Material Detail

Three More For The Road

Three More For The Road

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Back to the Classroom 2006. In a trio of mini-talks, Arnold Barnett applies statistical analysis to some of society's most confounding challenges. He first takes up the minority achievement gap -- the apparent under-performance of black and Hispanic students on standardized tests in comparison to white and Asian students. In his own work in a suburban school district in Chicago, Barnett discovered that white children were only slightly ahead of black children in 8th grade math tests. When Barnett analyzed historical data, he found a similar small lag. His school research does not support other studies that suggest that "black kids who do well tend to do less well over time..." Barnett says, "If we're going to understand what the problem is, we need to look at data to distinguish what seems to be true from that which is a matter of conjecture." Barnett offers a practical remedy to "the funhouse mirror of electoral politics," the Electoral College system. Since small states, whose voices carry so well in the Electoral College, will never accept its termination, Barnett recommends a weighted vote share system. Just the way a grade in a course might be calculated by giving 50% weight to the final, 25% to homework and 25% to a mid-term, Barnett imagines each state retaining a weight equal to its current share of electoral votes -- but at the same time, each state would also be weighed by its actual popular vote share. Barnett says the "greatest obstacle to getting a system like this seriously considered is that lots of incredibly intelligent people get totally flustered by mathematics." As for aviation security, Barnett's final subject, the statistics on avoiding another air-based terrorist attack look rather dismal. He finds "certain U.S. security decisions hard to understand." In particular, abandoning the requirement for positive passenger bag match seems an open invitation for a terrorist to sneak explosives onto a plane. Relying exclusively on the explosive detector "becomes something of a roulette wheel." He also sheds scorn on new trusted traveler programs, which are all too likely to accept "sleeper terrorists" such as those who bombed the London Underground.

Quality

  • User Rating
  • Comments
  • Learning Exercises
  • Bookmark Collections
  • Course ePortfolios
  • Accessibility Info

More about this material

Comments

Log in to participate in the discussions or sign up if you are not already a MERLOT member.