You're reading: News

Why maths, Dara O’Briain?

Dara O’Briain has written a piece for the Telegraph’s numeracy campaign. Dara, as he explains, has “a deep passion for maths and physics”, having studied mathematical physics at University College, Dublin prior to starting his career in comedy.

Dara writes about maths and “cool”.

I’m often asked to speak about science, in the vain hope that the perceived “cool” of entertainment will somehow rub off onto the science and make it more alluring. Nothing like a heavy, bald 40-year-old to make something “cool”.
Listen. Maths is never going to be “cool”, other than to the sizeable rump of destined-to-love-it-no-matter-how-it’s-presented kids who are like I was at 15.

He argues that maths should be compulsory in schools, like PE, because it is good for pupils, giving both pragmatic – “exercise for the brain” – arguments and philosophical ones. The latter is likely to more attractive here:

Maths is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. It is the common language of science; it has allowed us to drag ourselves from ignorance by creating communal knowledge, which in turn enables us to master our world and to understand our universe. Maths teaches us to spot patterns, to predict behaviour and the steps of an argument. Maths is, above all, a way of approaching problems – stripping things down, extracting the relevant information, and then solving them.

Improving numeracy, Dara says, is more than just enabling people “to be faster at calculating the cost of the weekly shop”, citing the use of statistics in “a world of claim and counterclaim”.

Maths reform campaign: Sum up: you’ll hang on to your knighthood.

Shaping capabilities, but not maths yet

EPSRC has announced the next set of decisions under its controversial “Shaping capabilities” programme. Under this, according to a story in Times Higher Education, the Research Council:

has divided its portfolio into 111 subject areas and is mulling over whether to increase, maintain or reduce funding for each of them according to their research excellence and existing capacity, as well as their national importance.

The first round of decisions provoked controversy last July when “EPSRC decided that it would not accept applications for research fellowships in any area of the mathematical sciences except statistics and applied probability, until further notice”.

Now, according to Times Higher Education, the second set of decisions are confined to energy, ICT and engineering. Most areas will be maintained, but seven will grow. The only reductions are in biological informatics, and in hydrogen and alternative energy.

EPSRC has deferred until the end of March more decisions on which areas of mathematics and physical sciences will grow or shrink.

Times Higher Education: EPSRC rolls out 31 shapes but puts off decisions on the difficult subjects.

IBM boasts it is “world’s largest employer of PhD mathematicians”

Steve Mills, senior vice president at IBM recently boasted the company was the world’s largest employer of PhD mathematicians. It is not certain whether this is true but interesting to see them making the boast.

According to a story at, Mills said:

if IBM can do analytics for a power grid, it can also do them for a water supply company and transportation system. They all intersect, he said, “We build a knowledge base one on top another.” IBM is investing in areas such as astrophysics, weather forecasting and genomics “because of the intersections and overlaps with our core business,” Mills said.
“In many cases it is the same maths, it’s not like someone has invented new fields of mathematics,” he said.

Source: IBM claims most PhD mathematicians in its employ.

Math/Maths 86: Complex Pony Tails

A new episode of the Math/Maths Podcast has been released.

A conversation about mathematics between the UK and USA from This week Samuel and Peter spoke about: The Recent Difficulties with RSA; Do we need a maths museum?; Brian Schmidt’s Mathematical Arguement; IBM claims most PhD mathematicians in its employ; Maths grads teaching alert; John Nash’s Letters to the NSA; The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash; Rapunzel’s Number: Science behind ponytail revealed; EPSRC Shaping Capabilities; Maths Jam; & more.

Get this episode: “Math/Maths 86: Complex Pony Tails

The True Importance of Friends

A new post is available over at Second-Rate Minds by Samuel Hansen.

Why your friends have more friends than you do. That is the rather provocative title of a 1991 paper by Purdue University sociologist Scott Feld. While the title is rather provocative, thankfully it turns out that the statement is built on a solid foundation. It turns out that your friends having …

Read the full post: “The True Importance of Friends

Ian Stewart on Black-Scholes

Ian Stewart gives us a taste of his new book Seventeen Equations That Changed the World in a Guardian article about the Black-Scholes equation. This, he says:

provided a rational way to price a financial contract when it still had time to run… It opened up a new world of ever more complex investments, blossoming into a gigantic global industry. But when the sub-prime mortgage market turned sour, the darling of the financial markets became the Black Hole equation, sucking money out of the universe in an unending stream.

So what went wrong? Stewart explains that “the equation itself wasn’t the real problem”, going into some detail about how the equation was derived, how it works and what assumptions are included. He concludes:

Was an equation to blame for the financial crash, then? Yes and no. Black-Scholes may have contributed to the crash, but only because it was abused. In any case, the equation was just one ingredient in a rich stew of financial irresponsibility, political ineptitude, perverse incentives and lax regulation.

Ultimately, Stewart argues, “the financial sector performs no better than random guesswork”, with the system “too complex to be run on error-strewn hunches and gut feelings, but current mathematical models don’t represent reality adequately”, a situation that requires “requires more mathematics, not less”.

Guardian: The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash.