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NUMB3RS

Type of Math Object: 
Feature
Major Section: 
Reference
Groups audience: 

Mathematics Subject Classification

01A65 no label found01A61 no label found00A06 no label found

Comments

How does this entry "help make mathematical knowledge more accessible"? (or "enhance American patriotism" for what matters...)

How far are the limits of what belongs in the encyclopedia are going to be stretched? I don't like being 'conservative' (or 'elitist', i'm sure someone would like to say). But we need to have limits. I said this before; I heard others say it, but I only see an increasing amount of entries stepping on the edge of what can be considered math - and some completely out too), when in fact there is a lot of basic *math* that is missing from the encyclopedia.

It's not about elitism. It's just about being slightly serious. I know this is not literally an encyclopedia, but that doesn't mean it's carnival.

While entries like this one are fine for wikipedia (of course, it's an encyclopedia of -everything-), I consider them completely out of place in planetmath.

Am I the only one with that feeling?

> ...
> How far are the limits of what belongs in the encyclopedia
> are going to be stretched? I don't like being 'conservative'
> (or 'elitist', i'm sure someone would like to say). But we
> need to have limits. I said this before; I heard others say
> it, but I only see an increasing amount of entries stepping
> on the edge of what can be considered math - and some
> completely out too), when in fact there is a lot of basic
> *math* that is missing from the encyclopedia.
> ...
> While entries like this one are fine for wikipedia (of
> course, it's an encyclopedia of -everything-), I consider
> them completely out of place in planetmath.
>
> Am I the only one with that feeling?

I don't agree. While it is true that they are not strictly
math, they are related to math. For the most part, these entries
are about cultural material related to mathematics and
mathematicians. As I said earlier, they are of use as supplementary
material for math teachers and interesting the general public
in math by showing the human side of mathematical activity and
connecting it to other activities. Look at many math textbooks
for elementary school, high school, and even introductory
college math and you will find plenty of such material as
marginalia and endnotes. While they may not be central to
the main topic of the PM encyclopaedia, they certainly have
a place here, even if that place is as supplementary material
on the edge of the subject.

Yes, we have quite a ways to go before we have a reasonably
complete coverage of even basic math, I don't see how banning
this material would help achieve this goal. After all, it is
being contributed voluntarily; if that is what someone has to
offer, then rejecting the offer only means that you don't get
what they offer, not that they will give you something else
for free instead. Sure, one should encourage people to put a
priority on covering basic topics, but the trying to force the
issue by restricting what is permitted is counterproductive in
a CBPP environment like PM.

As far as I am concerned anything having to do with math, whether
it is elementary or advanced or core material or supplementary
material at the boundaries belongs here as long as it is factually
correct, well written, and legal to contribute.

I changed it from a "definition" to a "feature" -- which is meant for cute little pop articles and such.

I think we need things like this to draw in new readership and get people interested in math. I can see lots of people searching for the name of this show, and wanting to see tie-ins to real math, and disambiguations of what is real and what is not. Wouldn't it be great if they came here for that?

If these entries are properly typed, it should be easy to generate lists of "only 'serious' entries" (ones which declare mathematical notions and only do so). Note that even biographies aren't included in this set, so clearly a math encyclopedia has more than strictly mathematical entries.

apk

> I don't agree. While it is true that they are not strictly
> math, they are related to math. For the most part, these
> entries are about cultural material related to mathematics and
> mathematicians. As I said earlier, they are of use as
> supplementary material for math teachers and interesting the general
> public in math by showing the human side of mathematical activity
> and connecting it to other activities. Look at many math
> textbooks for elementary school, high school, and even introductory
> college math and you will find plenty of such material as
> marginalia and endnotes.

So what? This is not a math textbook for elementary school. Many such books are also full of mistakes, and of very obscure "pedagogical methods". Should we imitate them? I don't think so.

Your justification that this belongs to the encyclopedia just because elementary school teachers and books include them is not fair. I would like to hear a single practical reason why an entry like this could be of any help to learn mathematics.

Perhaps a special 'recreation' or 'non-math' section could be added to PM, *outside* the encyclopedia. That would fit things like this.

> Yes, we have quite a ways to go before we have a reasonably
> complete coverage of even basic math, I don't see how
> banning this material would help achieve this goal. After all, it
> is being contributed voluntarily; if that is what someone has
> to offer, then rejecting the offer only means that you don't
> get what they offer, not that they will give you something else
> for free instead.

"It's free, we must take it" sounds like Homer Simpson.

> the trying to force the issue by restricting what is permitted is
> counterproductive in a CBPP environment like PM.

Why exactly is that? Any project should have some standards, CBPP or not. For god's sake, even wikipedia actively restricts the contents that are considered relevant, and you can't question the success of Wikipedia. Moreover, since the content control became more active, wikipedia has improved a lot.

> As far as I am concerned anything having to do with math,
> whether it is elementary or advanced or core material or
> supplementary material at the boundaries belongs here as long as it > is factually correct, well written, and legal to contribute.

We 100% agree on this. But I don't consider this entry even "supplementary material". Who is to decide what fits in your description? If there isn't some control on that, soon we will have cuisine recipes as supplementary material.

To make my point clear, I think we NEED to have ways to control the contents, to maintain a bare minimum standard. Or at least, we should worry more about that.

I think both sides have a good point.

On the one hand, we can have some "math-related" material on PM. This will hopefully put us near the top of the search list while doing searches on "math-related" material, and draw in more readership. I consider this a good PR.

On the other hand, we also need to have standards on PM, and to some extent, a way to control contents. Specifically, the contents should be informative and correct. They need to be informative so the readers know what the heck they are reading (given their level of math maturity). They need to be correct so the readers know they can trust PM. Unfortunately, many of the entries lately do not meet either of the above. And who pay the price? mainly the readers, and secondly the rest of us who then have to clean them up...

For this particular case, I think the entry needs to end up having some substantial content, or it should be removed. As a stub, it isn't useful per se. But I'm genuninely curious regarding what kind of math pops up on the show, and what its veracity is. With linking to the detailed materials on PM, there is considerable value added.

If the entry doesn't evolve this way, it should probably be removed. So I would urge people to give it a chance before passing judgment.

In response to Koro, I would urge once again to be careful with the term "encyclopedia". We always intended to have all sorts of objects in this "encyclopedia" besides Theorems, Proofs, and Definitions -- things like Software, Examples, and the numerous other object types don't fit into this mould. It is easy to generate views into the "encyclopedia" that only include a subset of the object types. The fact that there is just a single service that generates and stores the content objects in Noosphere is more of a convenience than a strong ontological statement.

apk

I think "invalid proof" is immensely informative. I'm not sure what "fun facts" are on the second page, but I certainly hope being "fun" is not what disqualifies something from being on PlanetMath!

Math jokes are pushing it, as they aren't too informational. Those can stay in the forums.

apk

I think that it is very important to maintain a clear distinction
between the issues of content and of standards. Let me, then
adress these two points.

I believe that there is no reason to limit the coverage to
mathematics in the strictest sense of the term. Unlike with
printed resources or closed modes of production, we are not
faced with the same sorts of scarcities of space or potential
contributors which would justify such hard decisions.

Rather, I believe that the main issue here is one of organization.
It won't do for a user looking for a serious definition of manifold
to instead find a funny story about topologists and donuts or for
technical terms in a theorem to be linked to digressions on
popular culture. We can pretty much take care of these issues
with the technology we already have:

1. List entries whose content is not mathematics in the
strictest sense as features (or, where relevant, as biographies)
not as definitions, theorems, proofs, etc.

2. In the classification scheme, there some classifications
like the following:

01A05 - General histories, source books
01A70 - Biographies, obituaries, personalia, bibliographies
01A80 - Sociology (and profession) of mathematics
01A07 - Ethnomathematics, general
01A99 - Miscellaneous topics in the history of mathematics and mathematicians
97A40 - Sociological issues
97A90 - Fiction and games
97U30 - Teacher manuals and planning aids

Classifications like these should be used for supplementary
material and, conversely, strictly mathematical entries
should not be classified under these categories.

3. Use the "forbid" and "permit" link steering commands
to prevent inappropriate links between core material and
supplementary material.

Granted that this may leave something to be desired, it suffices
to solve the problem. A solution like Koro suggested where one
would have multiple possible views of the knowledge base which
would filter out certain types of content and only display other
types would be much better. As for why this hasn't been done yet,
the reasons are twofold.

1. Given the current Noosphere architecture, it would be
rather difficult to implement these changes because the structure
of the knowledge base is hard-wired into the program in the
form of data tables.

2. We do not have available either the amount of time nor the
money to hire programmers to make such major changes to the
program. At present all we can do are small tweaks and bug
fixes and pay bounties for minor projects.

Aaron, Joe, and I have been working on adressing both of these
issues and hope to solve them maybe even as early as next year.
To adress the first point, for the last two years Joe has been
developing the schoilum system, which is an advanced hypertext
system which would makes it relatively easy to do thinks such as
add new fora, make new view of material, and attach various
sorts of comments such as ratings of entries of discussions of
how entries should be written.

To adress the latter point, for the last two months, Joe, Aaron,
and I have been busting our behinds working double overtime to
apply for funding from the NSF cyberinfrastructure office. Should
we succeed, this would provide us with funds which would allow
us to do the following starting this fall:

* Hire a system administrator to take care of the server and
fix bugs.

* Hire full-time programmers to work on improving our software
platform and implementing features.

* Implement the feature requests which everyone has been asking for.

* Rewrite Noosphere on a more flexible scholium backend as
mentioned above.

* Implement subchannelling of communications to prevent information
overload for users.

* Deploy a quality metric based search engine so that it is
easier to find content and users can customize search to
suit their tastes.

* Implement ratings for entries and develop quality control features.

* Develop a proper bi-directional updating system which would
make it possible to share content in an intelligent way between
PM and other sites such as Wikipedia which respects the wishes
and workflow conventions of these sites as opposed to the currrent
scheme of ad-hoc copying.

It might put at ease some of the people who raised concerns during
the discussion on fundraising last April to know that we only asked
for a few percent of the total budget to pay us for our work in the
project. All combined, the three of us would be paid the equivalent
of one full time employee.

Since we know that there is a good chance we may not get this grant,
especially given the fact that Congress has not approved the
new budget, Joe, Aaron, and I are going to bust our already
saddle-sore butts travelling the continent to publicize PM and
build partnerships with various organizations in the hope of
obtaining support. We are also working with fundraising consultants
to identify other possible sources of funding and sources of
income which would allow PM to continue in a sustainable basis.

At the same time, I also believe that PlanetMath should uphold
high standards for both quality of content and of conduct. There
is no contradiction between this point and the other. Just
because an entry happens to be written on a point of popular
mathematics or supplementary material does not mean that it
should not be factually correct and well written. For instance,
let us return to the entry on 42 co-authored by Prime Fan and
Composite Fan, since that is what started this whole debate:

http://planetmath.org/?op=getobj&from=objects&id=8642

I consider that this is an excellent entry. While the topic
might be more folklore or numerology, it is well-planned and
well-written essay assembling trivia having to do with the
number 42. As far as I can tell, the information is factually
correct and it looks like the authors have put some effort into
collecting these trivia items. This is a lot more than can be
said about some entries on more striclty mathematical topics
that have been showing up lately.

As for how to enforce these standards, that is why we have
corrections. Looking back at the last few weeks, I see that
these means are (modulo social vagaries discussed below) working
rather well: many of the stubs which were dumped in the misguided
attempt to clear the request list have since been brought up
to snuff or have pending corrections; judging from past experience,
I expect that many of the stubs will wind up in the orphanage
where they will either be adopted and fixed or deleted.

In addition to this issue of standards of content, there is the
issue of standards of conduct. Insulting people, throwing aboout
accusations and similar immature behaviour does not make for
pleasant discussion on any topic. While there are significant
disgreements here, it would be nice to disagree agreeably and
respect people who hold diverging opinions.

As for how to enforce these sorts of standards, I would say that
posts such as those of Keenan (azdbacks4234) do a great
service. Also, this may be a good time to reconsider the ubunutu
proposal which Joe made last lear around the time of the First
Monday conference and perhaps implement some form of it. Maybe Joe
could post a description of it for everyone's consideration.

Thanks for the summary of our activities. However I want to note that there is the prospect of implementing certain filters and views on the collection even before a massive rewrite.

apk

I think it's nice that the producers chose to use leetspeak in the title. That way we can have an entry on one of the few shows on TV to have a mathematician as a main character and where the math is crucial to the plot, and not have to worry about the mention of ``numbers'' in an unrelated context from being mistaken by the autolinker as a reference to this show. Now if only the L-Word would add a lesbian mathematician...

Even if it wasn't spelled with a "3", autolinking would not
be an issue since you could use linking directives to keep
the entry from being linked in inappropriate contexts. For
more on this topic, please see the post I made yesterday.

100% in agreement with Koro. Where is, for example, a project on ``Topics on Integral Equations''?
How many trascendent entries (as before) are we making?
Yes! I'm not a mathematician, but I think that my entries are reasonably acceptable, although totally criticable, including that one I lost!
Sincerely,
perucho

If it was an entry that I adopted I would gladly give it back to you. It probably was that you forgot a comma here or there or you used the wrong kind of dots and you went on vacation. Totally understandable.

A PlanetMath entry on LOST or even the "LOST numbers" (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) would be very hard to defend. The reaction to the entry on NUMBERS, on the other hand, was surprising. NUMBERS clearly falls on the other side of the line, since math is an integral part (no pun intended at all) of the plot.

My dear Lisa,
Of course not!!! I haven't idea which entry you adopted but, by no means, any one of my entries! I just only have written in the Forums about *YOUR ENTRY* Erdos-Straus conjecture. Further, I think that you are one of the mathematicians that write good entries in PM.
Sincerely,
perucho

Dear Anthony (Mravinci),
Neither my reflexion it was referred to you. As you well know I always have tried to collaborate in your interesting entries. I think that to adopt entries is a good thing, but whenever such adoptions be in good faith and with ethics.
Greetings,
perucho

> Yes! I'm not a mathematician, but I think that my entries
> are reasonably acceptable, although totally criticable,
> including that one I lost!

perucho,

Do you remember which entry it was you lost? If I have it,
I'd be happy to transfer it back.

-- mps

Well Michael, let me finnish at one time with that "incertidumbre". And yes, I think that my entry ``second order tensor: symmetric and skew-symmetric parts'' was taked "injustamente". "No volvere hablar mas de este tema"
perucho
PS. BTW, "No entiendo cual fue el proposito de tu Post, porque siempre te he considerado como un amigo"

> Now if only the L-Word would add a lesbian
> mathematician...

What is ``the L-Word''?

Pedro,
Thank you! I'm glad you consider me a mathematician. I have a day job (though it's flexible) and a women's rights group I volunteer in. Mathematics have been a very good hobby for me but I don't always have as much time for it as I would like. Because of the time and place, my group focuses almost exclusively on reproductive freedom, with little time left over for issues concerning education in the sciences for women.

To everyone else here at PM, I have a few entries that I adopted because of some very minor correction (wrong kind of dots, one misspelled word, that kind of thing). If you want it back, just let me know. Lisa

It's a show about lesbians in LA. It airs on Showtime, but I watch it on DVD with my girlfriends. So don't tell me about the current season. I've heard that in the current season Bette starts teaching art history at an university. Maybe they could have a female math professor. But don't tell me about it before it airs!

At the risk of sounding arrogant like Monsieur X, I would prefer that they didn't. I think they'd get the math wrong, if their knowledge of computers is any indication.

Remember the episode in which Moira applied for a computer job and didn't get it? She went back as Max the same day and got the job. He was spouting a lot of nonsensical technobabble. It sounded like the writers grabbed a dictionary of computing and strung terms up at random.

If they did math, it might sound something like this: "Let V be a topological holomorphism, and J an Erdosian group. The set theta of all categories from A to Z is not an Erdosian group except under parametric subtraction, blah, blah, blah

> Remember the episode in which Moira applied for a computer job and didn't get it? She went back as Max the same day and got the job. He was spouting a lot of nonsensical technobabble. It sounded like the writers grabbed a dictionary of computing and strung terms up at random.

I do remember that episode. But maybe that was the point. Moira wasn't even given the chance to spout any technobabble, but Max was. I could be wrong; if I had time I'd watch it again.

That it was a beautiful reflexion, Lisa. Like you, my hobby is the Mathematics and perhaps I could have been able to study that fascinant profession, but I didn't. ( Luckyly I am not frustrated by that fact.)
You don't may to back any entry, Lisa.
perucho

I'd like to propose a poll:

How often do you watch Numb3rs?

- Every time it comes on
- Every new episode
- If I'm flipping channels and I pass by it
- I'm watching it on DVD, so don't tell me about this season
- I don't watch it

While I dn't watch this show, I did notice that the MAA has a
few pages on it:

http://www.maa.org/editorial/mathgames/mathgames_01_21_05.html
http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_02_05.html
http://www.rose-hulman.edu/INMAA/Newsletters/Columns/fall2006.html

Also, there are some related pages:

http://larrydavidson.blogspot.com/2006/11/numb3rs-and-maa.html
http://www.atsweb.neu.edu/math/cp/blog/
http://www.mathsci.appstate.edu/~sjg/Numb3rs/ComplexNumb3rs.pdf
http://www.siam.org/news/news.php?id=926

Also, the AMS And MAA had a panel on this show
in their last joint conference:

http://www.ams.org/ams/press/jmm2006-newsrelease.html

Lisa, I would be interested to hear your opinion of what
Alice Silverberg had to say about the show in her article
for FOCUS:

"I have concerns about the violence, the depiction of women,
and the pretense that the math is accurate...."

http://www.maa.org/pubs/nov06focus.pdf (pp.12 - 13)

Also, when you get a chance, maybe you and PrimeFan could
expand your PM article on the show, perhaps add some of the
links I mentioned above and say something about the math
which appears in the show, whethere accurately or incaurrately,
and refer readers to appropeiate places in PM for
further reading.

By the way, the other night, I happened to see bits and
pieces of a British television detective show where a
math professor who was interested in the Goldabch conjecture
murdered a student who had proven a result which made his
work look silly and where perfect numbers played an important
role in the plot as clues.

I'd remove "every time it comes on." I'd then add "I TiVo it" between "every new episode" and "if I'm flipping channels." I seriously doubt anyone who watches this show religiously does so for the pure enjoyment of it. But then again, that's what polls are for.

So is it admins who can make polls or is that limited to the very top dogs?

> Lisa, I would be interested to hear your opinion of what
> Alice Silverberg had to say about the show in her article
> for FOCUS:
>
> "I have concerns about the violence, the depiction of women,
> and the pretense that the math is accurate...."
>
> http://www.maa.org/pubs/nov06focus.pdf (pp.12 - 13)

Pretty cool article, that's my unsolicited opinion!
(I've never seen the show, but I fondly remember a
previous math TV show called Square One from when
I was a kid.)

> Also, when you get a chance, maybe you and PrimeFan could
> expand your PM article on the show, perhaps add some of the
> links I mentioned above and say something about the math
> which appears in the show, whethere accurately or
> incaurrately,
> and refer readers to appropeiate places in PM for
> further reading.

From the Focus article, it doesn't sound like the math
is going to be terribly intelligble! Maybe it would be
best to try to get an interview with Alice or one of
the other math consultants and get them to talk about
this (would save time meticulously disecting the shows
which might contain a lot of garbage).

> I'd remove "every time it comes on." I'd then add "I TiVo
> it" between "every new episode" and "if I'm flipping
> channels." I seriously doubt anyone who watches this show
> religiously does so for the pure enjoyment of it. But then
> again, that's what polls are for.
>
> So is it admins who can make polls or is that limited to the
> very top dogs?

The former. (I don't know if anyone around here wants to
be thought of as a "dog", even a "top dog".)

Usually polls have to do with goings on around PlanetMath,
not even so much with "demographic info", like who does
what. Of course, that could change, but it might be more
interesting to include the NUMB3RS demographic in broader
set of survey questions. (I don't know if the system is
really set up for multi-part surveys at present.)

I've only watched a few episodes, and none of them beginning to end. The time slot is just not good for me. But since I saw on the L-Word DVD that Numb3rs is also available on DVD, that might be the way for me to watch the show.

I will certainly read Alice Silverberg's article about it. Without having read it, at this point in time I can only say that it seems kind of old hat to complain about the violence. There's plenty of other police dramas to pick on for being too violent. TV writers are making some efforts to show more confident, professional women than in the past, and with more women writing for TV this can only help. The point about "the pretense that the math is accurate" is of course the most relevant to this particular forum. I think that when we do get to watch the show, it should be quite easy to separate out the police drama content and focus on the math.

Lisa

P.S. What was the title of that British detective show?

> Lisa, I would be interested to hear your opinion of what
Alice Silverberg had to say about the show in her article
for FOCUS:
>
> "I have concerns about the violence, the depiction of women,
and the pretense that the math is accurate...."
>
> http://www.maa.org/pubs/nov06focus.pdf (pp.12 - 13)
>

Now that I've read her article, I stand by most of what I said before: the general social problems Alice Silverberg complains about in NUMB3RS are epidemic of many TV shows and it's wrong to pick on this one police drama for them. Women are too often nothing more than the love interest (one of the few Star Trek episodes I've seen that still sticks with me is the one where Picard had to transfer off a bright young cartographer off the Enterprise because he couldn't keep it in his pants and let her go on career-advancing missions), even today, and even today when they are _the_ main character of the show they tend to be weak in some other way (e.g., the whiny Allison Dubois on Medium). Of course it's too easy to swing the pendulum too far the other way, some of the female characters on Law & Order seem way too hardboiled to me.

On the other hand, Silverberg's recollections of her work as a math consultant were very enlightening, especially the example of some of the nonsense the writers come up with, and it's definitely worth quoting and citing in our PM entry here.

I do appreciate the difficulty the writers have in writing a show that uses present day math as opposed to say, future science. If someone complains "there's no way a steel alloy that thin could withstand such a barrage of torpedoes," the writer can just "Just wait a couple hundred years."

So whatever happened to that poll?

Instead, perhaps we can have a poll about whether some entries, like opus, is appropriate on PM?

Thanks for the update.

----
ratboy wrote:
http://www.ams.org/dynamic_archive/home-news.html#numbers-nsb

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