Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Fast Posts, 12/2/14: On Child Prodigies, Women in Science and Partisan Gerrymandering in the US

This story about Eugenie de Silva, a sixteen-year-old child prodigy (a Harvard graduate doing a PhD) raises all sorts of interesting questions about child prodigies.  Does the arc of their careers continue with the same gradient or do they peak earlier?  How harmful is it to be so different from your friends of the same age?

But it also has one of those dingleberry seeds which I've had to swallow many times:

It’s these glimpses of typical adolescent behavior that have sometimes made Eugenie a target. Female, and of Sri Lankan heritage, she has been haunted by jealousy and racial and sex discrimination. During her graduate studies, she has had to defend herself and her position on certain arguments – sometimes as the only woman in the classroom.
“More and more men started attacking me even when they were putting forth those same ideas and if I would put forth that idea they would come and belittle my comments,” she says.
It is Isabella Karle's birthday today.  She is 93 and a very famous crystallographer who worked together with her husband Jerome.  In 1985 Jerome Karle received the Nobel Prize for his work.  Alas, poor Isabella did not.  Smells of sexism, if you ask me, though Dr. Karle herself states she didn't mind not getting that one award, given that she received so many others.

That's a nice thought.  But Nobel Prizes are not awarded on that basis.  Nobody looks into your award basket to see if it might already be too full. 

This example does, however, raise an interesting question:  Is discrimination on the basis of race or sex or sexual preference AOK if the person experiencing it doesn't care?

My view is that it is not AOK, because each case that slips through or is condoned will make another case more likely in the future.

A fascinating study looks at the effects of partisan gerrymandering in the US.  A snippet:

In 2012, Democratic U.S. House candidates in North Carolina received 81,190 more votes that Republicans. Republicans received just under half of the votes earned by the two parties. And yet, the GOP walked away with 9 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. So, despite the fact that they earned just over 49 percent of the two-party vote, Republicans won nearly 70 percent of the state’s congressional seats.
That's because of gerrymandering.  But could it be an unexpected side effect of creating districts based on logical criteria:  That they are contiguous, compact and close to the same size in population.

The researchers ran eight different simulations to see how many Democrats and Republicans would have been elected into the US House from North Carolina under each of the scenarios in the simulations.  What they found was this:

Seven of the eight simulations did not produce a single map where Democrats won less than five congressional seats, assuming that every voter who cast a vote for a Democrat or a Republican in 2012 would have cast the same vote under the simulated maps. The one simulation that did produce a handful of outlier maps where Democrats won only four seats did so “in less than 5% of the samples.”
In short, the evidence is pretty strong that the actual redistricting in North Carolina was not based on the logical criteria of contiguity, compactness and identical population sizes, or not on those alone.

Ian Millhiser, the author of the article, suggests that the Supreme Court now has evidence to help it decide when gerrymandering is aimed at blocking the will of the people and could use it to rule better on partisan gerrymandering cases.  But, alas and alack, that is extremely unlikely.