Counting is DIFFICULT

Eleven million? or 22 million? A new Yale/MIT study estimates the illegal alien population in the US somewhere in the range of 16.5 to 29.1 million (for us statisticians, that’s 22.8 ± 6.3 million). That’s a margin of error larger than the entire population of Los Angeles (3.99 million).  Worse yet, this estimate suggests that the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey report of 11 million is a seriously low-ball estimate. The Center for Immigration Studies is in the low-ball camp, but their argumentum ab auctoritate seems a bit shrill, and unwilling to admit to the possibility of systematic bias … Continue reading Counting is DIFFICULT

Calculus as a Microagression

Yesterday I was cautioned by the recounting of an event that occurred in our College of Business.  It seems that a lecturer was explaining a concept that required either averaging or the area under a curve, and resorted to writing an integral on the board, by way of illustration.  This was NOT a demonstration of technique, nor an explanation of how to perform calculations required in the course, rather just background.  However, one student–correctly recalling that calculus was not a prerequisite–took umbrage; he wrote a letter of complaint to the Dean!  Holy hellfire sh!t! Just last week I spent 10 … Continue reading Calculus as a Microagression

How many significant figures should I use?

That question gets asked dozens of times every semester in my statistics classes; it’s pretty clear that most of my students have no sense of scale or proportion about numbers. But now I have Dr Rhett Alain’s short answer in his Dot Physics Measurement and Uncertainty Smackdown, wherein he refers to the (extremely) long answer in John Denker’s excellent Uncertainty as Applied to Measurement and Calculation.  Why we’re not teaching this in our service courses for science majors, I have no idea.  The Monte Carlo approach described by Alain is a simple application of what statisticians call “bootstrapping,” so perhaps … Continue reading How many significant figures should I use?

Leaping Lizards!

 Dealing with an odd-sized year (365.024219 days) is not as easy as you think.  Not only do we have the popular Gregorian Calendar (4-year cycles, with “by-years”), but some geek gurus have proposed the Earthian Calendar (33-year! cycles).  There’s even a connection to Stonehenge. Update (3 March).  A careful look at the Earthian Calendar site reveals a calendar generator!  This year’s calendar reveals the 2012 leap day as 11 Pisces 0004 Earthian (or Copernican, as the author prefers to call it). Tips from Gizmodo and The Geek Press. Continue reading Leaping Lizards!