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Debating Superfreakonomics

Last month marked the release of Superfreakonomics, a sequel by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner to the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics. The fanfare surrounding this prefix-enhanced release has been marred, however, by controversy surrounding a chapter on global warming. Starting with this entry on, the debate has drawn a few responses on the Freakonomics blog, but nothing has seemed to blunt the allegations that Dubner and Levitt wrote the chapter from a contrarian perspective without understanding even the fundamental principles of climate science, and as a result, what they’ve written is garbage.

Much of the writing back and forth has been quite heated, and being a student of mathematics I am averse to conflict. However, one response resonated with me a great deal, and as a case study of the arguments that can be made using only simple calculations, it’s quite effective. The response in question comes from . . . → Read More: Debating Superfreakonomics

Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

With April on its way out, it behooves me to take a moment and mention the focus of this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month. April has been bestowed with this glorious title every year since 1986 – last year the topic was Mathematics and Voting, which I discussed at some length in three earlier posts (see here, here, and here).

This year’s focus is on Mathematics and Climate. On the homepage you can find links to a variety of articles, most of which focus on the difficulty in coming up with mathematical models that can accurately reflect the complexity of the interconnected world in which we live. This is perhaps best summarized by Professor Pat Kenschaft, who writes the following in her essay, “Climate Change: A Research Opportunity for Mathematics?”:

How do we analyze the dynamics of the atmosphere, the oceans, the solid earth (especially volcanic emissions) and the biosphere . . . → Read More: Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

How Low Can We Go?

I’m not sure, but this seems like a good candidate for a new bar. According to a recent study out of the University of Washington, as many as half of the population may fail to understand simple probability statements, in the context of weather forecasts.

Here’s the summary:

If, for example, a forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of rain, many people think it means that it will rain over 20 percent of the area covered by the forecast. Others think it will rain for 20 percent of the time, said Susan Joslyn, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington who conducted the study.

Coming out of Washington, one would think that the participants would have a better than average understanding of rain forecasts, but now I certainly hope that’s not the case.

That’s American math education for you. Maybe everyone should just move to LA – . . . → Read More: How Low Can We Go?