This is rather far off-topic, but since it has national security implications, and since it’s outrageous, I’m sure readers will want to heed the lessons in this story before you board your next airplane.
The Washington Post and others appear to be reporting that “See Something, Say Something” applies to differential equations. The net result was that the innumerate woman was allowed off the plane to take a safer flight, the plane was delayed several hours, and an award-winning Ivy League economist got some expansion room next to him.
Excerpts from Catherine Rampell’s Rampage column on economics, policy, and culture at the Washington Post:
That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.
Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
They might even have discovered that last year he was awarded the prestigious Carlo Alberto Medal, given to the best Italian economist under 40. That’s right: He’s Italian, not Middle Eastern, or whatever heritage usually gets ethnically profiled on flights these days.
What was he working on? Differential equations, in preparation for a talk at an economic conference in Canada. He was probably using Arabic numerals too.
I assume he made it into Canada. No word on what awaits him when returning to the USA.
The next time I have a math puzzle to work on during a flight, I’m going to do it in Roman numerals.