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Ten years and eight days

On 31st January 2008, I gave my first lecture. I was passing my PhD supervisor in the corridor and he said “there might be some teaching going if you fancy it, go and talk to Mike”. And that, as innocuous as it sounds, was the spark that lit the flame. I strongly disliked public speaking, having hardly done it (not having had much chance to practice in my education to date – I may have only given one talk in front of people to that point, as part of the assessment of my MSc dissertation), but I recognised that this was something I needed to get over. I had just started working for the IMA, where my job was to travel the country giving talks to undergraduate audiences, and I realised that signing up to a regular lecture slot would get me some much-needed experience. I enjoyed teaching so much that I have pursued it since.

I just noticed that last Wednesday was ten years since that lecture. It was basic maths for forensic science students. I was given a booklet of notes and told to either use it or write my own (I used it), had a short chat about how the module might work with another lecturer, and there I was in front of the students. That was spring in the academic year 2007/8 and this is the 21st teaching semester since then. This one is the 15th semester during which I have taught — the last 12 in a row, during which I got a full-time contract and ended ten years of part-time working.

I have this awful feeling this might lead people to imagine I’m one of the people who knows what they are doing.

P.S. The other thing that I started when I started working for the IMA was blogging – yesterday marks ten years since my first post. So this post represents the start of my second ten years of blogging.

Particularly mathematical New Years Honours 2018

When the UK Government announces a new list of honours, we (let’s be honest – sometimes) write up a list of those particularly mathematical entries. Here is the selection for the 2018 New Years Honours list.

  • Howard Groves, Member, Senior Mathematical Challenge Problems Group and Member, UK Mathematics Trust Challenges Sub Trust. OBE, for services to Education.
  • Christl Donnelly FRS, Professor of Statistical Epidemiology, Imperial College London. CBE, for services to Epidemiology and the Control of Infectious Diseases.
  • Ben Goldacre, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford and author of Bad Science. MBE, for services to Evidence in Policy.
  • Andrew Morris, Professor of Medicine, Director of the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, and Vice-Principal Data Science, University of Edinburgh. CBE, for services to Science in Scotland.
  • Stephen Sparks, lately Professorial Research Fellow, University of Bristol and former chair of ACME. Knighthood, for services to Volcanology and Geology. (Via The Mathematical Association.)
  • Bernard Silverman, lately Chief Scientific Adviser, Home Office and former President of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). Knighthood, for public service and services to Science. (Via Hetan Shah.)
  • John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde and Senior Research Fellow, NatCen Social Research, and Honorary Fellow, RSS. Knighthood, for services to the Social Sciences and Politics. (Via Hetan Shah.)
  • Diane Coyle, Professor of Economics, University of Manchester. CBE, for services to Economics and the Public Understanding of Economics. (Via Hetan Shah.)

Get the full list here. If you spot any others we should mention, please let us know in the comments.

The competition I entered into the first MathsJam Competition Competition

A couple of weekends ago was the big MathsJam gathering (I might call it a recreational maths conference, but this is discouraged). Two of the delightful sideshows, alongside an excellent series of talks, were the competitions. The Baking Competition is fairly straightforward, with prizes for “best flavour, best presentation, and best maths”:

The first will reward a well-made, delicious item; the second will reward the item which has been decorated the most beautifully and looks most like what it’s supposed to be; and the third will reward the most ingenious mathematical theming.

You can view the entries from this year on the MathsJam website.

Progress on billiard table problem

Quanta Magazine reports progress on what its headline calls the “Infinite Pool-Table Problem”. The problem is explained in the article as follows:

Strike a billiard ball on a frictionless table with no pockets so that it never stops bouncing off the table walls. If you returned years later, what would you find? Would the ball have settled into some repeating orbit, like a planet circling the sun, or would it be continually tracing new paths in a ceaseless exploration of its felt-covered plane?

The article describes progress on the problem via study of ‘optimal’ billiard tables, “shapes whose particular angles make it possible to understand every billiard path that could occur within them”.

More information

New Shapes Solve Infinite Pool-Table Problem, Quanta Magazine.

via @ColintheMathmo on Twitter.

London Mathematical Society launches Mathematical Sciences Directory

LMS MSDirectory entry

The London Mathematical Society yesterday launched its Mathematical Sciences Directory (LMS MSDirectory), a directory of mathematical scientists in the UK. Entries include some personal information, academic networks and social media, current employment and information on education/qualifications. Yes, it’s yet another place to list all this information.

The LMS website suggests a set of benefits for being on the list, including networking with others in UK mathematical sciences and the opportunity to contribute data anonymously to projects such as the Mathematical Sciences People Pipeline, which are used “to make representation to national policy-makers regarding the mathematical sciences”.

Those eligible to be listed include people with a maths degree from a UK institution, those currently working in mathematical sciences in the UK with or without a maths degree, and current students. You don’t have to be an LMS member to be on the list. The FAQ suggests the list was initially populated with data from “over 5,000 mathematicians” (though some may have opted-out before launch – they first emailed me in March asking me to check my data or opt-out) and people can opt to join.

More information

Further details and information on how to join the list from the LMS.

News of some significance

You may have heard of the replicability crisis in science, and practices like outcome switching and p-hacking. BuzzFeed reports on a paper that proposes a solution: rather than assign statistical significance at $p=0.05$, change this value to $0.005$.

Sir David Spiegelhalter is quoted saying: “Dealing with the size of the p-value fixes some things. But it’s not dealing with the most important issues.” There’s a lot more in the BuzzFeed article and the full paper.

More information

PsyArXiv preprint: Redefine statistical significance.

BuzzFeed: These People Are Trying To Fix A Huge Problem In Science.