Here’s the latest (well, almost) news of mathematical and maths-related things that happened in December.
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As part of our series of ‘Follow Friday’ posts in which we suggest mathematical Twitter accounts you might like to follow, here’s a special International Women’s Day edition with some of our favourite mathematical women and related accounts. If you’d like the conversation in your feed to be less dominated by the Sausage Theorem, maybe consider adding a few to your lists. Put your own suggestions in the comments too!
There’s been a lot of maths news this month, but we’ve all been too busy to keep up with it. So, in case you missed anything, here’s a summary of the biggest stories this month. We’ve got two new facts about primes, the best way of packing spheres in lots of dimensions, and the ongoing debate about the place of maths in society, as well as the place of society in maths.
A surprisingly simple pattern in the primes
Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver have noticed that the last digits of adjacent prime numbers aren’t uniformly distributed – if one prime ends in a 1, for example, the next prime number is less likely to end in a 1 than another odd digit. Top maths journos Evelyn Lamb and Erica Klarreich have both written very accessible pieces about this, in the Nature blog and Quanta magazine, respectively.
Oliver and Soundararajan’s paper on the discovery is titled “Unexpected biases in the distribution of consecutive primes”.
An Australian sanitary pad company has hit upon a witty tagline for their product:
Literally thousands of people have signed a petition to tell Libra that that’s not OK.
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.