Sunday, May 08, 2016

Math anxiety: The Guido Menzio story

Guido Menzio.

This actually happened in the United States of America last Thursday.

According to the Washington Post, "A 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent" boarded a "regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse."

From the Post story:
The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her.

She decided to try out some small talk.

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions. He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note of her own.
The blonde, it seems, thought the "strange scribblings" were some kind of terrorist code.

They weren't. They were something called "differential equations," according to the Post story.

 And the man doing the scribbling? He's Guido Menzio, an Italian-born associate professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

An example of differential equations.

Menzio was taken off the plane and questioned by an "FBI-looking man in black." After showing the man his calculations, he was allowed to re-board.

The blonde never got back on the plane.

Menzio told the Post reporter he was “treated respectfully throughout.”
"Though he remains baffled and frustrated by a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently.” He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as “A security protocol that is too rigid–in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks–and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless.”

In an email to the Post reporter, Menzio wrote: “What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia? It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base.”

Menzio also wrote about his experience in a Facebook post:

The Washington Post story has, so far, generated more than 4,000 reader comments.

And Twitter, of course, is all over this.

You can read the entire Washington Post story by clicking here.

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