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April 2003

English couple has a baby boy. At 11 weeks, boy dies suddenly, seemingly from a respiratory infection. Couple has second baby. Second baby dies at 8 weeks. Mother is arrested and charged with two murders. Famed pediatrician, Sir Roy Meadow, testifies the probability of crib death is 1 in 8543, so the probability of two such deaths is 1/8543 squared, or about 1 in 73,000,000. That is about a once-in-a-century event in England, so the mother, Sally Clark, is convicted and sent to jail.

Here, a mathematician does the statistics correctly. Later, an appeals court quashes the conviction and Ms. Clark is freed.

Stupid use of economics. Professor James Paul Gee argues that education should be modeled more after videogames like Grand Theft Auto and Deus X. Why? In part because they're commercially successful: "How did videogames become such successful models of effective learning? Game coders aren't trained as cognitive scientists. It's a simple case of free-market economics: If a title doesn't teach players how to play it well, it won't sell well. Game companies don't rake in $6.9 billion a year by dumbing down the material - aficionados condemn short and easy games like Half Life: Blue Shift and Devil May Cry 2. Designers respond by making harder and more complex games that require mastery of sophisticated worlds and as many as 50 to 100 hours to complete."

Professor Gee, I know those games. I've played some of those games. And they're not high school. Heck, they're not even first grade. (Tetris was very successful; is it a useful model for educating?) Worse, your argument promotes the dubious idea that learning should always be fun. Most ideas that are worthwhile knowing require a certain amount of work to learn. Always have, always will.