My Favorite Mistake — 169: MIT Professor Arnold (Arnie) Barnett’s “Obnoxious” Media Mistake Got Him A Lot of Attention

Episode page with video, transcript, and more

My guest for Episode #169 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Arnold (Arnie) Barnett. He is theGeorge Eastman Professor of Management Scienceand a Professor of Statistics at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Barnett holds a BA in mathematics from Columbia College and a PhD in mathematics from MIT.His research specialty is applied mathematical modeling with a focus on problems of health and safety.

Cited as “the nation’s leading expert on aviation safety,” Barnett was recognized with the 2002 President’s Citation from the Flight Safety Foundation for “truly outstanding contributions on behalf of safety.” MIT Sloan students have honored him on 14 occasions for outstanding teaching.

In this episode, Arnie shares his “favorite mistake” story about blurting out something to a New York Times reporter who called to get his comment about a US Airways crash that had occurred earlier in the day. Even though he regrets saying what he did, it gave him a reputation for being “willing to talk straight” which led a torrent of requests to speak and to be interviewed in venues ranging from radio programs to NBC’s Today Show.

We also talk about questions and topics including:

  • 1994 US Air had a number of crashes – a “temporary spasm of bad luck”?
  • The NY Times article he was quoted in — the “mistake”
  • The word “amazing”: “causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing”
  • Lesson about talking with the press?
  • Are we bad at estimating probabilities in general?
  • Bad at estimating the risk of driving vs. flying?
  • You wrote an opinion piece in late March 2022 titled “Don’t end the mask mandate for US airlines
  • “ending the requirement now would be a serious mistake.” —> why did you say that then and do you still say that now?
  • I saw you give a talk about this — is the Electoral College a mistake? Is it a mistake that can be fixed?
  • A simple fix for gerrymandering?
  • “MIT now has a reputation of being very much woke”
  • Tell us about the Leaders for Global Operations program… you are a popular internship and thesis advisor. Why do you like working with LGO students?

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