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Math in the News: Elephants are Smarter than your Babies

I missed the memo on this one, but apparently worms aren’t the only animals capable of doing math. A recent experiment coming out of the University of Tokyo suggests that Asian elephants have an unexpected aptitude for arithmetic. While many animals have a rudimentary counting ability, and are able to distinguish between sets with only a few elements, it seems that elephants are able to take things a step further, and can consistently differentiate between larger numbers such as 5 and 6.

Is this difference significant? Within the animal kingdom, it would seem so. Here’s how it breaks down, courtesy of this article: A theory held by some is that humans and other animals share a basic neural system called an “accumulator” that can clearly distinguish numbers of objects less than three or four but that cannot reliably discriminate between bigger numbers. This accumulator is active in animals and, perhaps, . . . → Read More: Math in the News: Elephants are Smarter than your Babies

Math in the News: Are Mathematicians the Reason Why You’re Broke?

As you may have heard, the economy is in a bit of trouble. People continue to debate the root cause of the current crisis: some blame so-called predatory lenders for pushing mortgages on people who couldn’t afford them, some blame the borrowers themselves for recklessly taking on loans to try and live beyond their means. And of course, as with any problem, there are those who try to shift the blame to mathematicians.

Why mathematicians? Proponents of this theory assert that our current financial collapse is the fault of the math whiz kids hired to work on Wall Street or manage hedge funds. It is no secret that investment banks have been hiring bright mathematical minds for years, then squeezing that brainpower into models for trading.

The use of mathematics in this case isn’t the problem (indeed, when could using mathematics ever be a problem?). The problem, the critics cry, . . . → Read More: Math in the News: Are Mathematicians the Reason Why You’re Broke?

Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3

As promised, in this thrilling final installment to the relationship between math and voting (the first two parts can be found here and here), we will look at what many people see as the holy grail of voting systems: Range voting.

The concept of range voting is simple. Given a set of candidates, in a range voting system you simply put a score next to each name that reflects how strongly you support that candidate. Of course, this is quite different from our current voting system, where we only get to vote for one candidate, but more importantly, it differs significantly from other voting systems where you are just asked to rank candidates in order of preference, because a ranking gives no information about the degree to which your support varies from candidate to candidate.

For example, if Anna, Bob, and Charlie are all running for President, you and I . . . → Read More: Math Gets Around: Politics, Part 3