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tv   Tim Harford The Data Detective Jordan Ellenberg Shape  CSPAN  November 9, 2021 10:32am-11:06am EST

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>> presidential historian calls the autobiography of calvin coolidge the forgotten classic of presidential writing. the new authorized expanded and annotated edition of the coolidge autobiography has just been published. editors quote coolidge in introduction as saying it is a great advantage to a president and a major source of safety to the country for him to know that he is not a great man. we ask amity shlaes to give us some background about the release coolidge autobiography which was originally published in may 1929. >> chair of the calvin coolidge presidential foundation amity shlaes on this weeks episode of booknotes+. booknotes+ is available on c-span now app or wherever you get your podcasts.
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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> hello, my friends. welcome to "san diego union-tribune" festival of books. my name is satyan devadoss. i'm a professor of mathematics and computer science yale university san diego, and today it is my deep joy to have with me two authors, scientists, communicators that we respect and joy in the most recent books. i would like to introduce to you jordan ellenberg. jordan's book on shapes -- all of theseal are beautiful, the hidden geometry of information biology strategy democracy and everything
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welcome, jordan. and also with me is tim harford. his book is "the data detective" and the subtitle is ten easy rules to make sense of statistics. welcome, temp. >> thank you very much. great to be here. >> let me say a few words about both of these authors, min. jordan is the macarthur professor of mathematics at universe wisconsin madison, gorgeous, beautiful school i love and his works have appeared in the "wall street journal", the "new york times", the "washington post," wired and other things. and tim is a columnist, a broadcaster, an economist. his brilliant podcast called cautionary tales is something i encourage all of us to check out, lifting the hood about many of the issues going on in the world today, , constantly. he's also an honorary fellow at the royal statistical society. welcome to both of you. i want to start by saying just
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to everyone a kind of ignoring n and jordan for that which might be rude to do but to everyone else how much i love old their work and how much i dislike both of them as well. i want to say this because in yithe world of nerds, and let'se honest the three of us are nerds, he's two great schools, the school of those who create ideas and then there's a school of those who explain ideas and most of us are really bad at both. and those who explain ideas and most of us are better both were poor, creative important explainers and people will live on one end of the other jordan and tim are people that are revived in our world, they're so good at what they do their creating ideas and at the same time there's a brilliant way of bringing it down to the
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mortar claim the book researchers and scholars in different pieces of the puzzle, what are the things that we do with a particular work, i just want to start by saying could you share a little bit about the inspiration about why you chose to write this particular of everything that's going on maybe jordan you want to start with us. >> first of all are you saying the people in my department seemed to like me and actually don't think my books are that good. i'm not understanding in my case i would not say exactly set out to write a book about geometry i'm always collecting things that capture my eye i find about writing on the newspaper and magazines in the things that have a mathematical flavor and as an angle it was sort of us
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do, i would really love to write about the end of human domination and i would love to right away legislative is drawn in the united states and i would love does this make sense to me on legislative district things and then i started to see a fundamentally there is a geometric reasoning underlying all these things in a bunch more and once i sort of had and there
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is a pandemic and that geometry. you have this to i did not plan to write about, i did not know that was a topic i was interested in midway through writing to my book when suddenly i was quite interested in it. >> a bit too interested, i found the pandemic was to be right about some of the things i was trying to argue about, actually numbers and statistics, understated the will but not a dumb way in order to sell toothpaste or to get a political candidate elected. if you look at books about math, they are full of joy and curiosity, joy is a particular
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good example, it is so comfortably eased it's not unusual that mathematicians just have fun with her objects, it's a particular good example in books about statistics, it is in part they tend to be very cynical, books about statistics in books about how not to be fooled there are these guys lying to you and i as the advisor will explain to you how the lies are told the most famous example is the book statistics the best book ever published about statistics i thought there's something wrong about this, if the only message that we give to people about the numbers that they see in the newspaper on social media is that is probably a life, that is a misleading position in order to get people more joyful more
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curious and have a healthy skepticism without the members around them with a toxic semitism. >> how do you define these big words, you see geometry for the next 20 minutes is geometry in your eyes and it's a real statistics and for the audience who might have a view of geometry and you went to school in the state in your sophomore year in high school in utica geometry class, you have a few words when you think about geometry in this book is about shape, what would you like to say to us about the excitement of it. >> i certainly interpreted very broadly like artificial intelligence and poetry some of
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the things in the book is a pretty broad scale and definitely people with a narrow vision of what geometry can mean there's not enough triangles look at the beginning but is not predominantly about triangles in modern contemporary mathematics we use were geometry to mean anything that consist of exploring a space whether a space of strategies for a game or a phrase for predicting the next word to type in your text which is what machine would you or space that does not have a dimension at all like the social network that we live in which ideas spread through and also virus is spread through a geography that the fundamental importance of this last year as you think about how to understand pinned dimmick spread i would say any context at least the way i use it any context like motion, distance, close or
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far, shapes thinking and talking geometrically. >> and biased towards jordan but for jordan anyone who's doing math at that moment a mathematician, welcome to the game i will invitation to how you frame this thing that particular line is in the context live on television, mathematicians are people. >> we are thinking in this way whether we formalize a not just as rethinking geometrically
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whether we use language i sent that people are often thinking statistically whether they not liquid and formal mathematical language. >> our intuitions are sometimes very good and their sometimes terrible there often skewed by our emotions. especially for me what i mean by statistics, statistics can be a very complex subject but to me it's very simple it's carefully counting and mentoring staff in order to understand the world because you cannot personally experience to be people into much going on so they're trying to get a sense of what's going on in the world and that means counting and measuring. that some super easy but the complexity becomes within our human brains to look at these numbers in each conclusion and
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within each conclusion because of what we want to see and what we expected to see what were afraid we might see there's very strong fences in the way that we are interpreting and to help people get to the basics which is counted and measuring and therefore you can make more sense of the world when you might be able to. , i truly admire something that my faculty told me years ago and he had said if you can sit back and imagine is it possible to imagine a 10-year-old progeny can you imagine a 10-year-old musical composer, what about a
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10-year-old math prodigy and he said have you heard of a 10-year-old art critic, there is not a 10-year-old i struggled picasso's, you need to lived to have understand that. what are the things that will give respect about your work at least for this book i really honored the complexity going on, the first sentence that you said not about counting you said it very carefully there is a notion of what it means to humans we kinda get tripped up in our own humanity and i think your entire book is basically these rules of how to do it carefully and other fact and successful how both of these books are your first role not only does the open, it talks
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about emotion that the very first role of where emotion plays in and you're not willing to jump into the complexity, you are just saying here we are as human, how can we say this. >> that is a chapter that begins with the story of one of the worlds critics make it a terrible mistake and is a story that has millions it is absolutely astonishing but at the heart of it isn't brilliant only in who feels very stupid because he really, really wants something to be true all his expertise behind the project and it is true and sadly is not true at all and i want to start there with a straight has nothing to
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do with numbers and that's an emotional compulsion of wishful thinking is behind all of what we did whatever we needed a newspaper twitter or facebook we need to bear that in mind before we get onto the good stuff which is of course the numbers. >> one thing something i would say into the book, i say it a lot math is made of people, that is what math is and they call mathematical and there's a stereotype in the business of mathematics is to conclude what is true and what's false, distinguish those two things improve it certain things are true and certain things are false, that is one thing that we do to be sure but is not actually the goal, the goal is to understand one of the great geometer's overtime he said this very clearly, we don't have a
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production, it's not a factory to make a number of trips each year the goal is human understanding and human beings to understand things better than they do. i think that could be lost partly because of the way to be teaching mathematicians are seen in the world and they have a bit of advantage because they're always talking in the language of uncertainty no one expects that the goal will definitively say what is true what is false. >> absolutely but we do need to understand salutations are a growing distinction how many sheep are in the field, a lot of the sheep is quite young maybe it's just the lamb maybe this one sheep in the field maybe there's two sheep in the field maybe there's two or three sheep in the field but it just got
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difficult in a mathematical context and some are saying is three. but to understand what is going on they need to understand the decision made, i should say by the way one of the sections in jordan's book i feel that they mentioned about the pandemic in the beginning that the issues of the pinned dimmick along with covid to vaccines to elections and so many things in the modern world, who has access to infant
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news, and means by definition it cannot be fake and our aluminum find many things, both of you are looking at not the abstract competent in these books are so down-to-earth and the stories of water going on today that both of you are dealing with ways of expecting and capturing truth even what he mentioned about jordan's book of how many holes in the straw there is an answer to it, it doesn't matter that we can tell, the second thing water statistics and geometry,. >> i really cares what tim thinks about it, in the current context, the context of the pandemic it's been a moment of which issues both numerical issues, mathematical issues,
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geometric issues spread through a network that i read in my book and issues of statistical imperfection, which tim writes had been very close to the forefront in them interested in tim's view of how we did. i would say to me i actually felt like the extent to which both the media and the general public were true to grapple with i would call the mathematical issues involved, it was higher than i would've guessed and i was happy to see that, that was altogether to the good, i wonder if tim sees it that way and what your view is in a different culture context. >> in my book, i'm not going to paraphrase because it won't be the exact quote, there is no problem in getting your audience to understand something the
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problem is to get them interested and if the interested they could understand anything at all, that's what i'm always focused on what's interesting and what gets people interested if they are interested then they'll do the worst. in the pandemic there was a brief in the lodge 2020 i don't want to minimize that. there was something refreshing as well as somebody who's presented talking about the numbers in everyday life, the thing that i say is refreshing is a switch from the battleground were people yelling at each other about politics, about brexit, bob donald trump, all the usual stuff no one cares so suddenly everybody is listening and everybody is ferociously curious they are desperate to understand what is happening, how dangerous, who
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does the impact, how can we prevent the spread, what is it what's going to happen next. there's a polarization formed again but i think is absolutely right that that moment people showed for fist dislocated of how understanding if you can keep them curious and awaken the curiosity and open-minded and asking questions people will go a long way and a lot of intellectual work because the interested and they want to. >> one of the things -- what tim said that is so good of encouraging healthy skepticism people did not hear that and only hear one which of the two words to hear they're both really important the alternative is to there is unhealthy
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skepticism where you'd like i'm just backward to look anything that anybody says it's a pack of lies you cannot know anything this is an equally unhealthy complete uncritical acceptance like anything that the algorithm puts in front of your eyes i think a middle ground of healthy skepticism is one that tim and i do were both trying to promote that and hope are given tools that help that. i don't know how you feel and everybody listening who doesn't follow math, she is a mathematician a recent phd who won the gold medal in road race she said this amazing thing in an interview. she then coached she says i used to think the people knew how to win in the sport because they say that they would no and did i realize the people would say that they know, don't know and i
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figured this out because the people who do know say that they don't know, i think there is a willingness to tolerate and talk about uncertainty and is something incredibly important that people math and statistics said can provide. even working the felon statistics. i feel like this pandemic we had been mostly pretty good about that saying analog voice the people in power saying we don't have definitive answers for you about what is to come of course people put those answers. that's a difficult thing about statistics, part of your job is to not give people the answers that they crave. >> it is tricky even there i completely agree you need to acknowledge uncertainty but if you think about for example this question of whether if people are vaccinated can they spend
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their degree or not. they're slowly building evidence that vaccination did reduce the risk to other people. there is a real hesitancy among public health officials to say that, people say we don't know, we don't know and i worry a little bit about the vaccines because people say the point of getting the vaccines. it's tricky at what point are you sure enough to make a recommendation, at what point do you say are we learning anything versus we think we are but were not sure, it's a lot of straightforward and it's really tough. >> this is what are the things all of mathematics execs the numbers between 0 and one that is an insight you could say
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that's geometry a whole line segment or a statistical fact you can central to both. >> is important. >> to fight back against shades of gray that could be a good book title. >> timid i really have to offer and we shouldn't talk about 0 and one thinking and you cannot think about this thing seriously without going beyond classifying things in a safe and unsafe. we have this thing what is it mean to say that the vaccine prevents you from transmitting the virus to another person there are people in math, sometimes what a challenge with us is working in a context while
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words still have precise definition and actual way, people will say prevent and it makes it impossible and people will use prevent and it makes it less likely, those are two different things but they could attach the same english word. >> it seems like such an obvious point, but it's tackled somebody people up over the years and that the beginning i tell the story of the investigation between smoking and transfer and one of the problems was these people smoke and they don't get cancer and these other people to get cancer and don't smoke. what is it mean to say that cigarettes cause cancer. cigarettes do cause cancer but it's not a straightforward thing and some of the best certifications got into a tangle over this. i should say whether the nastiest things they would not
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talk about statistics and it showed big tobacco because the message that you can't believe the numbers of the statistics of the experts is perfect tobacco companies trying to reassure smokers don't worry, but they're worried. we have some guy that will tell you why you don't believe the epidemiologist. it's in a really dark place. >> both of you are dealing with complexity and house staff has to you gone past the 20th century motion in the postmodern world but there is a complex way of measuring and talking about it one of the things i read about both of the books the notion of humanity in the way that you allow the readers to play with complexity, maybe what you talk about it is a bad
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drawing the art of studying the bad drawing, you don't have to have a huge amount behind you to access these things we can all do it in the rate that we do it really well is between these stories. that is a favorite wonderful storytellers. i maybe wanted to close by talking about that. for both of you, jordan you talk about that from abraham lincoln >> they were also present in so many ways and then if you talk about marion tinsley in about 40 years, has lost three professional, that is unimaginable) the rise of compus at that point and then you talk about this thing about darrell, this persons who wrote the statistics but then broke number seven is one of my favorite three talk about transparency in
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computers and how to get both os these play a role in these google trends come the great machine that will predict so many things but that did not work. maybe each of you can say a little bit about what are your favorite stories or something, to me that is the entrance point for normal human to jump into these complexity of these beautiful stories and maybe it could be as hard as choosing a favoriteg child, my fourth one s my favorite by far but some might have a harder time. is there something that you love about what you wrote and you would love to share in your own voice heard. >> i really fell in love withth the public health campaign, florence nightingale was raging in the 1860s. for me this was an astonishing story, she is most famous for a nurse she was also one of the of - and slightly over testified, she began a public health revolution with a pie chart.
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this was going into the details of the oppositions she was facing against the medical establishment and the way that she had the evidence, a team of crack geeks who demonstrated the point that she wanted to make of hygiene and vaccination but then realizing, i'm not getting my point across. i don't have enough political influence to make this case and what anita's really really good picture right in beautiful ms. mileti and visualization that she created. and her critics had to withdrawal. it was a really striking story and behind it, it's a statistics helping the world become a better place. >> jordan my friend, do you want to jump ahead. >> maybe i'll say one thing and then we will close, i love what i learned about abraham lincoln and his love for geometry and i didn't know before i started to
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write this book especially the story where eve must have known that it was not going to succeed in doing it, is 20 or 30 years before his proved possible but as law partners talk about him, would not talk to anybody just sitting at his desk. but all of these pieces of paper trying to do this and then at some point he stops and his partner said, you know, it was clear whose upset about this so we just never brought it up again. his sensitivity and i love about lincoln that he was vivid enough to try but also, had enough humility to recognize when he did not succeed. and that represents an incredible intellectual mission is that i'm really winning at this but maybe because my want to say that i was struck by your book tip, this incredible funny and amazing quote, from wells a that i didn't know.
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orson welles, but in the story of four sunnydale, there's a wonderful quote where the geometry and statistics he meets and it forms nightingale describes this diagram and it gets through to people. and i think what is true as there are certain things that is we use geometry it and can do to get in people's minds that words cannot do. i think that is powerful. >> that is absolutely lovely will thinking about the view, we are out of time and i would love to keep talking. both of these books, the data detective and shape, are available at every book so you can imagine we can purchase the book also from our partners at bookshop .org black/shop.
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then please do consider supporting the san diego council on literacy. in the entire panel of all of the speakers and authors are the physical books .com and you can ask us questions anytime you want to thank you so much him and thank you so much for your contribution and jordan, you too as well for writing these lovely works.uc >> thank you for joining us. >> weakens on "c-span2", are an intellectual feast, every saturday american history to be documents america's story, and on sunday, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors and funding for "c-span2", comes from these television companies and more, including charter communications. broadband is an empowerment, that's why charter is invested
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