
Credit: Mykal McEldowney, The Indianapolis Star/ USA TODAY Network
What do American Olympic swimmers Kate Douglass, Gretchen Walsh and Paige Madden, French goldmedalist Leon Marchand, and Australian Olympian Kyle Chambers have in common? In their training, these five leading swimmers and numerous others have employed (and, in the case of Douglass, personally helped develop) advanced data science and physics techniques to finetune their athletic performance.
Many of these top swimmers, who have traditionally relied on their “feel” in the water, now employ accelerometers strapped to their bodies, measuring movements in 3D up to 512 times per second, thus capturing
Continue reading Data science and physics give Olympic swimmers the edge
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Optimal stacking of oranges.
Computer tools in mathematics: From foot dragging to full embrace
The present author recalls, while in graduate school at Stanford nearly 50 years ago, hearing two senior mathematicians (including the present author’s advisor) briefly discuss some other researcher’s usage of computation in a mathematical investigation. Their comments and body language clearly indicated a profound disdain for such efforts. Indeed, the prevailing mindset at the time was “real mathematicians don’t compute.”
Some researchers at the time attempted to draw more attention to the potential of computer tools in mathematics. In the
Continue reading Computation, AI and the future of mathematics
Yes, Pi Day (March 14), that day of mathematical trivia and pieeating, is almost here again.
As is the custom on this site, we present below a crossword puzzle constructed on a theme of mathematics, computing and the digits of pi. Enjoy!
This puzzle has been constructed in conformance with New York Times crossword puzzle standards. In terms of overall difficulty, my mathematician daughter and my genealogist spouse agreed that it would likely rate as a Tuesday (the New York Times grades its puzzles, with Monday puzzles being the easiest and Saturday puzzles being the most challenging).
Continue reading Pi Day 2024 crossword puzzle
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 7 April 2024 (c) 2024
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 China, India and the Middle East, 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

