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Thursday, July 06, 2006


Someone cue the Dolby.

After a restful extended weekend, solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations, just as John Adams would have wanted, it's time to get back to business.  

And by business I mean SCIENCE!  

First, on the serious side of the coin, we have Richard S. Lindzen (whose writings, incidentally, helped me get through college) taking Al Gore and his movie to school:

"So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at least three points.
First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists--especially those outside the area of climate dynamics. Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a "moral" crusade.
Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce--if we're lucky."
And that's just the end.  Read the whole thing.  

Now, on the lighter side of the coin we turn to math.  Why math? Because individuals in the legal profession are notoriously mathophobic.  When I saw John Derbyshire's link to this article on mathematical references in The Simpsons, I had but one hope, and it was fulfilled.  Among all of the serious nerd-caliber references that I never would have caught:

"Gender issues in mathematics take center stage in "Girls just want to have sums," which aired on April 30. It lampoons the scandal that ensued in 2005 when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, suggested that women are innately inferior at mathematics.

In that Simpsons episode, Springfield Elementary School Principal Skinner is ousted after casually remarking that girls aren't much good at math. Skinner's female replacement divides the boys and girls into separate schools since, she says, girls can't learn math around "aggressive, obnoxious" boys.

Brainy 8-year-old Lisa Simpson is delighted until she attends the girls' math class. "How do numbers make you feel?" the teacher begins. "What does a plus sign smell like? Is the number 7 odd or just different?" Aghast, Lisa poses as a boy to attend the ghettolike boys' school, where real math is being taught."

For my part, I thought the whole Larry Sanders affair was stupid and over-hyped, but that's not what's interesting here.  It's not even the gender issue at all, it's the fact that what the article describes actually passes as math education these days, and not just in third grade.  In college I knew a fair number of people who took a course called "The Spirit of Mathematics" to satisfy their math requirement.  If I recall correctly, one of their assignments was a two-page paper on their favorite number.  

What is also interesting is what the article left out, which is that there was a light/music show and strange little groove-dance that overcame the girls as they pondered the aroma of addition.  Not significant, just funny.  


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