Readers of The Aperiodical may recall three excellent posts on the Maths of Star Trek by Jim ‘But Not As We Know It’ Grime. At the same time, Jim discussed the topic in glorious audio with Andy Holding and Will Thompson, hosts of the Science of Fiction podcast (worth listening to, but at least visit the page to see a picture of Jim nursing a tribble). As part of this, the hosts asked Jim what uniform colour mathematicians on the Enterprise would wear.
JIM: Science and medics, those are the blue shirts.
HOST: Where do mathematicians go? Scientists?
JIM: That’s right, yes, science.
HOST: You’re safe?
JIM: Yes, I am, I’m in the blue shirt category.
Jim is pleased to say that mathematicians wear blue because, as he explains, gold and red uniformed crew were much more likely to be killed during the famous five-year mission than those in blue. I’ve written in the past about maths and mathematicians being everywhere, for example when asserting that most of the Nobel prizes are for mathematics. Was Jim right about those blue-shirted mathematicians?
Jim apparently said blue because blue is the colour worn by scientists (and medics). Gold uniforms are worn by command crew, which included command officers, pilots and some others. Finally, red, the famous uniform colour that spawned an archetype, is worn by operations, which includes engineers, security and tactical, communications and others. Somehow, I doubt the Enterprise carries many pure mathematicians or, say, mathematical artists, so I think we’re at the dirty end of the spectrum here: applications. Let’s consider the three divisions.
- Operations: Are mathematicians currently employed in engineering? Of course mathematicians are employed in engineering! How about communications? Certainly this is a very mathematical topic; for example Brigadier Edward (Ted) M. Flint, former head of the Royal Corps of Signals, studied mathematics and engineering at university. Security and tactical is harder to pin down. Certainly, we use mathematics and mathematicians in crime-fighting, defence and tactics.
- Command: in the Royal Navy, it seems shiphandling, seamanship and bridge watchkeeping comes under the Warfare division. According to a case study of a ‘Lieutenant Ben‘, to be eligible requires a first degree in “an engineering, maths or physics-based subject”. In civilian life, mathematicians certainly make good managers.
- Science and medicine: Of course, mathematicians certainly work across science and in medicine, at least in medicical physics and medical statistics.
So it is not clear to me that a mathematician working on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise would necessarily be given a blue uniform. As mathematicians do everything, so might they also wear every colour. Ah, and have every chance of being the ill-fated ‘red shirt’.
Now, I’m off to find a podcast called ‘The Pedantry of Science of Fiction Podcasts’, on which I can explain my findings.