
Johann Sebastian Bach; credit Wikimedia
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Bach as “mathematician”
Johan Sebastian Bach (16851750) regularly garners the top spot in listings of the greatest Western classical composers, typically followed by Mozart and Beethoven. Certainly in terms of sheer volume of compositions, Bach reigns supreme. The BachWerkeVerzeichnis (BWV) catalogue lists 1128 compositions, from short solo pieces to the magnificent Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) and Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), far more than any other classical composer. Further, Bach’s clever, syncopated style led the way to twentieth century musical innovations, notably jazz.
There does seem to be a
Continue reading Using network theory to analyze Bach’s music
History of measurements of the speed of light; from Henrion and Fischloff, “Assessing uncertainty in physical constants,” American Journal of Physics, September 1986
Reproducibility in modern science
Reproducibility has emerged as a major issue in numerous fields of scientific research, ranging from psychology, sociology, economics and finance to biomedicine, scientific computing and physics. Many of these difficulties arise from experimenter bias (also known as “selection bias”): consciously or unconsciously excluding, ignoring or adjusting certain data that do not seem to be in agreement with one’s preconceived hypothesis; or devising statistical tests posthoc, namely AFTER data has already been
Continue reading Overcoming experimenter bias in scientific research
The CRISPRCas9 editing system (artist’s impression) for experimental treatments. Credit: Biolution GmbH/Science Photo Library; see https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586023037977
In today’s world, there is certainly no shortage of troubling news: fullscale war in Ukraine and Gaza; simmering conflicts in Sudan, Myanmar, Niger, Afghanistan, Colombia and Somalia; wildfires, droughts and floods connected to humaninduced climate change, which world governments have been deplorably slow to address; outbreaks of Covid19, malaria, RSV and other diseases; hunger and poverty afflicting millions worldwide; a troubling receptiveness for autocracy; continuing sexism, racism and xenophobia; and large numbers of people embracing utterly discredited pseudoscientific conspiracy theories (“your Zodiac sign holds
Continue reading Progress in troubled times: Good news in science, medicine and society
Updated 1 February 2024
Space aliens made this rock
Extraterrestrial aliens made this rock
While out hiking, I found this rock. The following table gives measurements made on the rock. The first two rows give the overall length and width of the rock. Each of the next six rows, after the first two, gives thickness measurements, made on a 3cm x 6cm grid of points from the top surface. All measurements are in millimeters:
Measurement or row Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Length 105.0 Width 48.21 Row 1 35.44 35.38 36.54 Row 2 38.06 38.27
Continue reading Aliens made this rock: The posthoc probability fallacy in biology, finance and cosmology
Quicksort algorithm; credit: Abhilash Kakumanu
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Introduction
The operation of sorting a dataset is one of the most fundamental of all operations studied in computer science. Literally trillions of sort operations are performed each day worldwide, more if one counts operations where a relatively small set of elements are merged into a larger set.
Many sorting algorithms are in use, including special routines for datasets of a certain size, and other routines optimized for specific hardware platforms and types of data.
One relatively simple algorithm, which is actually quite efficient, is the “quicksort” algorithm. It
Continue reading DeepMind program discovers new sorting algorithms
Is modern science socially constructed and forever tentative? Updated 20 April 2023
Introduction
Writers from the discipline known variously as “postmodern science studies” or “sociology of scientific knowledge” are often cited in discussions of science, philosophy and religion. Some of these writers, notably Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, have had significant impact on the field of scientific research.
Issues such as ensuring proper credit for the scientific contributions of nonWestern societies (such as the ancient mathematics of India and China — see, for example, [Bailey2012]), as well as dealing with the chronic underrepresentation of women, racial minorities and indigenous
Continue reading Is modern science socially constructed and forever tentative?
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Peter Borwein
Peter Borwein, former professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University and director of the university’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences (IRMACS), died on August 23, 2020, at the age of 67, of pneumonia, after courageously battling multiple sclerosis for over 20 years.
The Notices of the American Mathematical Society has just published a memorial tribute, written by the present author, that summarizes Peter’s life and career. Here are a few highlights:
Peter Borwein is perhaps best known for discovering (often but not always with his brother Jonathan) new
Continue reading Peter Borwein: A visionary mathematician
So soon? Yes, it is that time of year again — PiDay (March 14) is just a few days away. In honor of this mathematical holy day, we present once again a crossword puzzle with an appropriate pirelated theme.
This year’s puzzle implements a new design for a mathematical crossword, which to the present author’s knowledge has never before been employed. See, for example, clue 40 Across below. In all respects, though, the puzzle conforms to the standards of New York Times crosswords. In terms of overall difficulty (Monday = easiest; Saturday = most difficult), this puzzle most likely would
Continue reading PiDay 2023 crossword puzzle
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ChatGPT: A milestone in artificial intelligencebased language models
Many readers have doubtless heard of ChatGPT, the latest instance of a language generation tool developed by the technology startup OpenAI. This tool, which is now available for public experimental use, takes as input a request or other statement from the user, then responds. It employs a dialogue format, which makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, and even admit its mistakes.
It is clear, even from a cursory examination, that ChatGPT represents a rather dramatic advance in artificial intelligence. Some of the results are rather
Continue reading Can ChatGPT prove math theorems?
Credit: Wikimedia
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Introduction
Most of us learn the basic scheme for matrix multiplication in high school. What could be more simple and straightforward? Thus it may come as a surprise to some the basic scheme is not the most efficient.
German mathematician Volker Strassen was the first to show this, in 1969, by exhibiting a scheme that yields practical speedups even for moderately sized matrices. In the years since Strassen’s discovery, numerous other researchers have found even better schemes for certain specific matrix size classes. For a good overview of these methods, together with some
Continue reading Machine learning program finds new matrix multiplication algorithms

