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Tony Phillips' Take on Math in the Media A monthly survey of math news |

- 4 log 3 - a new cosmic constant?
- Ethnomath in the
*Times Magazine*. - Math reform in Russia.
- Quantum computing in
*The Economist*

**4 log 3 - a new cosmic constant?** John Baez (UC Riverside) has a "news and views" piece in the February 13 2003 *Nature* entitled "The Quantum of Area?". We start by asking whether black holes have a discrete spectrum of energy levels. According to Baez, a complete answer would require an understanding of "how quantum mechanics and general relativity fit together -- one of the great unsolved problems in physics." But two completely different ways of guessing have recently come to the same answer: the spectrum of discrete energy levels is related to the surface area of the black hole, and the quantum of surface area is exactly 4 times the natural logarithm of 3 times the Planck area (which itself is about 10^{-70} m^{2}). The "surface" is actually the event horizon - "the closest distance an object can approach a black hole before being sucked in," so it is an imaginary boundary, but nevertheless acts in many ways "like a flexible membrane," and has a geometry of its own: it is flat except at points where it is punctured by one of the "threads" postulated by loop quantum gravity theory. Recent work by Shahar Hod (Hebrew University), Olaf Dreyer (Penn State; available online) and Lubos Motl (Harvard; available online) relates to earlier research by Hawking, Ashketar and Baez himself.

**Ethnomath in the Times Magazine. ** The context is the release last month of a new math curriculum for New York City schools. The conflict, nothing new, is between the "back-to-basics" advocates of "proved practices like memorization, repetition and the mastery of algorithm" and the advocates of constructivist teaching techniques, which the B2B folks dismiss as "fuzzy math." The report, by Dirk Olin in the February 23 2003

**Math reform in Russia. ** The Feburary 13 2003 *Nature* ran a review by Valery N. Soyfer (George Mason University) of the Russian book with translated title "The Education That We May Lose." The book, "by a group of leading mathematicians," was edited by Victor A. Sadovnichii, the president of Moscow State Universty and a mathematician himself. What is putting education at risk is a wave of reforms being implemented by the Russian Ministry of Education. The high school curriculum is shifting away from mathematics and natural sciences, and towards social sciences, information technology, physical education, etc. As Sadovnichii states: "The virtues of the Russian high school, which the entire world spoke of with real respect, have always depended first of all on basic science ... ." Two interesting points among many brought up in this review: First, the opinion of Igor F. Sharygin, a former high school teacher, on the civic importance of mathematics. (In Soyfer's words) "people who are mathematically literate and understand what proof means cannot easliy be manipulated." Next, the book's devoting nearly 100 pages to "a full translation of the US National Commission on Science Teaching (the John Glenn Commission), along with the text of a programme of educational reforms proposed by US President George W. Bush. According to these documents ... the US leadership is determined to counter the decline in the standard of mathematics and science teaching in US public schools."

**Quantum computing in The Economist.** "Heads and Tails" is the clever title of a piece in

-*Tony Phillips Stony Brook *