Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

With April on its way out, it behooves me to take a moment and mention the focus of this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month. April has been bestowed with this glorious title every year since 1986 – last year the topic was Mathematics and Voting, which I discussed at some length in three earlier posts (see here, here, and here).

This year’s focus is on Mathematics and Climate. On the homepage you can find links to a variety of articles, most of which focus on the difficulty in coming up with mathematical models that can accurately reflect the complexity of the interconnected world in which we live. This is perhaps best summarized by Professor Pat Kenschaft, who writes the following in her essay, “Climate Change: A Research Opportunity for Mathematics?”:

How do we analyze the dynamics of the atmosphere, the oceans, the solid earth (especially volcanic emissions) and the biosphere . . . → Read More: Mathematics Awareness Month 2009

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How Low Can We Go?

I’m not sure, but this seems like a good candidate for a new bar. According to a recent study out of the University of Washington, as many as half of the population may fail to understand simple probability statements, in the context of weather forecasts.

Here’s the summary:

If, for example, a forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of rain, many people think it means that it will rain over 20 percent of the area covered by the forecast. Others think it will rain for 20 percent of the time, said Susan Joslyn, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington who conducted the study.

Coming out of Washington, one would think that the participants would have a better than average understanding of rain forecasts, but now I certainly hope that’s not the case.

That’s American math education for you. Maybe everyone should just move to LA – . . . → Read More: How Low Can We Go?

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Ballpark Mathematics

Like the dawn of a new day, the start of the baseball season carries with it tremendous promise. These first few weeks provide a reprieve from the breakneck pace of March Madness, where every team is burdened with the knowledge that one loss is all it takes to prevent it from total victory. Instead, the major leagues are a product of the season in which they begin, and just as the warming weather invites us to spend weekend afternoons on grassy knolls looking for shapes in the clouds, so too do the opening games of the baseball season encourage us to let our hair down and reacquaint ourselves with this traditional American pastime.

The American Dream personified?

However, eventually Spring must give way to Summer, and Summer must give way to Fall. As the days grow shorter, so does the window of opportunity for a team to make it into . . . → Read More: Ballpark Mathematics

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Numb3rs in Real Life

For those who don’t believe we can actually use math to fight crime, the story of Harry Markopolos, the man who blew the whistle on Bernie Madoff, shows that a dream of using math to catch criminals need not be untenable. In a recent interview for 60 Minutes, Mr. Markopolos describes how he harnessed the power of mathematics to discover that whatever Mr. Madoff was doing, it had to be illegal.

Bernie’s luck was bound to run out sooner or later, as he must’ve known. His seeming success was really nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme – in other words, he was able to pay his investors amazing returns by taking money from new investors, rather than by creating new wealth. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that such a plan is unsustainable, since the more successful your scheme becomes, the more new investors you require in . . . → Read More: Numb3rs in Real Life

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Numerology Goes on Holiday (Again)

I made my reservations fairly clear regarding the double dose of math holidays last month. Despite my objections, I remained confident that the headlines they gathered would quickly fade away, and I wouldn’t have to worry about these faux math headlines for the next 12 months. In this way, I was able to sleep peacefully at night.

Unfortunately, it seems there are those who wish to disturb my slumber.

Dan Vergano over at USA Today recently wrote a brief article which highlighted the fact that this year there are a whopping 2 “square days,” one of which is today, 4/01/2009. The day is called a square day because if you read the date as a number, the number turns out to be square. In this case, 4,012,009 = 2003 * 2003.

The article attempts to be relevant by making a tenuous link between this sort of mathematical wizardry and the . . . → Read More: Numerology Goes on Holiday (Again)

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