With state legislatures nationwide preparing for the once-a-decade redrawing of voting districts, a research team has developed a better computational method to help identify improper gerrymandering designed to favor specific candidates or political parties.
In an article in the Harvard Data Science Review, the researchers describe the improved mathematical methodology of an open source tool called GerryChain. The tool can help observers detect gerrymandering in a voting district plan by creating a pool, or ensemble, of alternate maps that also meet legal voting criteria. This map ensemble can show if the proposed plan is an extreme outlier—one that is very unusual from the norm of plans generated without bias, and therefore, likely to be drawn with partisan goals in mind.
“We wanted to build an open-source software tool and make that available to people interested in reform, especially in states where there are skewed baselines,” said Daryl DeFord, assistant professor of mathematics at Washington State University and a co-lead author on the paper. “It can be an impactful way for people to get involved in this process, particularly going into this year’s redistricting cycle where there are going to be a lot of opportunities for pointing out less than optimal behavior.”
More than a quarter of Washington State University students who delivered virtual presentations won monetary awards at the annual Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) on March 29 in Pullman.
SURCA is the unique WSU-wide venue for students from all majors, years in college, and from all WSU campuses. Nearly 150 students from the Pullman, Vancouver, Spokane, and Global campuses delivered presentations detailing their research, scholarship, and creative activities conducted with a mentor.
Faculty, postdoctoral students, and community experts used a common rubric to judge and score all presentations in nine SURCA categories that are designed to cover all disciplines at the university.
Fifteen CAS students won 10 different awards across seven categories at the 2021 event held online.
The Student Legal Research Association will help evaluate arrest data from WSU’s police department as part of measures to address racial disparity in arrests on the Pullman campus. The campus police are also taking collaborating with university researchers to address implicit bias.
These actions are part of an effort to address disproportionate arrests of Black people by campus police, a problem identified by a Daily Evergreen article in fall 2019 and a following report by WSU Office of Compliance and Civil Rights (CCR) in May 2020. The term “arrest” in police data includes non-custody interactions such as issuing traffic citations.
The CBTSim program is just one that the WSU campus force will undertake, Gardner said. The department is working on another project with WSU criminal justice professor David Makin and the Complex Social Interactions Lab where officers will review body camera footage in very specific ways to try to understand the effect their actions have.
When describing statements with numbers, people often refer to them as statistics. For instance, if 70 out of 100 students got a B on an English test, that would be a statistic. So would the make-believe statement “90 percent of toddlers love tuna.” But the field of statistics involves much more than a collection of factoids.
Statistics is a different kind of animal than other fields of STEM. Some people consider it to be a type of math. Others argue that while statistics is like math, it’s too different from math subjects to be viewed as part of that field.
Researchers see data all around them. Data are waiting to be gathered from penguin poop and the weather outside. They lurk in the motion of planets and talks with teens about why they vape. But these data alone don’t help researchers get far. Scientists need to think through how they structure their studies to glean meaningful information from these data.
“I have skills marine biologists need — and those skills are statistics,” says Leslie New. She is a statistical ecologist at Washington State University in Vancouver. New uses statistics to study study marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins.
When he’s not teaching mathematics – from introductory calculus to advanced numerical analysis of elliptic equations – Washington State University math professor Sergey Lapin might be working to speed detection of deadly disease or to expand understanding of European history, Russian language and culture, Chinese economics or higher education in America.
“I’m not the typical mathematician. I’m interested in things beyond that – and I even try to teach those things,” Lapin said, with a self-conscious laugh. “It seems like it’s working okay. The Honors classes are very popular.”
Indeed, the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Association and United Greek Association at WSU named him “Outstanding Faculty Member” in 2018, and he received the Honors College’s Faculty Award the same year. In 2016, the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) also honored Lapin with their Exceptional Professor Award and he received the Thesis Advisor Award from the Honors College.
“I enjoy teaching,” he said. “There are different types of instructors – some teach mostly because it’s a requirement, but I like it and I guess that shows.”