Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Mind Over Matter: Leaders' Poor Math Skills Add Up to Bad Public Policy," byK. C. Cole. Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2001, page A-8.

K. C. Cole explains how the lack of awareness of mathematical subjects such asprobability, game theory, and the properties of exponential growth results inbad public policy. Cole uses an example from physicist Al Bartlett toillustrate how ignorance of exponential growth leads to short-sighted planning.In the example, the population of bacteria in a soda bottle is doubling everyminute. Since the bacteria's political leaders don't know about exponentialgrowth, they probably won't realize that they will run out of room untilliterally the last minute. Even if the leaders could find three more bottles,the amount of time before the population would run out of room would beextended by only two minutes. The example parallels our consumption of oil. Areduction in the growth rate of consumption of oil will extend the life span ofour supply much more than finding new sources ever could.

--- Mike Breen