Fall Numbers Sections

Fall 2021 Numbers Descriptions are below. Additional section descriptions were added July 2nd and 12th. To change your preferences simply submit a new form by the new July 15th deadline (prior deadline was the 14th).

The date/time you submit your preferences has no bearing on your placement. The preferences you submit closest to the deadline (on July 15th) will be used.

MWF 11:30am - 12:30pm (listed in order of class time)

Numbers are Human

Tamily Weissman-Unni, Assoc Prof of Biology

  • Core 121-02 – MWF 11:30am – 12:30pm

Numbers are critical to our understanding of each other as humans. We compare ourselves based on how tall we are, how much money or friends we have, or the size of our family. However, numbers are not perfect; they can be easily misinterpreted, or even subtly changed when writing articles, stories, or histories. How do we know which numbers to trust, and which to question? We will practice methods for understanding and analyzing numbers in different contexts, ranging widely from how numbers are used to understand CoVID-19, inequities in STEM, historical events, and even neural circuits in the brain.

Added July 2nd:

Politics and Election Science: The Paradox of Choice

Ian McDonald, Visiting Prof of Political Science

  • Core 121-01 – MWF 11:30am – 12:30pm

We expect democracies to translate public desire into coherent political choice. And we expect elections to deliver these results. But aggregating preferences with popular elections is harder than it looks. The simplest elections based on innocent design choices will produce paradoxical and confounding results.In this course, we’ll introduce mathematical and logical tools that can help us understand the paradoxes of elections. You will use these tools to develop and refine your quantitative reasoning skills and apply them to a fundamental problem: how does adding together individual preferences make democracy possible? Topics will include redistricting, voting procedures, and election prediction models. We will look at contemporary examples such as the 2021 New York City mayoral election, and the effect of using districts in choosing the Seattle City Council. You will develop arguments, apply data visualization tools and consider the relevance of statistical reasoning and causal inference.

Added July 6th:

The Numbered City

Read Mcfaddin, Institutional Research

  • Core 121-13 – MWF 11:30am-12:30pm

“They can print statistics and count the populations in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people.” -Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana, 1958This course asks the central question: how might we understand the complicated relationship between our understanding of the “ideal” city, our experiences in cities, and the numbers and images we use to describe the City? We will explore the ways in which statistics, maps, and images may corroborate or belie what we understand to be true of lived experience within urban spaces. Our course considers the city a living and dynamic organism, both a human construct and ever-present agent subtly shaping social performance. The curriculum will highlight diverse academic disciplines, ranging from art history to sociology, philosophy to urban planning. Participating students should be interested in working creatively with fellow classmates and making occasional off-campus site visits. Prior experience with statistics and mapping is not required or expected.


MWF - 1:50-2:50pm & one section 3-4pm

Networks and Trees

Duncan Parks

  • Core 121-12 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm
  • Core 121-15 – MWF 3-4pm

The branching network known as a tree is a fundamental geometry in both natural and human systems, from circulatory systems in animals and plants to transportation and utility networks. We will apply our understanding of tree networks to a variety of real-world examples. We will use mathematical tools to build optimal networks in utility or telecommunications contexts. We will then use those tools to build evolutionary trees and evaluate cross-species comparisons in a tree-based context. Finally, we will examine the branching patterns of vascular systems in actual plants, evaluating both the performance of those systems and the fractal geometries that govern their development. Students need not have advanced mathematical skills to use these tools, and students of all backgrounds will encounter new methods and approaches in this course.

Coding, Data, and People (POD)

Peter Drake, Assoc Prof of Computer Science & Liz Stanhope, Assoc Prof of Mathematics

  • Core 121-03 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm
  • Core 121-07 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

This course introduces you to coding and data skills to address questions about the human experience. For example: What is the relationship between wealth and happiness? Do critics treat movies differently depending on the gender of the director? This course examines many such questions, including those that you propose. You will develop skills for analyzing and visualizing real-world data using the Python programming language. The target audience for this section is students with no previous experience with coding or statistics.

Order, Chaos & Randomness

Yung-Pin Chen, Prof of Statistics

  • Core 121-06 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Chances are all around us every day of our lives. Chaotic and unpredictable phenomena appear in nature. Despite the disorderly occurrences, we can find observable patterns or visible regularities of form in very diverse contexts in the natural world. In this course we will explore both chaotic and random phenomena in nature and in our daily lives. The course is centered around a collection of class discussions and activities that develop effective thinking and build analytic reasoning skills as habits of mind. The exploring topics include: numbers as a language, number system (including complex numbers), numerical patterns in nature, infinity, fractals, randomness, random walks, sampling, data, and distribution models.

How to Build a Moral Machine

Joel Martinez, Assoc Prof of Philosophy

  • Core 121-08 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

In this course, we will study the history and current development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is increasingly playing a role in decision-making that influences almost every aspect of our lives. We want AIs to make rational decisions. We also want them to make decisions that align with human values. But, to do this we need to quantify both rationality and our values. How can we do this? In this class we answer the question by studying models both of rational and moral decision-making. These models have already been used by philosophers, psychologists, economists and even in advertising. Some of these quantitative models have been used by AI researchers and some have not. So, in this class we will also investigate which quantitative models of decision-making hold out the most promise for making moral machines.

Numbers are Human

Tamily Weissman-Unni, Assoc Prof of Biology

  • Core 121-05 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Numbers are critical to our understanding of each other as humans. We compare ourselves based on how tall we are, how much money or friends we have, or the size of our family. However, numbers are not perfect; they can be easily misinterpreted, or even subtly changed when writing articles, stories, or histories. How do we know which numbers to trust, and which to question? We will practice methods for understanding and analyzing numbers in different contexts, ranging widely from how numbers are used to understand CoVID-19, inequities in STEM, historical events, and even neural circuits in the brain.

Added July 2nd:

Fire: Energy and Civilization

Jessica Kleiss, Assoc Prof of Environmental Studies

  • Core 121-04 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

The ancient Greeks described the composition of all matter and nature in terms of the “elements” earth, air, fire, and water. This course dives deep into “Fire,” more commonly referred to today as “Energy.” Early energy sources such as the burning of wood, followed by coal, and then oil, have led to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The prospect of climate change has motivated the development of a dizzying array of alternative energy technologies that use sources as diverse as tides, kelp, and the deep earth. This course will discuss fundamental concepts such as heat, work, the laws of thermodynamics, and the generation of electricity. Then we will center our inquiry on this guiding question: What must be done to reach the goal of net-zero global carbon emissions?”To address this question, we will investigate energy usage in agriculture, manufacturing, buildings, and transportation. We will explore the influence of energy on community health, poverty, and security. Our inquiry will be rooted in mining publicly available datasets that we will analyze with online tools, spreadsheets, and basic computer coding. We will interpret and construct graphical representations of data and work in teams to tackle the pressing challenge of an equitable transition to global net-zero carbon emissions.

The Census

EJ Carter, Watzek Library Special Collections & Archives Librarian

  • Core 121-09 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

The act of counting people has been controversial for centuries. The census originally served the two chief functions of government, taxation and raising an army. But it also ignited bitter tensions over political representation, the sources of wealth and poverty, and the status of religious and ethnic minorities. In the United States the census has been at the center of some of our biggest disputes: the Three-Fifths clause; the regional jockeying for power that led to the Civil War; the subsequent debates over voting rights and citizenship; mass immigration starting in the 19th century (and its restriction in the 1920s); and the debates sparked by the Civil Rights Movement over identity and representation that continue today. The class will survey this history, but it will also impart practical skills: how to ask and answer research questions using census data, and how to work with the tools that offer access to it.

The Numbered City

Read Mcfaddin, Institutional Research

  • Core 121-10 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

“They can print statistics and count the populations in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people.” -Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana, 1958This course asks the central question: how might we understand the complicated relationship between our understanding of the “ideal” city, our experiences in cities, and the numbers and images we use to describe the City? We will explore the ways in which statistics, maps, and images may corroborate or belie what we understand to be true of lived experience within urban spaces. Our course considers the city a living and dynamic organism, both a human construct and ever-present agent subtly shaping social performance. The curriculum will highlight diverse academic disciplines, ranging from art history to sociology, philosophy to urban planning. Participating students should be interested in working creatively with fellow classmates and making occasional off-campus site visits. Prior experience with statistics and mapping is not required or expected.

Politics and Election Science: The Paradox of Choice

Ian McDonald, Visiting Prof of Political Science

  • Core 121-11 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

We expect democracies to translate public desire into coherent political choice. And we expect elections to deliver these results. But aggregating preferences with popular elections is harder than it looks. The simplest elections based on innocent design choices will produce paradoxical and confounding results.In this course, we’ll introduce mathematical and logical tools that can help us understand the paradoxes of elections. You will use these tools to develop and refine your quantitative reasoning skills and apply them to a fundamental problem: how does adding together individual preferences make democracy possible? Topics will include redistricting, voting procedures, and election prediction models. We will look at contemporary examples such as the 2021 New York City mayoral election, and the effect of using districts in choosing the Seattle City Council. You will develop arguments, apply data visualization tools and consider the relevance of statistical reasoning and causal inference.

Added July 12th:

Bad Data, Misinterpretation, and Bullshit

Joe Gantt, Director of Forensics and Instr of Rhetoric and Media Studies

  • Core 121-14 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

The average person is subjected to a staggering number of arguments on a daily basis. Marketing firms estimate that those claims number in the thousands or even tens of thousands. Yet, many of those claims are built upon unstable or deceitful foundations. In some cases, data are unreliable or invalid. In other cases, valid data are unintentionally misinterpreted or misunderstood. And finally, some arguments are intentionally designed to misrepresent data in order to deceive; colloquially, we can call those arguments bullshit.This course will present an argumentative model to the claims we encounter. Students in the course will examine arguments from sports, politics, health, and economics among other subjects in learning both how to construct better quantitative arguments and to identify bullshit when they come across it.

Was the second sentence of this course description bullshit? That’s the type of claim we’ll examine in this course.