Saturday, February 08, 2020

Polar Route to Truth: a Memory

I was in 4th grade. It was 1962, the age of going to the moon. The entire elementary school was assembled to hear Mr. Science, the man to inspire the next generation of astronauts. He wasn't freezing hot dogs and roses this time. Instead, he began a lecture on airplanes and polar routes. 

"What is the shortest distance between two points?," he launched over the heads of some 100 reverent disciples. 

I thrust my hand into the air with an energy and momentum that lifted me from cross-legged to standing. 

"A line!" I blurted, unable, unwilling to wait to be called on, anxious to be the first, eager to show off my superior knowledge of geometry. 

"You're WRONG!" Mr. Science boomed with such a force that it silenced the entire school.

I melted to the floor under the gaze of every one of my classmates. 

"It's a circle," I heard him say, drawing all eyes back to his magic.

All eyes except my own, lowered in shame.

"No, Mr.Science, you're wrong. A tunnel through the Earth would be shorter," I told myself.

And from that day forward, I never relied upon a teacher to know the truth, learning over the years that the truth is a slippery observation. Is it any surprise that I became a statistician? Where observation and bias are bedfellows, and truth has a probability distribution!