Is the Public Hungry for Math?
At the end of 2007 CNN compiled a list of the top news stories
of the year. A third of the stories were about celebrities behav-
ing badly (Anna Nicole Smith's death from a drug overdose,
Barry Bond's steroid use, Paris Hilton's drunk driving con-
viction, Britney Spears's child custody battle, Michael Vick's
arrest for dog-fighting, etc.). None of the stories concerned
mathematics, of course, or even science or technology. Sadly,
the list accurately reflects the choices the news media makes
throughout the year in deciding what stories are of interest
to the American public.
Call me a starry-eyed optimist, but I beg to differ.
While the director's office at the Institute for Mathematics
and its Applications--which has been my headquarters for the
last seven years--is admittedly not the best place to gauge
the interests of John Q. Public, some of the IMA's activities
and some of my own involve public outreach, and in a broad
segment of the public I regularly observe curiosity about con-
temporary math research and how it impacts our world, and