Can You Estimate That?
By Robert Bernstein   |   June 24, 2021

“How many piano tuners are there in Boston?” That was the first question on our first problem set of freshman physics at MIT. The question was not really about pianos or the people who tune them. It was a way to get us to make estimates based on facts that we know. The first step […]

How Can We Be Smarter?
By Robert Bernstein   |   April 1, 2021

“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” is a quote attributed to President Reagan and later to President George W Bush. It is also the title of the book I would most recommend everyone should read. Before we can get smarter, perhaps we should find out “Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful […]

 

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Are Your Beliefs Falsifiable?
By Robert Bernstein   |   January 21, 2021

I used to buy snacks at the Isla Vista Deli Mart even though they were a bit more expensive than the competitors. I went there just to engage the former owner Mike in debate about Donald Trump, whom he supported. (Note that the Deli Mart has new owners who are not Trump supporters.) When Trump would […]

Can We Discuss Politics and Religion?
By Robert Bernstein   |   December 31, 2020

“If you want to avoid heated arguments, never discuss religion, politics, or whether the toilet paper roll should go over or under.” So said the wise sage “Weird Al” Yankovic. Religion and politics go to the very heart of our deepest values. If we avoid discussing what matters most to us, how can any learning […]

Better than Democracy?
By Robert Bernstein   |   December 3, 2020

Winston Churchill famously said, “…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” I write this as Joe Biden has been declared “president-elect” in the news and while Donald Trump still sends out repeated appeals for money. Record numbers voted for each side. […]

The Opposite of Progress is Fashion?
By Robert Bernstein   |   November 5, 2020

People often compliment me on my colorful shirts. Much of the credit goes to my friend Robin; she finds some of the best for me on eBay. While I always say “thank you,” I often ask, “Do you know what is the opposite of progress?” They usually look mystified. “Fashion!” I triumphantly reply. I point […]

Statistics vs Stories?
By Robert Bernstein   |   October 13, 2020

As a teen in the ‘70s I had very little money to pursue my many passions. So I was grateful for various suppliers of surplus electronics that I used to build my creations. I was surprised one day that one of my favorite suppliers was having a going-out-of-business sale. I showed up at the event […]

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How to Bring People Together?
By Robert Bernstein   |   September 10, 2020

It is a common perception today that our country is divided. Some even suggest we are on the verge of civil war. Is there a way that we can bring our country together? One common suggestion is to have leaders who are “moderate” to be in line with the views of the widest range of […]

Voting Paradoxes
By Robert Bernstein   |   March 26, 2020

My immigrant wife Merlie is mystified by our complex voting system. She wonders what these “primaries” are all about. “Why don’t you just vote for your choice among all of the presidential candidates at once and be done with it?” I am going to break Godwin’s Law and invoke the following example. Suppose we had […]

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What is Truth?
By Robert Bernstein   |   February 27, 2020

“The moon is made of green cheese.” Fact or Opinion? This was a question we were given in a high school English unit on telling the difference between facts and opinions. This was a required part of the Montgomery County, Maryland curriculum. It took me many years to learn that it was not part of […]