This isn’t new, but it just came to my attention and it’s fun: US Representative Jerry McNerney, an engineer by trade, got so excited by the recent twin prime conjecture advances that he just *had* to tell the rest of the House about it.

[youtube url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh6GCY9i6tY]

I don’t know how the American parliament works – did a constituent ask Rep McNerney to talk about this, or do politicians regularly just talk about their interests?

Members of the US House of Representatives can give one-minute speeches on any topic of interest. I think that the purpose of Rep. McNerney’s speech was to recognize the achievements of Dr. Zhang and other mathematicians, and to encourage the other members to support mathematical research. It is worth noting that Rep. McNerney has a Ph.D. in mathematics.

It’s true that McNerney has worked as an engineer, but he also has a Ph.D. in math. Last I checked, he was the only math Ph.D. in Congress.

If you look at the Congressional Record, you’ll see that McNerney’s bit on twin primes came directly after a speech about “The Train Wreck of Obamacare.” There are times where legislators talk about things that aren’t at all relevant to Congress’s work, but this doesn’t seem to have come during that time. Keep in mind that Congress funds the NSF, though, so McNerney is probably making the case for funding research by informing his colleagues of a breakthrough that have happened.

A constituent didn’t ask him to talk about it, apparently he does this (give a 1-minute prepared speech about some interesting mathematical topic) regularly. I don’t think members of the House regularly just talk about their interests, but apparently they are allowed to talk about whatever they want. I think his point is that if mathematics is important—there is certainly lots of political rhetoric about math & science in education—then politicians ought to have a personal appreciation for it as well.

Here’s a little article from the MAA Focus magazine, via McNerney’s website. It also has the text of two of his little speeches. http://mcnerney.house.gov/media-center/in-the-news/math-by-the-minute-on-capitol-hill (You can also see it on the Focus website, but it’s kind of difficult to navigate. http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/publication/?i=212119)

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about how Congress works, and this “talk for a minute about any old thing” concept is one of them. Not that I object to it, it’s just weird to me.

Katherine Merow, the author of the MAA Focus piece, has just emailed me to tell me about that! The link she gave goes directly to the right page: http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/publication/?i=212119&p=4

Considered stoking his excitement further with update on the possible status of the ‘conjecture’, but it seems you can email him through his website only if you are a resident of his constituency! Any takers?