After I wrote about the failures of the War on Drugs for BC Law Magazine last semester I waited anxiously for the backlash. I spent ten years in the U.S. Coast Guard before law school, six of them chasing international drug cartels at sea, and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most professional and dedicated military and law enforcement personnel in the world. I was terrified about how they’d respond when I called the drug war a “lost cause,” and it took less than a day for the responses to start flooding my inbox. The volume wasn’t surprising, but the content shocked me.
You don’t have to be a fan of the TV series Black Mirror to realize that our world is becoming more computationally driven. Yet, being a fan may help you recognize the dangerous ways that technology can expand to affect how society operates. Ever since I began law school just a few months ago, I’ve been led to consider the role that courts will play in organizing and controlling new scientific frontiers. An increasingly important feature of future courts will be mathematical literacy. Unfortunately, based on empirical data, our courts system has not been very effective at analyzing empirical data.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments grounded in statistics related to partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford. Many judges seemed dismissive of a mathematical tool, called the efficiency gap, that aims to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. The computation simply involves taking the difference between each party’s “wasted” votes, divided by the total number of votes cast. The court suggested that the lack of public understanding would make this standard arbitrary and erode the legitimacy of the court. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last two months of law school rigorously attempting to internalize foundational legal concepts that I’m certain are puzzling to most lay people.
Walking the streets of Barcelona with my father used to involve a mild amount of embarrassment. In the city, where he was born and raised, and where most residents speak both Catalan and Spanish, there is a social convention: If you speak to someone you don’t know in Catalan, and they respond in Spanish, you should follow their cue and switch to Spanish because they do not speak Catalan. When someone responded to my father’s Catalan in Spanish, he persisted in Catalan. Sometimes they would call him out, explicitly telling him that they did not speak Catalan. Sometimes he would respond, “But we are in Catalunya.” I would stand by, hand blocking my face, hoping the interaction would end quickly. After seeing the national police bludgeon citizens throughout Catalonia with truncheons in a feeble attempt to block the October 1 independence referendum, I have a harder time seeing my father’s obstinacy as embarrassing.