Science & the Public
As a physics reporter and lover of mathematics, I won’t be celebrating Pi Day this year. That’s because pi is wrong.
I don’t mean that the value is incorrect. Pi, known by the symbol π, is the number you get when you divide a circle’s circumference by its diameter: 3.14159… and so on without end. But, as some mathematicians have argued, the mathematical constant was poorly chosen, and...
There’s a new largest known prime number in town, with a whopping 23,249,425 digits. The figure is calculated by multiplying 2 by itself 77,232,917 times and then subtracting 1. Announced on January 3, the number is almost a million digits longer than the last record-breaking prime.
A prime number can’t be divided by anything other than 1 and itself. If you started counting at 1, you’d...
Reviews & Previews
Many books about science are meant to be pleasure reading. Such books attempt to convey the wonder and fascination and excitement of science, and ideally some of the substance as well. After all, good popular science writing is not only engaging and entertaining, but also informative. But even very informative popular books are not designed to be fully educational about the science in...
In the Twitterverse, science can stir up some vigorous debates. And they’re not all about the standard issues of climate change, vaccines and evolution. Some dueling tweets involve the scientific enterprise itself.
For instance, one recent tweet proclaimed “Science isn’t ‘self-correcting.’ Science is broken,” linking to a commentary about the well-documented problem that many scientific...
Hollywood space flicks typically feature one type of hero: astronauts who defy the odds to soar into space and back again. But now a group of behind-the-scenes heroes from the early days of the U.S. space program are getting their due. Black female mathematicians performed essential calculations to safely send astronauts to and from Earth’s surface — in defiance of flagrant...
When Christian Agrillo runs number-related experiments in his lab, he wishes his undergraduate subjects good luck. For certain tests, that’s about all he says. Giving instructions to the people would be unfair to the fish.
Agrillo, of the University of Padua in Italy, is finishing up several years of pitting humans against fish in trials of their abilities to compare quantities. He can’t...
If scientists had sacred objects, this would be one of them: a single, closely guarded 137-year-old cylinder of metal, housed in a vault outside of Paris. It is a prototype that precisely defines a kilogram of mass everywhere in the universe.
A kilogram of ground beef at the grocery store has the same mass as this one special hunk of metal, an alloy of platinum and iridium. A 60-kilogram...
Shayan Oveis Gharan, 30Theoretical computer scientistUniversity of Washington09/21/2016 - 11:04 Computing, Numbers
It’s a problem that sounds simple, but the best minds in mathematics have puzzled over it for generations: A salesman wants to hawk his wares in several cities and return home when he’s done. If he’s only visiting a handful of places, it’s easy for him to schedule his visits to create the shortest round-...
As the saying goes, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” The website Metaculus.com aims to make this challenging task easier by harnessing collective wisdom.
Metaculus solicits answers to questions about the future — on topics spanning science, politics and economics — and combines these predictions to infer the likely outcomes. Will 2016 be the hottest year...
The Rev. Thomas Bayes was, as the honorific the Rev. suggests, a clergyman. Too bad he wasn’t a lawyer. Maybe if he had been, lawyers today wouldn't be so reluctant to enlist his mathematical insights in the pursuit of justice.
In many sorts of court cases, from whether talcum powder causes ovarian cancer to The People v. O.J. Simpson, statistics play (or ought to play) a vital role in...