The Quants and the Airlines Versus the Public

Baggage fees are a small part of the misery of American air travel. There's also connecting flights, which, to paraphrase the Nuremberg judgment, contain within themselves the accumulated evil of the whole. For if air travel were pleasant, who would mind changing planes and spending more time in the system?

Instead, the airlines make us pay to avoid the extra hours --- giving airlines an incentive to make air travel less pleasant. But once in a while you can beat the system.

For a memorial service at short notice, I once had to fly with my 2-year-old daughter to New York (and throw away our return flight to Boston). The price of a nonstop, one-way flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Newark, New Jersey: $1200 (for two people).

But what if I flew slightly farther, allegedly changed planes in Newark, but just left the airport? So I went back to airline's website and asked for a one-way flight to Manchester, New Hampshire. It was only $400 (for two people). Not only did the flight connect in Newark, but the Phoenix--Newark leg was the same flight that cost $1200 nonstop!

Does Math Make Research "Better"?

Yes -- if you don't know much math, that is. A new study finds that even academic scholars perceived research to be of higher quality if there's some math involved -- even if the math makes no sense. The experiment threw an irrelevant mathematical equation into research paper abstracts, and asked scholars of different fields to evaluate the quality of the research:

Mathematics is a fundamental tool of research. Although potentially applicable in every discipline, the amount of training in mathematics that students typically receive varies greatly between different disciplines. In those disciplines where most researchers do not master mathematics, the use of mathematics may be held in too much awe. To demonstrate this I conducted an online experiment with 200 participants, all of which had experience of reading research reports and a postgraduate degree (in any subject).

How to Destroy a University

A colleague elsewhere, who wishes to remain nameless for fear of retribution, has illustrated how easy it is to destroy a university. His is abolishing its economics graduate programs; introductory economics will be taught in sections of 1,000 students; professors do their own purchasing of supplies; and upper-division courses are being sharply reduced in number.

All this is a response to calls for greater efficiency in higher education. Is this really greater efficiency? Or is it a move to a different point on the production possibility frontier, essentially choosing to convert a research institution into a mediocre equivalent of a two-year college? Calls for professors to teach more to save higher-education money have consequences—there ain’t no free lunch here. Of course, too, such policies drive away faculty members who might be interested in doing research. Fortunately, not all public universities are following this troglodyte approach.