# You're reading: Posts Tagged: Unhelpful Headlines

### An answer to what Shouryya Ray’s ‘unsolved Newton problem’ was

You may remember a story, widely reported, that 16 year old student Shouryya Ray from Dresden had solved “puzzles posed by Sir Isaac Newton that have baffled mathematicians for 350 years“. You may have read our write up of this, which concluded that

it is likely that some piece of impressive work has been completed and Shouryya Ray is to be commended. However, pending further information on the work, we are now fairly convinced that this is being overblown by the press reports.

You may also remember that some reports had Ray coming across the problems “during a school trip to Dresden University where professors claimed they were uncrackable”. Now an open letter has appeared on the webpages of the Technische Universität Dresden signed by Prof. Dr. Ralph Chill and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Voigt, which offers some answers.

### Out-of-work economists will probably not turn to bank robbery

Three economists decided to examine bank robbery as an economic activity. They were given access to data from the British Bankers’ Association on the amounts stolen during robberies, pretended to be statisticians for a bit, and came up with some interesting results. They’ve written up their findings in a feature article in the June edition of Significance.

Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

### Has schoolboy genius solved problems that baffled mathematicians for centuries?

The Daily Mail reports that a “schoolboy ‘genius’” has solved “puzzles” “posed by” Issac Newton that have “baffled mathematicians for 350 years”. There are many nonsense warning signs but also hints that something interesting is going on.

### Modified packing problem might save lives

Unhelpful framing news, now. A University of Michigan of press release begins:

A hidden facet of a math problem that goes back to timeworn Sanskrit manuscripts has just been exposed by nanotechnology researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut.

### Press release mayhem

On Google+ (sadly in a post with limited visibility, so I can’t link directly to it), Rongmin Lu (via David Roberts) highlights a case of “american whispers”, where a piece of research is helped along by press releases and media paraphrasing to become a completely different result.

Here’s how American whispers works:

1. You publish a paper, say on a new approximation to the discrete Fourier transform. To show the relevance of your work, you then say something like your new algorithm “improve[s] over the Fast Fourier Transform”.

2. Next, your institution’s press office issues a press release. To make it sound fun, they come up with a snazzy title “Faster-than-fast Fourier transform”. Pretty neat, huh?

3. Finally, some news website picks it up and then, suddenly, it’s all about “a new way of calculating Fast Fourier Transforms”. Ta-da!

I think you’d all agree that it’s way better than Chinese whispers.

Sergey Ten commented, saying that the press release in question wasn’t too bad, and mentions the idea that “random” data from real-world measurements is usually spread around a manifold of lower dimension than the sample space, which I think is the idea behind the paper Barcodes: the persistent topology of data, which I linked to in my last Interesting Esoterica summation.

On a similar note, Nalini Joshi points out that it isn’t news when centuries-old maths is used to solve a new problem: http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-03-combining-centuries-old-mathematical-theorems-efficient.html

Update: Rongmin’s original post is hidden to the public, so I’ve pasted it in here. I hope the limited visibility was a side-effect of the way Google+ works and not a deliberate decision to restrict the post’s audience.

### Laziest torus identified

Or, in similarly simplified headlinese, “Math finds the best doughnut”. A little bit more precisely, Fernando C. Marques and André Neves claim in a preprint on the arXiv to have proved the Willmore conjecture, that the minimum achievable mean curvature of a torus is $\frac{2}{\pi^2}$.

The article I linked to is some surprisingly non-stupid coverage from the Huffington Post. It seems they have a maths professor writing a column. I will never understand that site. I don’t know if there’s a Serious Business way of framing this, but the result is nice to know.

Richard Elwes has written a very short post on Google+ with some more real-maths information about what’s going on.

### Bacteria may “play” Prisoner’s Dilemma

The American Chemical Society (ACS) are reporting research presented at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS about game theory in bacteria. The research investigated chemical signals exchanged between cells, which the press release calls “chat”. The press release reports that:

Faced with drought, radiation, over-crowding or other harsh environmental conditions, B. subtilis engages in quorum sensing, with individual microbes releasing chemical compounds that enable it to check out how their neighbors are responding to the unfavorable environment. Members of a colony of B. subtilis may decide to respond to the stressful environment in one of two ways.