#mtbos Book Club: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil


It’s today! If you’re in Minneapolis, please join us at Urban Growler Brewery at 2 pm. If you’re not, we’ll start at twitter chat at 4 pm CST using the hashtag #WMathD and #mtbos.

A HUGE thank you to Marian Dingle who graciously offered to help me formulate questions. If there’s anything good in here, that’s Marian’s doing. If there are things that are terrible and dreadful, those are mine.

In the hopes of helping people contribute best, here are the questions that will go out on Twitter starting at 4 pm.

My greatest hope is that you all take the conversation in whatever direction you like best. To that end, if you would like to ignore the questions and discuss other things, you go right ahead. These questions are simply to help stoke the conversation if we should need it.

Book Club Questions!

Q1: In reading the book, I often reflected on how WMDs have affected me in the past, and my relative awareness or lack of awareness about them. How did you react to learning about these WMDs? Which hit closest to home for you?

Q2: O’Neil had been an enthusiastic player in Wall Street until the crash happened in 2008, at which point she had a change of heart and began examining the mathematical structures that led to the recession. What are your reactions to that transformation? Is it a transformation we believe can be duplicated? Why or why not?

Q3: Many of the WMDs O’Neil outlines disproportionally affect already disadvantaged populations. If one’s goal is to do the work of anti-racism, how can we approach the proliferation of WMDs and their disproportionate impact? Would WMDs look differently if there were more quants of color? Which, if any, of these WMDs deserve wider attention? Are there WMDs we believe are more impactful than others?

Q4: The proliferation of WMDs seems to stem from our innate attraction to numeric rankings. Often, an “anti” WMD would require significant investment of time, money, and human capital to evaluate whatever metric (teacher performance, expected criminal recidivism, credit history etc.) is currently being assessed by a WMD. Is there a scale on which we believe we can replace the efficiency of WMDs with the more expensive alternative? Are algorithms our only answer to tackling big data? 

Q5: In nearly every chapter, O’Neill outlines the purported reasonableness of each WMD before raising her own objections to it.  Were you surprised by any of O’Neill’s objections? Were there any you feel were unfair? Any you feel did not go far enough?

Q6: How can we help prepare students to be proactive about how WMDs will affect them? What can we do to empower them to dismantle them? Is that even possible?




Author: Ms. P

Math Teacher in Minneapolis, MN.

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