Category Archives: Politics vs. math

Inoculating your brain against misinformation

Bayes theorem

If more people had been “mentally inoculated” somewhere during their education with a simple logical “vaccine” called a “Bayesian prior” we perhaps would not be in this current state of political craziness with elections and vaccine hesitancy. Here is an “In the News” example: When thousands of signatures on mail-in ballots appear, to the untrained eye, to be different from… Read more »

Worth a read: Life’s Edge by Carl Zimmer

An interesting tidbit from a recent DNA study documented by researchers in the Netherlands, translated for a general audience in Science News: Overall, as many as 12% of human pregnancies may start as multiple pregnancies, but under 2% carry to term, resulting in a vanishing twin. To think that a new science book can contribute positively to the hot-again issue… Read more »

Governance via unamusing anecdote

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Readers Digest Condensed Books

The monthly Readers’ Digest magazine and the related hardcover “condensed books” were the bulk of the bathroom library at my house where I grew up during the 1950s. It is from there that I learned of this word “anecdote” at an early age. Reader’s Digest told me every month that if I had an “amusing anecdote,” I could make big… Read more »

When we become inured to death

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Petrarch's Triumph of Death.

In 2017 and 2018, when all eyes were on several horrific incidents of mass gun violence, the United States was averaging just under one incident of mass gun violence per day (defined by the excellent Gun Violence Archive as four or more people killed or injured in one reported incident). During the pandemic year of 2020, that number rose to… Read more »

The Covid math of “us” versus “me”

Smallpox vaccination

I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Covid crisis has exacerbated the need for America to move from a very self-centered “me” culture into the more compassionate and action-oriented “us” culture required to combat the virus. Listening to the voices raised in protest to such collective action as mandated vaccinations and masking, I have noted that there are… Read more »

The capricious God of Covid

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Dice icon

“At the first glance, the only ‘law’ … seems to be that of Caprice — caprice in inheriting, caprice in transmitting, caprice everywhere, in turn.” — Philosopher William James (1842– 1910) One of the classic examples in an introductory statistics class is the drawing of billiard balls from an opaque sack containing an unknown mix of various colored balls, and… Read more »

Let’s pretend rural Iowa is Mars

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Storm-Clouds-Over-Lamoni-Cemetery

Note: This is a cross-post from Bleeding Heartland from earlier this week. So, I have watched the bizarre unpiloted, billion-dollar carnival ride that took Jeff Bezos into the barest edge of “space.” We are looking at spending more billions of dollars as a collective society to pursue a goal of living on the moon or Mars, for some just for… Read more »

Worth a read: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg

Shape-Ellenberg

You have probably not thought much about geometry since your tenth-grade math class where you learned how to calculate the area of circle or a triangle. Have you retained anything else? Or even that? Well into the 19th century, you would not be considered to be an educated person unless you were familiar with Elements by Euclid, a Greek mathematician… Read more »

When your pain becomes our pain

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Empathy-Sympathy-Compassion

Odds are…you personally will not suffer any ill effects from the coronavirus. But over 600,000 U.S. families have watched loved ones die, often without the hugs of family who had to say goodbye via FaceTime. Odds are…you personally will not be killed in a grocery store by a domestic terrorist wielding an AR-style high-lethality weapon. But over 40,000 families lost… Read more »

Biden, the bishops, and a failure to communicate

Cool Hand Luke

American Catholic bishops have apparently backed off plans to deny the Holy Communion from practicing Catholic Democratic politicians like President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Comments from the Jesuit Pope Francis and public sentiment appear to have convinced the bishops that this stance would be politically unwise at this time. California Republican and gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner, who in a… Read more »