A conversation about mathematics inspired by an area the size of Wales. Presented by Katie Steckles and Peter Rowlett.

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A conversation about mathematics inspired by an area the size of Wales. Presented by Katie Steckles and Peter Rowlett.

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Subscribe: RSS | List of episodes

Not much going on in the world of maths this month (or, we’re on holiday so we haven’t been paying attention), but here’s a round-up of a few stories we saw this month.

The next **Black Heroes of Mathematics Conference** is scheduled for the 4th and 5th October, taking place online and featuring speakers including statistician Sophie Dabo-Niang (University of Lille), actuarial/finance lecturer Tolulope Fadina (University of Essex), Tosin Babasola (University of Bath), mathematician and former NFL player John Urschel (Harvard), Mathematically Uncensored podcast host Aris Winger (Georgia Gwinnett College), engineer Ejay Nsugbe (Nsugbe Research Labs), Nandi Leslie (Raytheon Technologies) and Franck Kalala Mutombo (University of Lubumbashi). The event is a joint initiative between The British Society for the History of Mathematics, the International Centre for Mathematical Sciences, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Isaac Newton Institute, the London Mathematical Society, and the Mathematical Association.

Later this month the **9th Heidelberg Laureate Forum** will take place in Germany, bringing together laureates of the Abel Prize, Fields Medal and other prestigious maths and computer science awards. The event also invites hundreds of promising PhD students in maths and computer science to network and watch lectures by the laureates. Much of the conference will be livestreamed online, and there’ll be Twitter and blog coverage of the event (including some posts by me, and others by Chalkdust team member/friend of the site Sophie Maclean).

The Open University has put together a **mathematical art exhibition and workshop inspired by aperiodic tilings**, in honour of Uwe Grimm, and it’s now possible to view the Aperiodic tilings exhibition online, including stills of the pieces and a video walk around the exhibition.

And finally: our own Peter has noticed an interesting trend of **positive coverage of maths in the media**, and has collected some examples in this Twitter thread, including a Guardian piece about someone who discovered a love of maths later in life having struggled at school, a BBC Radio 4 episode of biography show ‘Great Lives’ on Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw. Add your own examples to the thread!

Yesterday the Royal Statistical Society/Nuffield Foundation collaboration getstats celebrated its second birthday.

Those of us with long enough memories might recall that getstats, a 10-year statistical literacy campaign, was launched with great fanfare at 8:10pm on World Statistics Day, 20th October 2010 (20:10 20.10.2010). Then-President David Hand was quoted at the time saying

Numbers are everywhere in our lives, and statistics is about turning these numbers into useful information on which we can take action. People need to appreciate the power of statistics as it can be the key to the important choices we make in our lives.

A post on the website of the getstats campaign offers a dozen tips for journalists, who “increasingly have to have at least minimal competence in understanding stats and data, if they are going to do a creditable job”.

From a warning to think about the motivation of whoever “cooked up” the number in a press release, to putting figures in context to add to their impact, the list is aimed at the basic skill set that getstats thinks are “the basis for a journalistic career in the 21st century”. Your views on the items in the list are invited via the webpage.

getstats: What Journalists Need to Know(31 January 2012).

In Math/Maths 78: Researchers and the Media Special we spoke to Nathan Green, a researcher who had done a Media Fellowship with the British Science Association. These

aim to bridge the communication gap between scientists and journalists and give space for a dialogue between the two. They reflect the British Science Association’s commitment to increasing the accessibility of the sciences and providing opportunities for discussion and debate. The Media Fellowships aim to give scientists and their colleagues, the confidence and willingness to engage with the media and tackle issues of mistrust and misrepresentation and to give journalists access to new scientific expertise.

The Media Fellowship scheme is the only one of it’s kind in the UK.

If this sounds interesting, you’ll be pleased to hear the call for 2012 BSA Media Fellows is now open. These are for fellowships lasting between 3-7 weeks during July to September 2012. Applications close at midnight on 11 March 2012. You can read lots about the scheme, tips on applying and apply online via the BSA website.

Later this year I am to give a session at a teachers conference on using maths in the news for enriching school maths lessons.

In my session, I intend to go over some recent maths news. I would also like to give some real examples of teachers having used some news in class.

Samuel Hansen and I keep track of mathematics news and mathematics in the news for our podcast. I am aware that people have written in from time to time to say they have used some bit or another in class but I haven’t recorded these instances.

My plea, then, is this: Whether from the podcast or not, please could you send me your examples of how you’ve used current events in mathematics class for enrichment? I’d like to know what the news story was, what you did and how it worked.

You can leave a message in the comments of this post or send me a message various ways that are listed on the contact page of my website.

Thank you!

My two most recent posts here have been about a story reporting a coincidence as more exceptional that it is and ‘bad maths’ reported in the media. Both are examples of mathematical stories being reported in a way that is not desirable. Somehow, though, I like the whist story and dislike the PR equations. I have been thinking about why this might be the case.

The PR-driven, media-friendly but meaningless equations from the first article are annoying because they present an incorrect view of mathematics and how mathematics can be applied to the real world. Applications of mathematics are everywhere and compelling, yet the equations in these sorts of equations seem to present little more than vague algebra. The commissioned research with seemingly trivial aims I find more difficult because, as commenters on that article pointed out, it is really difficult to decide what is trivial. Still, reporting that a biscuit company has commissioned research into biscuit dunking is either meaningless PR or else a matter of internal interest, and certainly nothing like what I expect mathematicians do for a living.

Coming back to our Warwickshire whist drive: what do I like about this story? It too presents incorrect information about mathematics and the real world, claiming that the event, four perfect hands of cards dealt, is so unlikely that it is only likely to happen once in human history (and it happened in *this* village hall!).

I think the difference is that the mathematics used, combinatorics and probability, appear to be correctly applied. The odds quoted, 2,235,197,406,895,366,368,301,559,999 to 1, are widely reported and I see no reason to doubt them.

The problem, then, is one of modelling assumptions. Applying a piece of mathematics to the real world involves describing the scenario, or a simplified version of it, in mathematics, solving that mathematical model and translating the solution back to the real world scenario. In this case, the description of the scenario in mathematics assumes that the cards are randomly distributed in the pack. This modelling assumption, rather than the mathematics, is where the error lies.

The result is still a bad maths news story, presenting a mathematical story as something other than what it is, but while the PR formulae are of little consequence, this incorrect application of a correct combinatorial analysis is something we can learn from.