assigns grade in a secret, powerful, and destructive manner. This qualifies it as a “weapons of math destruction:”

This Grading Algorithm Is Failing Students

The International Baccalaureate’s experience offers a cautionary tale.

You can read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Florida’s death count is gonna hit 600 soon, I predict

I’ve spent a bunch of time worried about Florida and COVID in the past few months, partly because my grandma lived there for a number of years and so I spent a bunch of time there growing up. It’s a really vulnerable place, in some ways more so than Manhattan. And according to the data, and some reckoning, I figure the daily death counts will soon hit 600. I explain why in my new Bloomberg column:

Florida’s Covid-19 Deaths Might Rival New York’s

The state’s daily fatality count could hit 600 in a few weeks.

More of my Bloomberg columns can be found here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Quantifying Dread

You guys might have been wondering what happened to me! Well the answer is I moved to Somerville, MA temporarily, and it takes a TON of work to move, especially when you haven’t moved in 15 years!

Side note: I discovered I am a major hoarder in the categories of clothing, shoes, and yarn. This is something that is easy to deny when you don’t have to empty out large closets but is impossible to deny when you do.

OK so, and this is dark, I wrote a Bloomberg piece about my definition of quantified dread, which loosely speaking when things are getting worse and the rate at which they’re getting worse is getting worse:

America Is Being Way Too Calm About Covid-19

This is a case where optimism may be an existential threat.

You can read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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Defunding the Police Will Be Easy (we’ve already done the data work)

June 19, 2020 Comments off

Here’s my newest Bloomberg column, in which I argue that we’ve already done the data work behind defunding the police, because “crime risk scores” predict police, and not in a good way:

Here’s an Algorithm for Defunding the Police

Crime-risk scores reveal the problems that society has shunted onto law enforcement.

Read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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Congress Needs to Act On Facial Recognition

Here’s my newest Bloomberg column regarding the state of facial recognition.

Amazon Can’t Make Facial Recognition Go Away

That would take an act of Congress.

Read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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Let’s Fill in Dangerous Blindspots in Police Data

Here’s my newest Bloomberg column, in which I discuss the darkest, scariest kind of data, namely missing data. We are getting some of those holes filled in when it comes to police misconduct, and we need more.

Don’t Let the Police Hide Their Bad Behavior

Fixing law enforcement will require better data.

Read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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Sheryl, honey, if this is you leaning in, please lean out

My newest Bloomberg column, in which I examine how Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy might be guiding her during the current Facebook shitstorm:

Maybe Sheryl Sandberg Should Be Leaning Out

Facebook needs better moral leadership.

Read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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Mass Incarceration Causes Pandemics

June 4, 2020 Comments off

In my newest Bloomberg column, I make the case, using new research by Measures for Justice, that mass incarceration, inequality, and racism cause epidemics both here and worldwide:

Maybe Racism Caused the Covid-19 Crisis

Mass incarceration and other social ills made the world more vulnerable.

You can read more of my Bloomberg columns here.

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