Epic and wonderful. That is how I would describe yesterday’s AMS panel discussion “The Public Face of Math,” moderated by Arthur Benjamin. They put together a top-flight panel of today’s most relevant math communicators.
Starting from the far left, we have Keith Devlin, a professor at Stanford and NPR’s resident “Math Guy” — you can hear his math stories on Weekend Edition. Next up, Steven Strogatz, a professor at Cornell, and author of many great book about math and lots of great articles about math for the New York Times (if you haven’t read it yet, you should). Next, Cathy O’Neil, of mathbabe.org, a truly original blogger and important voice in the conversation about our ethical responsibilities in the emerging world of data science. Next we have Tom Siegfried, a freelance science journalist. And a surprise guest to the panel, Congressman Jerry McNerney, who I believe is the only person in the house of representatives with a PhD in math. Then on the far right is our moderator, Arthur Benjamin, a professor at Harvey-Mudd, and America’s favorite mathemagician.
The panel addressed lots of important issues, like the role of social media in bringing math to the public. Steven Strogatz was strongly in favor, and made particular note of the connections he’s been able to make with K-12 teaching using Twitter. Tom Siegfried was a little more hesitant, suggesting that social media could have some benefits, but was perhaps not the best use of time. Cathy O’Neil encouraged anyone with something to say to write a blog — it’s free, it’s easy, and did you know that you can embed LaTeX in WordPress? (I did not!)
When asked about the role of civic engagement in the promotion of mathematics, Congressman McNerney urged academics to get to know their representatives, pay them a visit, and be nice to them. He also suggested finding a billionaire, and starting a super PAC with the sole mission of stacking congress with math and science types.