The Case of the Two-Faced Data
Department of Mathematics
Agnes Scott College
This case study on Simpson's paradox is a fictionalized account of a famous case of alleged gender discrimination at University of California at Berkeley. "Jane Eyre" was a young woman who applied to the top Ph.D. programs in English in the United States. A seemingly perfect candidate, Jane was accepted to all but one program, "Bronte University." What went wrong? In aggregate, Bronte University's graduate school admitted a higher percentage of male applicants than female applicants, suggesting possible gender discrimination. But when the numbers are broken down into individual departments, we learn that each department actually admitted a higher percentage of female applicants than male applicants. This is the basis of Simpson's paradox: a trend appears in two separate groups that disappears when the two groups are combined. Students completing the case engage in a combination of individual work, small group discussion, and summative whole-class discussions. Originally developed for a college-level math for liberal arts course, the case is adaptable to any course in which students work with data that may lead to Simpson's paradox.
- Describe the presentation of Simpson's paradox.
- Describe the cause of Simpson's paradox.
- Explain how data can be manipulated to support two opposing statements.
- Critique the presentation of data in media sources (if the optional current events assignment is used; see Variations and Assignments below).
KeywordsSimpson’s paradox; data; statistics; mathematics; gender bias; discrimination; aggregate data; trend
Topical AreasScience and the media, Social issues, Social justice issues, Women in science
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsN/A, Analysis (Issues), Debate, Directed, Discussion, Role-Play
Subject HeadingsStatistics | Mathematics |
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