Discover a new way to find and share stories you'll love… Learn about Reading Desk

All Blogs / Academics / Mathematics / Popular


The anti-Woodstein

I received the following email: Dear professor Andrew Gelman, My name is , a resident correspondent of . I am writing to request for an interview via email. We met once at New York Foreign Press Center one week ago. As you may know,Show More Summary

Growing neural connections

NYT: “Who gets to graduate?” “In the experiment, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out the scientific evidence against the entity […]

Nystrom vs Random Feature Maps

I haven’t seen a truly convincing study comparing Nystrom approximations to Random Feature Map approximations. On the one hand, a NIPS 2012 paper compared the two and argued that because the bases Nystrom approximations use are adaptive to the problem, whereas those used by RFMs are not, Nystrom approximations are more efficient. This is an […]

Try answering this question without heading to Wikipedia

Phil writes: This is kind of fun (at least for me): You would probably guess, correctly, that membership in the US Chess Federation is lower than its peak. Guess the year of peak membership, and the decline (as a percentage) in the number of members from that peak. Show More Summary

I’m sure that my anti-Polya attitude is completely unfair

Reading this post in which Mark Palko quotes from the classic “How to Solve It” by the legendary mathematician and math educator George Polya, I was reminded of my decades-long aversion to Polya, an attitude that might seem odd given...Show More Summary

Common sense and statistics

John Cook writes: Some physicists say that you should always have an order-of-magnitude idea of what a result will be before you calculate it. This implies a belief that such estimates are usually possible, and that they provide a sanity check for calculations. Show More Summary

Trajectories of Achievement Within Race/Ethnicity: “Catching Up” in Achievement Across Time

Just in time for Christmas, here’s some good news for kids, from Pamela Davis-Kean and Justin Jager: The achievement gap has long been the focus of educational research, policy, and intervention. The authors took a new approach to examining the achievement gap by examining achievement trajectories within each racial group. Show More Summary

Using statistics to make the world a better place?

In a recent discussion involving our frustration with crap research, Daniel Lakeland wrote: I [Lakeland] really do worry about a world in which social and institutional and similar effects keep us plugging away at a certain kind of cargo-cult...Show More Summary

Ancient Algorithms

[ Today’s exercise is a Christmas stocking stuffed with six little exercises. I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I’ll be taking a few days with family, so the next exercise will appear on January 6, 2015. ] We tend to think of algorithms as procedures used by computers, […]

Research benefits of feminism

Unlike that famous bank teller, I’m not “active in the feminist movement,” but I’ve always considered myself a feminist, ever since I heard the term (I don’t know when that was, maybe when I was 10 or so?). It’s no big deal, it probably...Show More Summary

On deck this week

Mon: Research benefits of feminism Tues: Using statistics to make the world a better place? Wed: Trajectories of Achievement Within Race/Ethnicity: “Catching Up” in Achievement Across Time Thurs: Common sense and statistics Fri: I’mShow More Summary

It’s Too Hard to Publish Criticisms and Obtain Data for Replication

Peter Swan writes: The problem you allude to in the above reference and in your other papers on ethics is a broad and serious one. I and my students have attempted to replicate a number of top articles in the major finance journals.Show More Summary

The Erdos-Ulam problem, varieties of general type, and the Bombieri-Lang conjecture

In 1946, Ulam, in response to a theorem of Anning and Erdös, posed the following problem: Problem 1 (Erdös-Ulam problem) Let be a set such that the distance between any two points in is rational. Is it true that cannot be (topologically) dense in ? The paper of Anning and Erdös addressed the case that […]

Sokal: “science is not merely a bag of clever tricks . . . Rather, the natural sciences are nothing more or less than one particular application — albeit an unusually successful one — of a more general rationalist worldview”

Alan Sokal writes: We know perfectly well that our politicians (or at least some of them) lie to us; we take it for granted; we are inured to it. And that may be precisely the problem. Perhaps we have become so inured to political lies...Show More Summary

Stanford, Christmas Trees and Marcus Mariota (Statshot)

This week in Statshot: Applications to Stanford University have almost doubled over the past eight years; more than 17 million Christmas trees are harvested in the U.S. each year, creating a half-billion-dollar market for distinctly shaped fir trees; and more.

The Use of Sampling Weights in Bayesian Hierarchical Models for Small Area Estimation

All this discussion of plagiarism is leaving a bad taste in my mouth (or, I guess I should say, a bad feeling in my fingers, given that I’m expressing all this on the keyboard) so I wanted to close off the workweek with something more interesting. Show More Summary

Defense by escalation

Basbøll has another post regarding some copying-without-attribution by the somewhat-famous academic entertainer Slavoj Zizek. In his post, Basbøll links to theologian and professor Adam Kotsko (cool: who knew there were still theologians out and about in academia?) who defends Zizek, in part on the grounds that Zizek’s critics were being too harsh. Show More Summary

Diana Cryptosystem

[ Today’s exercise comes from the blog of long-time reader Ben Simon, after he declined my offer to guest-author the exercise and told me to steal it. The code and most of the text is his, so he gets the credit, not me. ] It’s been a while since we had an exercise from our […]

Copyright © 2011 Regator, LLC