William H. Press

Using math to catch a terrorist

A few weeks back my Well-Mannered Traveler column on MSNBC.com was about ethnic profiling at airports.

A great many people (328 last time I checked)  posted comments in response to that column and most of those folks seem to believe that ethnic profiling is a good and useful way to thwart terrorism.

But according to this article in today’s (Feb 2nd)  New York Times, it’s not.

What would work better?  Math.

Specifically, says William H. Press, a computational biologist and computer scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, something called “square root sampling.”

“We have been told that strong profiling will somehow find and siphon off the worst offenders and we’ll be safe,” Dr. Press said. “It’s not true. The math does not support that.”

See what the math does support in Sandra Blakeslee’s New York Times article:  Math Backs Limited Profiling in Airport Screening and tell me what you think.