Friday, March 17, 2006

The Science Show: 11 March 2006 - Maths rules - proofs, Proof and Numb3rs

Saturday 11 March 2006


According to a mathematician at the American Association Meeting for the Advancement of Science, we've been living through a major revolution in mathematics spearheaded by a small group of mathematicians that deal in proof. But proof doesn't come easily or quickly and the process of verification can take almost as long. On the other hand, portraying serious mathematics on television is a challenge met weekly by Numb3rs, where advisors must condense problems which take years into information accessible to millions of views - in a one hour time slot. And Radio National's Alan Saunders looked at how mathematicians are portrayed in film.

Program Transcript

News Item: New York: A public school teacher was arrested today at John F Kennedy international airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference Attorney General John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement.He did not identify the man who is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult” Ashcroft said, “They desire average solutions by means and extremes and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of mediaeval with co-ordinates in every country.

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, there are three sides to every triangle”.

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction he would have given us more fingers and toes”.

Whitehouse aids told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the President.

Robyn Williams: The film Proof opens in Australia next week - thoughts on that from Alan Saunders later on. The trouble with a mathematical proof is that it’s not straightforward. Not any more. No wonder mathematicians go bonkers. Here’s Keith Devlin.


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