Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Push me, pull me," by Bruce Schechter. New Scientist, 24 August 2002,pages 42-45.

This article describes how the Ising model, a standard tool used in physics torepresent how magnetization spreads through a material, has been applied tomathematically model how opinions spread in groups of people. Researchers usedthe model to simulate elections and then compared the simulations againstelection data; the simulations closely mirrored reality. This shows, thearticle says, that "social factors strongly influence the outcome of anelection"; what candidates say and do is less important than conversationsamong voters. Another result is that neighbors reach consensus more easily insmall informal groups than in large meetings.

--- Allyn Jackson