Hey all

Nick here. I like algebra, modern lit, lifting, and you. Here’s a picture of me with a dog that isn’t even mine:

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Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make you smile!

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Hi Everybody

It’s been a while since an introduction and so to get the monkey off of my back, here is my introduction.  My name is Solly Parenti.  Soon, I will be graduating U of M with a B.S. in Honors Mathematics, and I will be continuing my math studies at graduate school next year.

Like most of the rest of the Yellow Pigs, my interests lean are on the algebraic side.  Currently, I’m interested in Algebraic Geometry and Number Theory, but I still have a lot to learn and so these interests may change.  I’ll attempt to post some math stuff soon.

I’ll try to post mostly about math, but I don’t really know how this blogging thing works.  So if I get in a rut, I will probably post cat pictures.  I have one cat at home, her name is Lizzie and she is incredible.  I’ve got tons of pictures and I take more every chance I get, so I will not run out of material for that.  Here’s one of us taking a nap together:

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Reading Lists

A conversation I recently had with Elliot, a fellow contributor to Yellow Pigs who hopefully will be introducing himself soon, has inspired me to add another page to this blog. In particular, it turns out we both keep lists in some form of books, papers, articles, etc. we one day wish to read. With this in mind I have added a Reading List page, where we can all share and record thing we have read, are reading, or one day wish to read. So my fellow YP’ers please feel free to add to the reading list. To anyone else who is reading this please recommend anything you think we should check out. I for one am always looking for books to one day read.

Why Fund Math Research?

Over on her awesome blog, mathbabe, Cathy O’Neil has begun a conversation exploring how the mathematical community can justify continued public funding. As she’s says:

I’d like to argue for math research as a public good which deserves to be publicly funded. But although I’m sure that we need to make that case, the more I think about it the less sure I am how to make that case. I’d like your help.

Trying to focus the debate around why they public should continue to fund mathematics Cathy O’Neil suggest we begin the discussion by trying to complete the sentence, “Continuing math research is important because…”.  In this direction she provides here own answers to these questions, and does a beautiful job looking at these critically. Make sure to read her piece it is a great jumping off place for this conversation.

That said when it comes to trying to argue that mathematics should be publicly funded I do not think we should necessarily begin by answering, “Why is math research important?” Instead I believe we must begin by asking a slightly different albeit related question:

Question 1: Why should the public fund math research?

However, this question is best approached by first considering a more general question:

Question 2: Why does the public decide to fund anything?

For example, why do most local communities fund fire and police departments? Especially considering that most of the time these institutions have relatively little direct impact upon peoples lives. The answer, I believe, is that people generally support the funding of something because it reinforces a commonly held value.

Continuing with the example of police and fire departments, people support funding these services not because they understand and appreciate the details of what each does  — I for one have no real idea what police officers and firefighters do on a daily basis — but because they value the security, or the sense of security, they provide. That is while the police and fire departments tend to have relatively little direct impact on people’s everyday lives they enjoy knowing that if in the future they need these services they exist.

Thus, to answer Question 1 we must ask ourselves if math research reinforces some value we hold as a culture. To which I believe that as a culture we generally do value the pursuit and collection of knowledge. Maybe I am being optimistic when I say this, but I do believe that while many people may not express such sentiments frequently they appreciate the fact that somewhere people are expanding our understanding of the world around us.

Consider for example the case of public libraries. Surveys suggest people tend to overwhelmingly support public libraries — 94% of those surveyed believed their local library improved the quality of the community, and 90% believe the closing of their local library would impact their community. Despite this massive support most individuals do not understand or even use their local libraries. Surveys have suggested that 77% of the adult US population is at most only somewhat what familiar with the services provided by their local library, and barely more than half, 54%, have been to the library once in the last year. Thus, support for libraries is not because people understand or use them, but in my opinion because people value the fact that libraries serve as a trove of knowledge that helps us understand our world.

With this in mind I believe the way to convince the general public that mathematics research is worthy of funding is not to necessarily explain to them what math research is or what has come from it, but instead to play to people’s value of the pursuit of knowledge; reminding them of their own desire to further understand the world around them. Right or wrong people tend to be swayed by appeals to their values not necessarily informative arguments. E.g. If you want people to support an increase in funding for the fire department don’t explain to them the details of how the new equipment works. Instead remind them the fire department helps provide them security they  value.

Of course this approach is not unique to math, but applies to essentially all academic pursuits. Thus, it does not address how society should distribute funds between academic disciplines — e.g. Should physics research receive more funding than math research? — but I feel this is a secondary debate.

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Addendum 1: All of this does lead naturally to the question of how such appeals are in fact effectively made. So maybe I’ll try to touch on that sometime in the near future. If you have thoughts on this do please share them in the comments!

Addendum 2: I realize at times throughout this post I made claims regarding how people make certain political decisions — i.e. emotional/value appeals being effective — if you want to read some of the research supporting this some good general references on this include: News That Matters by Iyenger and Kinder and Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader.

A Hello From Xander

In his inaugural post, DJ said most of what what there is to be said about about Yellow Pigs: students and friends approaching the end of our time together, and creating a thread to connect us as we move to far away places and do far away things. Rather than saying it all again, I’ll just say a few words about myself.

My name is Xander Flood. In a few months I’ll be graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors of Engineering in Computer Science, but number theory and algebraic geometry are what I plan on doing for at least the next five years, and hopefully indefinitely. Beside mathematics, the main things that occupy a substantial part of my energy are food and music, so if the math ever runs dry for a time, maybe I’ll just start posting recipes!

The other eight authors who will be writing for Yellow Pigs have known one another for their entire undergraduate careers, and I’m a bit newer to the group – I only started studying mathematics in a serious way about two years ago, and first got to know this fantastic bunch of folks well in the last year or so. Nonetheless, it will be a bittersweet goodbye to each and every one of them in the coming months, as we move out to dip our toes into the world beyond little Ann Arbor!

A New Beginning

As this is the first post I believe an introduction is in order. My name is David Bruce, but everyone who knows me refers to me as DJ. I am a soon to be graduate of the University of Michigan (U of M) with a Bachelors of Science in Honors Mathematics and Political Science, and a soon to be student in some math graduate program. As I have begun to make plans for the future I have come to the realization that in the near future my fellow Honors Math friends  and I will begin to go our separate ways. Something which is exciting as it means we will all be moving on to bigger and better thing, but simultaneously dispiriting as it means the end of our many conversations about math, life, and other stuff.

With this in mind, and inspired in part by the Secret Blogging Seminar, my fellow soon to be graduate Honors Math friends and I have decided to try and continue these conversations via this blog — Yellow Pigs. For those who don’t catch the reference in the title grab your nearest copy of Michael Spivak’s Calculus. Thus, hopefully in the coming months this blog will become a place for my fellow U of M Math friends — who will introduce themselves shortly — and myself to write about the math we are learning and thinking about as well as other things we feel are worth talking about.

As the contributors to this blog are all soon to be graduated undergraduates none of us have as of yet concrete research interests, but I feel safe saying that all of our interests lean in some way towards the algebraic. That said as we begin graduate school I would expect a wide range of potential topics to be discussed as we begin explore new areas of math.

With all that said here is to the new beginnings that are coming soon.