Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"The Physics of Society," by Philip Ball. Nature, 24 January 2002, page 371.

Probability garnered widespread attention -- and generated its share ofcontroversy -- with its role as a fundamental descriptor of the quantum world.But its use in the sciences as a tool to bring conceptual order to randomnessoriginated in sociology. Even before the 18th-century discovery that theGaussian distribution accurately modeled many social phenomena, there was apush to make the study of society quantitative. Through Maxwell's use of theGaussian in the late 19th century, the statistical ideas of sociology workedtheir way into physics, where they would come to play their famous leadingrole.

--- Rafe Jones