Head hits cause brain damage, but not always. Should we ban sport to protect athletes? Exposure to electromagnetic fields is strongly associated with cancer development. Should we ban mobile phones and encourage old-fashioned wired communication? The sciences are getting more and more specialized and it is difficult to judge whether, say, we should trust homeopathy, fund a mission to Mars, or install solar panels on our roofs.
One of the central tasks when reading a mystery novel (or sitting on a jury, etc.) is figuring out which of the characters are trustworthy. Someone guilty will of course say they aren’t guilty, just like the innocent – the real question in these situations is whether we believe them. The guilty party – let’s call her Annette – can try to convince us of her trustworthiness by only saying things that are true, insofar as such truthfulness doesn’t incriminate her.
In order to celebrate Trivia Day, we have put together a quiz with questions chosen at random from Very Short Introductions online. This is the perfect quiz for those who know a little about a lot. The topics range from Geopolitics to Happiness, and from French Literature to Mathematics. Do you have what it takes to take on this very short trivia quiz and become a trivia master? Take the quiz to find out.
Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer scientist, remembered for his revolutionary Automatic Computing Engine, on which the first personal computer was based, and his crucial role in breaking the ENIGMA code during the Second World War. He continues to be regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.
Are you worried about catching the flu, or perhaps even Ebola? Just how worried should you be? Well, that depends on how fast a disease will spread over social and transportation networks, so it’s obviously important to obtain good estimates of the speed of disease transmission and to figure out good containment strategies to combat disease spread.
If a “revolution” in our field or area of knowledge was ongoing, would we feel it and recognize it? And if so, how? I think a methodological “revolution” is probably going on in the science of epidemiology, but I’m not totally sure. Of course, in science not being sure is part of our normal state. And we mostly like it.
Why do we teach students how to prove things we all know already, such as 0.9999••• =1? Partly, of course, so they develop thinking skills to use on questions whose truth-status they won’t know in advance. Another part, however, concerns the dialogue nature of proof.
Why study paradoxes? The easiest way to answer this question is with a story: In 2002 I was attending a conference on self-reference in Copenhagen, Denmark. During one of the breaks I got a chance to chat with Raymond Smullyan, who is amongst other things an accomplished magician, a distinguished mathematical logician, and perhaps the most well-known popularizer of `Knight and Knave’ (K&K) puzzles.
A large variety of complex systems in ecology, climate science, biomedicine, and engineering have been observed to exhibit so-called tipping points, where the dynamical state of the system abruptly changes. Typical examples are the rapid transition in lakes from clear to turbid conditions or the sudden extinction of species after a slightly change of environmental conditions. Data and models suggest that detectable warning signs may precede some, though clearly not all, of these drastic events. This view is also corroborated by recently developed abstract mathematical theory for systems, where processes evolve at different rates and are subject to internal and/or external stochastic perturbations.
One of the highest points of the International Congress of Mathematicians, currently underway in Seoul, Korea, has got to be the announcement of the Fields Medal prize winners. The prize is awarded every four years to up to four mathematicians under the age of 40, and is viewed as one of the highest honours a mathematician can receive
By Luciano Floridi
Philosophy is a bit like a computer with a memory leak. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, its very success slows it down. Philosophy begins to care more about philosophers’ questions than philosophical ones, consuming increasing amount of intellectual attention.
By Franc Klaassen and Jan R. Magnus
Suppose you are watching a tennis match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The commentator says: “Djokovic serves first in the set, so he has an advantage.” Why would this be the case? Perhaps because he is then ‘always’ one game ahead, thus serving under less pressure. But does it actually influence him and, if so, how?
David J. Hand
Nowadays it appears impossible to open a newspaper or switch on the television without hearing about “big data”. Big data, it sometimes seems, will provide answers to all the world’s problems. Management consulting company McKinsey, for example, promises “a tremendous wave of innovation, productivity, and growth … all driven by big data”.
By Subrata Dasgupta
Politically, socially, and culturally, the 1960s were tumultuous times. But tucked away amidst the folds of the Cold War, civil rights activism, anti-war demonstrations, the feminist movement, revolts of students and workers, flower power, sit-ins, Marxist and Maoist revolutions – almost unnoticed — a new science was born in university campuses across North America, Britain, Europe and even, albeit tentatively, certain non-Western parts of the world.
By Kenneth Falconer
Fractal shapes, as visualizations of mathematical equations, are astounding to look at. But fractals look even more amazing in their natural element—and that happens to be in more places than you might think.
By Jason Rosenhouse
With the arrival of the new year, you can be certain that the annual extravaganza known as the Joint Mathematics Meetings cannot be far behind. This year’s conference is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland. It is perhaps more accurate to say that it is a conference of conferences, since much of the business to be transacted will take place in smaller sessions devoted to this or that branch of mathematics