chrysogenum said: When you find this in your ask you have to share 5 random facts about you and pass this on to your ten favorite followers.

I don’t know who to pass this on to! Here goes!

  1. "¡a dozen nebulae across the skies cumple 3 años hoy!"
    (The post that started it all.)
  2. I studied math and physics in college, but feel that a lot of that has already atrophied in the 1.5 years since I graduated :(
  3. I don’t have a car and walking to the downtown public library is one of my favorite things.
  4. I used to contribute to Say it with Science… I think most of you know that… in fact one or two of you have reminded me of the fact recently…
  5. I hope I get to attend many comic-cons and expos in the future. (!)

Hey world. What’s good?

Sunday data/statistics link roundup (6/24)


  1. We’ve got a new domain! You can still follow us on tumblr or here:
  2. A cool article on MIT’s annual sports statistics conference (via @storeylab). I love how the guy they chose to highlight created what I would consider a pretty simple visualization with known tools - but it turns out it is potentially a really new way of evaluating the shooting range of basketball players. This is my favorite kind of creativity in statistics.
  3. This is an interesting article calling higher education a “credentials cartel”. I don’t know if I’d go quite that far; there are a lot of really good reasons for higher education institutions beyond credentialing like research, putting smart students together in classes and dorms, broadening experiences etc. But I still think there is room for a smart group of statisticians/computer scientists to solve the credentialing problem on a big scale and have a huge impact on the education industry. 
  4. Check out John Cook’s conjecture on statistical methods that get used: “The probability of a method being used drops by at least a factor of 2 for every parameter that has to be determined by trial-and-error.” I’m with you. I wonder if there is a corollary related to how easy the documentation is to read? 
  5. If you haven’t read Roger’s post on Statistics and the Science Club, I consider it a must-read for anyone who is affiliated with a statistics/biostatistics department. We’ve had feedback by email/on twitter from other folks who are moving toward a more science oriented statistical culture. We’d love to hear from more folks with this same attitude/inclination/approach. 

3. The “credentials cartel

"Weary of making bureaucratic appointments solely on the basis of letters of recommendation, Yang set aside a number of posts for applicants who performed well on a new system of imperial examinations… As time went on, more and more people took — and passed — the exam’s first round… there were now more degree-holders than there were positions… their successors… resolved to make the test more difficult. By the middle of the 19th century, 2 million people sat the exam, but just over 1 percent passed its first round; only 300 candidates — .016 percent — passed all three.”

Exams in my experience that this reminds me of: the AMC 10 and AMC 12 (American Mathematics Contest(s)), AIME (American Invitational Mathematics Exam), the Putnam exam (typical median score 0), the SAT and AP exams, and preliminary actuarial exams.

The first ones I mentioned are less for credentialing and so less in the spirit of this article. Passing through math contests like the AMC and AIME are more for bragging rights and, personally I feel, participation is for an excuse for high school math teams/clubs to ask for funding or exist at all. Their purpose is further mathematics education. They are outreach programs.

But the structure of the exams - the process through which one advances - is a model that embodies the meritocratic or elite ideals (or issues). Back when hardly anyone knew about these exams (this from remembered discussions with my high school math team advisor), the first tier AMC’s were rather difficult to pass. Then more people came in. They had to democratize, they didn’t want too many being turned away from math because of devastating scores. The AMC became easier. The AIME, which the top 5% of AMC performers were invited to take, became the real test. And if you topped that, than USAMO (Math Olympiad).

I suppose this structure or process perpetuates the test-taking mentality of American education and the idea that to make it in math you have to be a super genius, but that is a different discussion.

Next are the SAT and AP exams - this fits slightly more for the credentialing purpose we are talking about. I think having these exams brings the model of professional credentialing down to the college and high school education layers. The story being told to me seems to be this: Once upon a time there were plenty of good jobs you could get as a high school graduate. Now, to get a good job you definitely need a bachelor’s degree. Maybe a master’s. And while in college you better have had some industry-relevant experience, like an internship. Of course always better if the degree comes from a shiny name brand college. To get into such colleges, it is “highly recommended” if not required in high school to have a “rigorous course load” of AP classes and top scores on AP and SAT exams. And membership in academic honors societies. (Another tangential topic is what it takes to get into college now because it is/isn’t all about the numbers, but I’m sticking to the commonly accepted tracks to college which involve meritocracy of any kind.) You can incidentally get SAT prep for your elementary or middle schooler now.

It just seems that you have to do more and accomplish it earlier in the process in order to even angle yourself for future opportunities. And the “extra credentials” you have to go through are controlled by monopolies, like ETS, which administers the SAT and AP (and GRE) exams. (On the other hand, what other standard is there? Or should we do away with standards?)

Speaking of professional credentialing…

I’m sure I read a statistic somewhere on how many candidates pass the first actuarial exams. The pass rate is not that high. Yet the entry level job market is glutted with candidates. I even think SOA, the Society of Actuaries, is trying for a monopoly by conferring these credentials… I think CAS, the o

“Introductory economics courses paint “rent-seekers” as gruesome creatures who amass monopoly privileges; credential-seekers, who sterilize the intellect by pouring time and money into the accumulation of permits, belong in the same circle of hell.”

"Over the last thirty years, the university has replaced the labor union as the most important institution, after the corporation, in American political and economic life."

Anyone who studies labor relations can weigh in on this statement? Berna?

"Our elaborate, expensive system of higher education is first and foremost a system of stratification, and only secondly — and very dimly — a system for imparting knowledge."

Sob all the lies I swallowed when being courted for applying to college for undergrad

I am a scholar of the liberal arts STEM-trained professional hailing from a college of Arts and Crafts Sciences and I continue a proud tradition of the life of the mind a starving artist working on Wall Street.

"The original universities in the Western world organized themselves as guilds… Those who want to join have to pay to play, and many never recover from the entry fee."

Well, this statement is about universities. Yet in the guild/apprenticeship advancement model, actuarial accreditation should also be included… except the society (SOA, or CAS) that confers credentials usually advertises itself as an alternative to more years of formal schooling: “learn while you earn” vs “pay to play”.

"The inclusive vision that once drove the labor movement has given way to a guild mentality, at times also among unions, that is smug and parochial."

Really, what are unions up to these days? Is there a labor movement now?

On the question: With whom does the burden of proof lie?

Is this a relevant question in a discussion of religion and atheism (etc)?

Sometimes when I learn things, they end up here on my blog. Sometimes when I create things, they end up here on my blog. Sometimes my work and friendships and philosophies end up on my blog, and I hope sometimes you will end up here too. Of course I apologize and thank you in advance for helping me straighten up the mess.

I taped this to the door of my friend the humanities student, with the following pencilled in on top:

“All the math you will (n)ever need to know”

He later told me that he kept it there to ward off demons. This synopsis of Chapter 1 from Bundrick and Leeson’s Essentials of Abstract Algebra is the first document I ever TeXed to pdf.


what the heckkkk.

(Source: geegiivesyouwiings)

Some of the most creative leaps ever taken by the human mind are decidedly irrational, even primal. Emotive forces are what drive the greatest artistic and inventive expressions of our species. How else could the sentence ‘He’s either a madman or a genius’ be understood?

It’s okay to be entirely rational, provided everybody else is too. But apparently this state of existence has been achieved only in fiction [where] societal decisions get made with efficiency and dispatch, devoid of pomp, passion, and pretense.

To govern a society shared by people of emotion, people of reason, and everybody in between — as well as people who think their actions are shaped by logic but in fact are shaped by feelings and nonempirical philosophies — you need politics. At its best, politics navigates all the minds-states for the sake of the greater good, alert to the rocky shoals of community, identity, and the economy. At its worst, politics thrives on the incomplete disclosure or misrepresentation of data required by an electorate to make informed decisions, whether arrived at logically or emotionally.