Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

Press Coverage of the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, 3 October 2002

The Ig Nobel Prizes (awarded by the magazine Annals of ImprobableResearch) acknowledge legitimate science researchers for publishedwork that is incomprehensible to the layperson and/or veryesoteric in nature. The 2002 awards were announced in a wildlyhumorous ceremony in Cambridge, MA, on October 3, 2002. There wasmuch presscoverage, and some articles covered the role of mathematics in someof the awarded research. According to USA Today, "Then there'sArnd Leike of the University of Munich, who won in physics for his workdemonstrating how beer froth obeys the mathematical Law of ExponentialDecay. The economics award went to the executives and auditors of 28companies, including Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom and Qwest Communications,for adapting the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use inthe business world."

The award in mathematics went to K.P. Sreekumar and the late G. Nirmalanof Kerala Agricultural University, India, for their analytical report"Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants." [Reference:"Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants (Elephasmaximus indicus)," K.P. Sreekumar and G. Nirmalan, Veterinary ResearchCommunications, vol. 14, no. 1, 1990, pp. 5-17.] The Times ofIndia noted the mathematics award: "Kannoth Sreekumar of KeralaAgricultural University earned the Ig Nobel mathematics prize for hispaper 'Estimation of the total surface area in Indian Elephants.'Sreekumar was able to derive equations to estimate elephantine surfacearea from measurements of a couple of body parts, vastly simplifying theproblem." The Boston Globe summarizes the proceedings well: "Theawards appear to mock science, but they actually celebrate theunconstrained creative mind, the joy of intellectual inquiry anddiscovery, and the scientific process." And Plus, the onlinemagazine sponsored by Cambridge University, summed it up with, "So wesee that whether we are honouring the profound or the bizarre, thewinner of all of these prizes is really mathematics."

--- Annette Emerson