A friend e-mailed a link to “What Is Your Dangerous Idea?” from Edge. She came by way of A&L and said it was worth browsing. I suspect Chicagoboyz & readers will find something of interest in these transgressive notions.
The series of “dangerous ideas” tend toward the scientific; I suspect about everyone else on this site will have more thoughtful positions than mine. Several are about global warming and some are about the nature of man. (Pinker apparently suggested the question last year.)
Joel Garreau’s dangerous idea is that perhaps Faulkner was right:
If Faulkner is right, however, there is a third possible future. That is the one that counts on the ragged human convoy of divergent perceptions, piqued honor, posturing, insecurity and humor once again wending its way to glory. It puts a shocking premium on Faulkner’s hope that man will prevail “because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” It assumes that even as change picks up speed, giving us less and less time to react, we will still be able to rely on the impulse that Churchill described when he said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing—after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”
But more discuss hard science & stats. They led me to a topic for my more scientifically oriented brethren. Bart Kosko discusses bell curves; he observes
Thick-tailed bell curves further call into question what counts as a statistical “outlier” or bad data: Is a tail datum error or pattern? The line between extreme and non-extreme data is not just fuzzy but depends crucially on the underlying tail thickness.
Our understanding of such curves may misread ones with thick tails; of course, some have thick, some thin; some straggle out and others end quite abruptly after a sharp decline.
Ever since I first came back to teaching, I’ve found my rigorous & objective tests net a concave curve. After the first couple of semesters, I spoke to more seasoned teachers. They weren’t surprised, calling the inverse curve a junior college one. I have found it an accurate reflection of my students’ command of the material. But I wonder if it is a pattern often useful in understanding other data.