They’re not dumb, they’re REALLY different

A couple of nights ago, I had a nightmare. I dreamed that I couldn’t do math. I was having lunch with some colleagues and the bill was $24.82. Everyone handed me money and I had $25.67. I was trying to subtract the bill amount from what was in my hand and divide it by three, but I couldn’t. Every time I thought I started to have the answer, the numbers flew right out of my head. Since it was a dream, I could see them flying, with little wings and everything. As time passed, my colleagues started to get impatient, ask me if I was done yet, make jokes. I remembered that book, Charlie, and started thinking, this is what it must be like to be mentally retarded. I was so upset, I woke up.

I’ve been slacking on the reverb10 project. I read about it and it sounded interesting. The idea is that every day there is a different prompt and you’re supposed to post on your blog related to that. I have a blog. Three, actually, though that’s another, unrelated story. I thought it would be good for me to write more, since, oddly, I often learn things better as I write about them. Well, it has been really interesting, but in a different way than I thought.

As I read the prompts, and the other bloggers responses to them, I was very strongly reminded of Sheila Tobias’ book, They’re not dumb, they’re different: Stalking the second tier. In brief, her book is about her study of why very bright people nonetheless choose not to study science and why they have a hard time with it. She had scientists sit in on literature classes and people with doctoral education in subjects like English sit in on introductory science classes. It was a really fascinating study and reading it, I could totally identify with the science Ph.D.’s frustration with English 102. It was just like Dave Barry said about college, that he chose English as a major because it had no actual facts in it, unlike Chemistry, where they get really snippy if your chemical formula for, say, what happens when you combine two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen comes out to be really different than everyone else. If you say, “Maple syrup!” or “The Queen of England”, they do not give you points for creativity, quite the opposite.

I tried to avoid every single art and humanities course in college. I did take Japanese as a language, since I went to Japan to study for a year. Since mathematics was in the College of Arts and Sciences, that took care of that distribution requirement. They caught me my last semester in my senior year and made me take English Comp, which I managed to do as an independent study with a sympathetic English professor.

So, I looked at the reverb10 prompts and did not do that many of them. I wasn’t quite sure they were talking to me. For example, when the prompt was about what you appreciate, it occurred to me that I appreciate Euclid, logistic regression and my husband, not necessarily in that order. My suspicion that I was playing on a team by myself here occurred when I typed reverb10 and logistic regression into Google and all the hits  that came up were me.

So, I’ve been reading these posts by other bloggers and I truly feel like Temple Grandin in Oliver Sacks book, An Anthropologist on Mars. I read this blog by a 20-something person who feels guilty about not meeting with people she used to know. The same blog had a link to an awesome article on a man who decorated his basement with $10 worth of Sharpies. Awesome for him, but I’m guaranteeing you that if I tried that my house would just look like Matt Groening or Hugh MacLeod went completely psychotic.

It reminded me of The Perfect Jennifer when she was about nine years old deciding she wanted to teach herself to play The Sting, by Scott Joplin. So, she got a copy of the movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman and played that part of it over and over until she could play the song by ear. I couldn’t imagine ever even thinking of wanting to do that, much less doing it. Even though her dad had died recently and I did not have a lot of money, I went out and bought her a piano.

There was another reverb10 prompt on what have you made this year. I thought to myself, “Does dinner count?”

Lots of people had made lots of things. some of them, like basement-Sharpie-guy, just amazing, and others that you could have bought at the dollar store made by some kid in China and I didn’t want them anyway.

So, I typed in “math” and “reverb10” and came across an interesting blog by a math teacher who quit her doctoral program to go back to teaching. Even though I did finish my doctorate, and, in fact, enjoyed it, I could totally related. Jane Mercer, one of the people on my doctoral committee, and a profound influence on my life, had a sign in her office that simply said,

“No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, turn back.”

Then, her next post was about making wreaths out of buttons and I thought,

“Why would you even do that? No, seriously, why?”

And it occurred to me, because I am not really all that slow on the uptake, despite my nightmares, that there are some people who would think the same about me.

Tomorrow, when I am sitting in the airport, I am going to write a blog about quasi-separation and other problems with logistic models. I’m really looking forward to it. Usually when you read papers on some statistical procedure they have these stupid, perfect little datasets that are set up not to offend anybody so they are something like the auto.dta dataset from Stata, and everything works out perfectly to be highly correlated with no problems of multi-collinearity and the chi-square is always significant and the R-square is always really awesome and something like .80. So, you get graduate students who have an R-square of .42 for their dissertation data and they are disappointed instead of simultaneously having orgasms and doing the little happy dance like the situation warrants.

My paper is going to start out early on with real life, like getting a chi-square with the probability > .97 and the “NOTE: This model may not be valid” on your output, which causes you to comment to yourself,

“Yeah, no shit.”

In writing this paper, though, I am really, really trying to keep in mind button-wreath-woman and basement-Sharpie-writing-guy and person-who-feels-guilty-over-coffee and think what would make it interesting and relevant to them. I think I will write better papers in the end.

So, that’s what I learned from reverb10.

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One Comment

  1. “Why would you even do that? No, seriously, why?”

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud at 5:44 in the morning.

    Oh, and for making me google “logistic regression.” I’ll try to work that into conversation today.

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