The Takeaways: Week 7 of 2017

A round-up of some of the intriguing, insightful, and/or thought-provoking things I read over the last week.

The Public Domain Review: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life (1900) (February 11, 2017)

Du Bois — sociologist, historian, activist, Pan-Africanist, and prolific author — had also, it turns out, a mighty fine eye for graphic design.

We could also note that Du Bois's work at Atlanta University effectively founds sociology in the United states. These are notable for their beauty as much as their ability to convey information.

Find the header image and much more of Du Bois's visual work at the Library of Congress

Kevin Birmingham, The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Great Shame of Our Profession: How the humanities survive on exploitation (February 12, 2017)

The most beautifully-written analysis of the hollowing-out of a major part of our society you’ll read. This one hits close to home for me.

Jason Ford, Vox: I look like a self-made millionaire. But I owe my success to privilege (January 17, 2017)

I am a millionaire. The first in my family. A self-made success. It’s the story we love to tell ourselves in America about how anyone can make it. Except it’s not true. The reality is that most entrepreneurs — myself included — are the product of generations of privilege that enable success.

And then:

Jason Ford, Medium: White privilege is real (January 22, 2017)

It doesn’t feel like I should have to explain this, but here we go. Earlier this month an article I wrote on the role of privilege in my life got a little media attention. There were only a handful of negative reactions to the article, but they were all from White people.

Roger Peng, Simply Statistics: Data Scientists Clashing at Hedge Funds (February 15, 2017)

The firms have been loading up on data scientists and coders to deliver on the promise of quantitative investing and lift their ho-hum returns. But they are discovering that the marriage of old-school managers and data-driven quants can be rocky.

The common link here, of course, is the inability to admit that there are things you don’t know. Whether this is an inherent character flaw or something that can be overcome through teaching is not yet clear to me. But it is common when data is brought to bear on a problem that previously lacked data. One of the key tasks that a data scientist in any industry must prepare for is the task of giving people information that will make them uncomfortable.

Lydia Dishman, Fast Company: Can Artificial Intelligence Wipe Unconscious Bias From Your Workday? (January 18, 2017)

Unconscious bias is exactly what it sounds like: The associations we make whenever we face a decision are buried so deep (literally—the gland responsible for this, the amygdala, is surrounded by the brain’s gray matter) that we're as unaware of them as we are of having to breathe.

Gordon Shotwell: R for Excel Users (February 2, 2017)

Both a good tutorial and an excellent diagnosis of the issues involved in moving between tools that rely on very different paradigms.

Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg View: Industrial Revolution Comparisons Aren't Comforting (February 16, 2017)

“Why should it be different this time?” That’s the most common response I hear when I raise concerns about automation and the future of jobs, and it’s a pretty simple rejoinder. The Western world managed the shift out of agricultural jobs into industry, and continued to see economic growth.

David Rotman, MIT Technology Review: Here’s how to use AI to make America great again (February 13, 2017)

But that still leaves a troubling quandary: how to help the workers left behind. Joel Mokyr, Northwestern U: “There is no question that in the modern capitalist system your occupation is your identity,” he says. And the pain and humiliation felt by those whose jobs have been replaced by automation is “clearly a major issue,” he adds. “I don’t see an easy way of solving it. It’s an inevitable consequence of technological progress.”

Ginger Moored, District of Columbia's Office of Revenue Analysis: D.C.’s Immigrant Workforce (February 18, 2017)

Around 829,000 people work in D.C. (within the city-proper), and about 26 percent of them are immigrants. Today, the Washington Post reports that some of D.C.’s immigrant workers, particularly those working in restaurants and some daycare centers and schools, are going on strike.