Friday, 19 October 2012

checking the winning formula

The day when the first of 2012 Nobel Prizes was announced, a short article containing the recipe for winning one of those appeared on the BBC website. Let’s see what we’ve got this year.

If there are deviations from the winning formula, they are neither significant nor surprising. (For example, the formula does not reflect the fact that the prize winners are getting older.) Excluding the EU, we have the average age of 66. Five out of nine winners are Americans. Wineland and Shapley went to Harvard, Lefkowitz and Roth to Columbia, Gurdon to Oxford. Two economists and one physicist sport facial hair. I’ve counted at least five pairs of glasses. And no women.

Too many factors to consider, I say. Last year, Benjamin Jones and Bruce Weinberg published a paper in PNAS where they concentrate just on the age dynamics of Nobel laureates (prizes given between 1901 and 2008 in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine). It has rather fascinating figures in it.

In chemistry, great achievement by age 40 converges toward 0% by 2000, but it accounted for 66% of cases in 1900.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

professor awakens, you fail

Transitions may be the only type of human-like words and phrases that could make mathematical texts accessible for — and, hopefully, even understandable to — humans. On the other hand, this document dealing with issues of mathematical communication warns:
Be careful with clearly, obviously, and surely, as graders often interpret these connectives to mean that important parts of the problem are being glossed over and that they should therefore read over the surrounding text more diligently.
And you wouldn’t want that. I recall an anecdote about great mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov who for many years was a professor at the famous Department of Mechanics and Mathematic (мехмат) of Moscow State University. Now Kolmogorov normally was snoozing his way through the exams. A successful exam strategy tactics approach was to talk non-stop whilst trying not to wake him up with a careless transition word such as obviously. Otherwise, he would open his eyes and say with a smile: “Очевидно? Докажите!” (“Obviously? Prove it!”)