Plus Blog

January 14, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fear of maths spawns rampant rabbits

Here's something all mathematicians know instinctively: changing a parameter in a dynamical system, even if it's only by a small amount, can have all sorts of non-obvious consequences. Some conservationists, however, don't seem to have learnt that lesson yet: by removing 160 feral cats from Macquarie Island to protect burrowing birds, a team of conservationists caused the rabbit population to boom from 4000 in the year 2000 to 130,000 in 2006. The rabbits have now demolished up to 40% of the island's vegetation, which may never recover. Cleaning up the mess may cost up to $16 million.

According to experts, a simple risk assessment exercise could have prevented the disaster. "We need a culture change," Hugh Possingham of the University of Queensland told New Scientist. "It's a generalisation, but people who do environmental work are often adverse to mathematics, and so avoid quantitative risk assessments."

Read more about this story in New Scientist.

posted by Plus @ 5:13 PM


At 10:18 PM, Blogger westius said...

I've always wanted to go to Macquarie Island, and now it looks like they need mathematicians. Perhaps there's a job there...

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January 13, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How do you persuade a nation that basic maths skills are just as important as being able to read and write? You put a price tag on them. This is what the accounting firm KPMG has done in a report published last week. The firm estimated that the soring number of people who leave school without adequate numeracy skills could cost the UK taxpayer up to £2.4 billion every year.

Read more ...


posted by Plus @ 12:38 PM


At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with maths goes back to the Higher School Regulations which strictly divided subjects into Arts and Sciences, with Maths regarded as one of the Sciences and therefore could not be studied with Arts subjects. As it happens most of the Chemists and Physicists do not like Maths anyway, so maths is either not studied at all or it is treated as a highly specialist subject only suitable for autistic nerds.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Marianne Freiberger, Plus editor said...

That's a very good point. When I was at school (in Germany) I specialised in maths and art, but most teachers advised me against this, saying that it would be better to put all my eggs into either the science or the arts basket, where maths was counted as a science. Though the division between arts/humanities and science wasn't enforced (in fact, officially it was discouraged) it existed in practice, so to many of those not into science maths didn't even occur as an option.

At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anna Faherty said...

While I think putting a cost to low numeracy skills is quite smart in terms of getting governments and big business to stump up some cash, I wonder how all those math-phobic people will react to the use of numbers (albeit with pound signs in front of them) to show that maths is important?

Maybe KPMG or Barclays would like to give some money to help support Plus too?

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Marianne, Plus Editor said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Marianne, Plus Editor said...

Good idea, Anna! Plus is happy to consider donations of any size.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger Efrique said...

"soring"? How did that survive a spellcheck?

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Marianne, Plus Editor said...

Not sure, but it's dead now.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Terry Schooling said...

I believe the problem with numeracy and maths in general lies in the way it is taught in our schools. The subject is taught to enable students to pass examinations with little reference to its utility throughout life as a series of problem solving techniques. The article sums it up very well by highlighting "the gap between what people think maths is and what it could actually do for them". This is a philosophy that I raise with my grandchildren when helping them with there homework. Let's emphasise the rigour a bit less in favour of the application of maths.

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January 9, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009

Happy new year from Plus!

Thanks to gord at mighty wombat for these!

posted by Plus @ 11:00 PM


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December 23, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Oh god, I hope not," was the reaction of a student when author Mario Livio asked the title question of his latest book at a lecture, and it's a reaction that's likely to be replicated by many unsuspecting bookshop browsers. But despite its frightening title, the book's appeal could not be broader. All that's required to enjoy this fascinating read is a capacity to marvel at the mysteries of nature and humankind's attempts to understand them — this is "popular mathematics", or rather "popular philosophy", in the true sense of the word.

Read more about this book...

posted by Plus @ 12:19 PM


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December 23, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Combining a love of maths with a successful acting career

Victoria Gould has always known she would be an actor, and went straight from studying arts at school to running her own theatre company. But she eventually had to come clean about her guilty secret - she loves maths - and has since managed to combine a career as a research mathematician and teacher with a successful acting career on television and in theatre. In this, the first of a two part podcast, Victoria tells Plus why she needs to use boths sides of her brain.

This podcast accompanies the career interview from issue 49 of Plus.

Hear more!

Stay tuned for the second part of this podcast, where Plus talks to Victoria and Professor Marcus du Sautoy about Complicite's recent theatre production of A disappearing number.


posted by Plus @ 2:23 PM


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December 16, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has done its bit this week in keeping the government honest, at least when it comes to its use of statistics. Within 24 hours of the Home Office releasing unverified and selective statistics, despite the protests of government statisticians, Sir Michael Scholar (chair of the UKSA) wrote a public letter to the Prime Minister's Office criticising the government's actions. The quick response from the independent body responsible for ensuring the quality of official statistics generated a lot of media attention, not only highlighting the mistakes made in this instance, but also showing the power the UKSA may wield to stop the misuse of statistics.

Read more ...


posted by Plus @ 5:20 PM


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