Monday, July 30, 2012

A few items

This editorial from yesterday's NY Times is remarkable for just how off-base it is.  The author, a retired social scientist professor, argues that we should stop teaching algebra to so many people.  He actually thinks that teaching algebra to everyone is bad for society:  "Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent."  Basically, his reasoning is that (1) it's hard for many non-math-inclined people, so it takes up a lot of time that could be spent on other things; and (2) it's really not useful for most people, so it's doubly a waste of time.  How anyone can argue publicly that what society really needs is less math literacy is completely beyond me.  Like all of these sorts of things, there is a grain of reason in his argument:  Most people do not need to prove solutions to cubic equations with professional-grade math rigor.  However, algebra and algebraic ideas are absolutely essential to understanding many many things, from financial literacy to probability and statistics.  Moreover, algebra teaches real quantitative reasoning, rather than just arithmetic.  The fact that this even got printed in the Times is another example of the anti-science/math/engineering bias in our society.  If I tried to get an editorial into the Washington Post advocating that we stop teaching history and literature to everyone because it takes away time from other things and writing is hard for many people, I would rightly be decried as an idiot.

This editorial from today's NY Times is also remarkable.  The author had historically been a huge skeptic of the case for anthropogenic global warming.  Funded by the oil magnate (and totally unbiased about this issue, I'm sure) Koch brothers, he did a study based much more on statistics and data gathering than relying on particular models of climate forecasting.  Bottom line:  He's now convinced that global warming is real, and that human activities in terms of CO2 are very significant drivers.  Funding to be cut off and his name to be publicly excoriated on Fox News in 5...4...3....  See?  Quantitative reasoning is important.

Rumor has it that Bill Nye the Science Guy is considering making new episodes of his show.  Bill, I know you won't read this, but seven years ago you visited Rice and posed for a picture with my research group.  Please make this happen!  If there is anything I can do to increase the likelihood that this takes place, let me know.

Finally, from the arxiv tonight, this paper is very interesting.   These folks grew a single layer of FeSe on a strontium titanate substrate, and by annealing it under different conditions they affect its structure (as studied by angle-resolved photoemission).  The important point here is that they find conditions where this layer superconducts with a transition temperature of 65 K.  That may not sound so impressive, but if it holds up, it beats the nearest Fe-based material by a good 10 K, and beats bulk FeSe by more like a factor of 1.5 in transition temperature.  Stay tuned.  Any upward trend in Tc is worth watching.

No comments: