Saturday, May 7, 2016

Economist Removed from American Airlines Flight for Doing Math

Guido Menzio, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, was pulled off of an American Airlines regional jet from Philadelphia to Syracuse because he was doing math.
Flight from Philly to Syracuse goes out on the tarmac, ready to take off. The passenger sitting next to me calls the stewardess, passes her a note. The stewardess comes back asks her if she is comfortable taking off, or she is too sick. We wait more. We go back to the gate. The passenger exits. We wait more. The pilot comes to me and asks me out of the plane. There I am met by some FBI looking man-in-black. They ask me about my neighbor. I tell them I noticed nothing strange. They tell me she thought I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper. I laugh. I bring them back to the plane. I showed them my math.
It’s a bit funny. It’s a bit worrisome. The lady just looked at me, looked at my writing of mysterious formulae, and concluded I was up to no good. Because of that an entire flight was delayed by 1.5 hours.
There's always a fussbudget around to cause trouble.  And what does it say about the general innumeracy of the public that mathematical calculations are simply not recognized as what they are?

8 comments:

  1. Wow.. and people like that woman get to breed AND vote...

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    1. Exactly! The franchise is far too broad.

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  2. We can't have it both ways: if people should be encouraged to report suspicious activity, we have to expect that some will err on the side of ignorance, some of an excess of caution or honest mistake.
    I like to read econ blogs. Some of the formulas I see there (e.g., with sigmas, brackets, layers, and weird characters & signs) could be instructions for preparation of explosive materials, for all I really know. (My math competence falls somewhere between multiplying fractions and converting decimals to percentages [I kid you not.] You may call me innumerate; I blame my faulty parochial education.
    Me? I'd give the lady a break, thank her for paying attention and being a concerned citizen, and consider it lucky that it was just a false alarm.

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  3. I have seen an awful lot of fear and paranoia here in the "home of the brave".

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  4. I had a guy on an airliner flight I was on (as copilot when I was just a kid) grab a flight attendant in a chookhold and freak out. The Captain, ex MP, BIG guy (and this was a whole generation before 9-11 security) went back to handle it (the guy by this time had locked himself in the bathroom where he stayed til landing, panic attack, not terrorist) But what was actually comical as here's this guy going bonkers in the back and I've got several dozen people staring up at the open cockpit door with a look that says "OMG there's a little girl with a ponytail flying the airplane!!!

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    1. Did you wave back, smile and say"Hi!"

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    2. I would have hollered back to the Captain "Hey Dad, what does this flashing light mean?"

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  5. Close call! Sounds like he was almost finished creating a Weapon of Math Destruction!

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