Daily Archives: January 10, 2018

Mathematics for the Masses

[Note: this is a post by Ben Thompson, 2017 AMS-AAAS Media Fellow.]

Talithia Williams shared some exclusive clips from her upcoming PBS series, NOVA Wonders, as part of her lecture this morning, “Mathematics for the Masses.” You can find now on YouTube a video featuring Talithia analyzing the feasibility of Santa’s Christmas Eve flight.

In the lecture, she told us she shared the video with her own children when they started doubting the reality of Santa. They decided to reject the null hypothesis (that parents are the true culprits) if presents were still under the tree at home despite the fact that they were away for Christmas. With a last-minute shopping trip made by some helpful neighbors before the Williams’ return, a Type I error was made! While her children still have more to learn about Santa, she was able to start teaching them about hypothesis testing.

After sharing other examples of sharing math with a wider audience, Talithia was joined by Ron Buckmire and James Alvarez on a panel focused on how to make math more accessible. As a department chair, Ron asked professors to identified students who might benefit from or enjoy taking more math classes even if they had never considered it before or weren’t at the top of the class. Over winter break he would mail those students a letter saying their professors enjoyed having them in class and he encouraged them to continue in the discipline. Many of those students came back the next semester for more math classes that they hadn’t been planning to take.

Talithia’s work with PBS came after her popular TED talk (though she reports half of the views on YouTube were from her mother) that introduced people to statistics by showing them how to collect and analyze their own health data.

This morning she suggested analyzing data from a school’s football team as an effective way to interest and engage students. NOVA Wonders will premiere in April. She also has a book coming out that month, Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics.

Wednesday: Off to the Races

The math fun frenzy starts off with a short lull, waiting to pick up a packet at the registration desk, lower level in the B area of the San Diego Convention Center.

The JMM can seem like a race—running from meeting to talk to math friend to math friend, trying to get in as much math, inspiration, and hanging out as possible in four days. I always remind myself to chill out and not overschedule, but it’s hard to hang back when I see so many things that I want to do.

Some years, I have spent a truly excessive amount of time poring over the printed program and using unintelligible (even to me) shorthand to write down things that look interesting. I would then have to look up where they were and then get lost and miss the talks I wanted to see. No longer! This year I am having great success using the JMM 2018 app, which I think is better this year than it was even last year. It has a schedule maker which syncs with my Google calendar, and this great “Map It” feature that shows me where in the convention center each talk is.

Here are some of the things that are on my schedule today:

Talithia Williams’ talk, “Mathematics for the Masses”, 9-9:50 AM in room 8, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center

Abstract: In recent months, we’ve witnessed Americans grapple with the significance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through events ranging from the Paris Agreement to the nationwide March for Science, where people marched to defend the role of science in society. In the wake of a renewed excitement for STEM, I’m thrilled to be joining the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) family as one of the hosts of a new NOVA series called NOVA Wonders premiering this spring. NOVA is the most-watched primetime science series on television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly. NOVA Wonders is a six-part series that will journey to the frontiers of science, where researchers are tackling some of the most intriguing questions about life and the cosmos. My goal in hosting the show is to open individuals to the power of mathematics and data to pursue answers to questions in a clear and purposeful way. During this talk, I plan to share with you an early clip from NOVA Wonders and discuss ways that we can take our mathematics to the masses and share techniques that have been successful in my mathematical environment. We all have a responsibility to inspire a new generation in STEM and nurture the dreams of future mathematical leaders.

Gunnar Carlsson’s talk, “Topological Modeling of Complex Data”, 11:10 AM-12 PM in room 6AB, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center

Abstract: One of the fundamental problems faced by science and industry is that of making sense of large and complex data sets. To approach this problem, we need new organizing principles and modeling methodologies. One such approach is through topology, the mathematical study of shape. The shape of the data, suitably defined, is an important component of exploratory data analysis. In this talk, we will discuss the topological approach, with numerous examples, and consider some questions about how it will develop as mathematics.

Association for Women in Mathematics Panel “Using Mathematics in Activism”, organized by Michelle Manes, 2:15– 3:40 PM in room 1, upper level of the San Diego Convention Center.

Abstract: There is a romantic notion that mathematics is somehow so pure that it is separate from the “real world” and untouched by it. However, mathematicians live in the world and are affected by it, and that in turn affects their work. Many mathematicians tackle problems and issues in their communities, in the country, and in the world. Activism can mean many things: engaging with the general public through social media or through traditional media via op ed pieces and letters to the editor; outreach with marginalized populations; advocacy work in professional organizations; and even mathematical research in the context of social and political justice. Our panelists will share their experiences as activist mathematicians and they will help lead a conversation about what we can each do to effect change around issues we care about. This session is open to all JMM attendees. Panelists include Federico Ardila, San Francisco State University, Piper Harron, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lily Khadjavi, Loyola Marymount University, Beth Malmskog, Colorado College, Karen Saxe, American Mathematical Society and other panelists to be announced.

MAA-JCW-NAM-AWM Panel, “Implicit Bias and Its Effects in Mathematics” organized by Semra Kilic-Bahi, Colby-Sawyer College, Maura Mast, Fordham College at Rose Hill, Naomi Cameron, Lewis & Clark College, Andrew Cahoon, Colby-Sawyer College and Charles Doering, 4:15–5:35 PM in room 2 upper level of the San Diego Convention Center.

Abstract: Implicit bias occurs when someone explicitly rejects stereotypes and prejudices, but unconsciously holds negative (mostly) associations. People are not hiding their prejudices, but rather, they just do not know they have these unconscious feelings or thoughts that affect their decision-making and behavior. Social scientists are identifying implicit biases as one of the most pervasive barriers to equal opportunities for minorities and women in today’s society. This panel discussion addresses how implicit bias might manifest and affect our classrooms, departments, and campuses in terms of academic and scholarly opportunities and evaluations. Panelists are Ron Buckmire, National Science Foundation, Jenna P. Carpenter, Campbell University, Lynn Garrioch, Colby-Sawyer College, Joanna Kania-Bartoszynska, National Science Foundation and Francis Edward Su, Harvey Mudd College.

Well, I’m off to the first talk!  Hope everyone has a great day at the meeting—stop and let me know how it is going if you see me around.