Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Just saw a preview for the new CBS series Numb3rs. As Lance had previously mentioned, the premise of this series is that an FBI agent uses his math whiz brother to help him solve crimes, CSI-style.

I was worried that all this would do is reinforce traditional stereotypes of mathematicians. At least the actor playing the mathematician doesn't have thick glasses. However the preview is not encouraging. There are exchanges like 'Life is more than just numbers ! Life is all about numbers !', and inane sequences where the math whiz says 'There is no statistical evidence for X', his brother says 'X will happen', and lo and behold, X happens.

(subtext: mathematicians are hopeless geeks out of touch with the real world, but are useful as part of a dog-and-pony show).


[Update: actually it wasn't so bad in the actual show. See the review]

Rudbeckia Hirta has a scenario that the series could use. As an aside, the following story is an amusing counterweight to the "mathematician = number cruncher" stereotype:
One striking characteristic of Grothendieck’s mode of thinking is that it seemed to rely so little on examples. This can be seen in the legend of the so-called “Grothendieck prime”. In a mathematical conversation, someone suggested to Grothendieck that they should consider a particular prime number. “You mean an actual number?” Grothendieck asked. The other person replied, yes, an actual prime number. Grothendieck suggested, “All right,take 57.”

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