Reading List

Links to off-site posts that are (maybe) worth a read (usually related to statistics or education).

If you thought “fecal matter on lemons” was bad…

Among New York Subway’s Millions of Riders, a Study Finds Many Mystery Microbes

From the story at the above link, emphasis mine:

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College released a study on Thursday that mapped DNA found in New York’s subway system — a crowded, largely subterranean behemoth that carries 5.5 million riders on an average weekday, and is filled with hundreds of species of bacteria (mostly harmless), the occasional spot of bubonic plague, and a universe of enigmas. Almost half of the DNA found on the system’s surfaces did not match any known organism and just 0.2 percent matched the human genome.


“y” equals a million over three

N.Y. Times: ‘The Interview’ Brings in $15 Million on Web

The following excerpt elicited a sharp “sigh” and a “c’mon man” from yours truly:

Sony did not say how much of that total represented $6 digital rentals versus $15 sales. The studio said there were about two million transactions over all.

As a former Algebra II teacher1 I couldn’t help but groan.

But it’s not because I think that we’re getting stupider and stupider.2

It’s because the type of stuff — such as this, be it on rare occasion3 — that might actually be useful in real life is the type of stuff that we don’t bother teaching enough of in the classroom. 4

In any case:
Let “x” represent number of online rentals, and “y” represent number of online sales.

x + y = 2 million
6x + 15y = 15 million

(I know a handful of Algebra teachers that’ll be available for before or after-school tutorials next week if you need help finishing the rest…)

  1. I have fond memories of teaching Algebra II. []
  2. Which is not to say that I don’t, but that’s another story for another day… []
  3. A “hacking” incident which “forces” Sony to test the waters of releasing a major motion picture online is rare by my book. []
  4. I know exactly in which unit we would teach how to set up this very type of word problem in Pre-AP Algebra II. I also know that we never taught it in on-level Algebra II, which is what I consider the real ill omen. There’s so much I could go on about the “standards” and about how educational “experts” are convinced that constantly redefining said “standards” is some magical shortcut to improving results — here’s a hint: there are no shortcuts — are moving us in all of the wrong directions… but… that’s another story for another day. []

NPR: Private colleges and [cheap] sushi

NPR: How private colleges are like cheap sushi

Private colleges and sushi

While the sushi reference is a bit of a reach, in my opinion,1 nevertheless an interesting piece about the give-and-take of private colleges trying to price2 their “product” as a luxury good (hint: it’s not a very transparent process). The following blurb regarding one possible casualty of such caught my attention (emphasis mine):

In recent years there’s been a lot of attention to the issue of undermatching. This is the finding that a majority of highest-achieving but low-income students fail to apply to a single competitive college. Even when financial need means that they would pay little or nothing to attend a school like Harvard or Stanford, these students are instead choosing non-selective schools that tend to have a lower advertised price.

Marvin Mathew is a first-generation American who grew up with a single mom in New York City. Though he was a strong student, he applied only to community colleges as a freshman. “I had this assumption that everything was too expensive, why even try?” The high sticker prices at private schools, he says, did a lot to turn him off.

If you understand basic marketing and psychology, there isn’t anything here that will blow your mind. But there are a number of references to comparative studies — you seem to get what you think you paid for — in this piece that I’ll be sure to reference next year.

  1. Actually, the picture of the sushi is honestly what got my attention when I first saw this last week. []
  2. and discount []

“Statistically Noticeable” 10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

The following blurb from number seven is what piques my interest1 (emphasis mine):

“Statistically significant” is one of those phrases scientists would love to have a chance to take back and rename. “Significant” suggests importance; but the test of statistical significance, developed by the British statistician R.A. Fisher, doesn’t measure the importance or size of an effect; only whether we are able to distinguish it, using our keenest statistical tools, from zero. “Statistically noticeable” or “Statistically discernible” would be much better.
Jordan Ellenberg, Mathematician

Saving that one for next January.

  1. and also feeds into my opening day spiel that Statistics is really more of a science class than a math class. []