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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Proof-Ready Projects

The Guardian has an article about the beauty of algorithms which credits mathematicians as the developer of algorithms (as opposed to computer scientists). Don't feel too much envy for the mathematicians, as Wired blames a mathematician for the financial crisis.

Yesterday's Science Times has two articles on the Obama administration and science. John Tierney writes about how scientists do not always frame science policy issues well. Gardiner Harris and Kenneth Chang write about the immediate needs for the science money in the stimulus bill.
"It would be the height of embarrassment," Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said, "if we give these grants and find out that institutions are not spending them to hire people and make purchases and advance the science the way they’re designed to do."
No problem says Harris and Chang, universities have plenty of "beaker-ready" projects ready to go.

For those who don't follow Scott's blog, check out the Globe article quoting him and Arora on computational intractability.

6 comments:

  1. The Guardian has an article about the beauty of algorithms which credits mathematicians as the developer of algorithms (as opposed to computer scientists).


    The credit has been given where its due. The first non-trivial algorithm is surely the Euclid's algorithm for computing the gcd. In more modern times, it was Gauss who
    popularized both the need for efficient algorithms (Gaussian elimination, Gaussian quadratures, and hosts of other number theoretic algorithms) analyzing their complexities, as well as actually using them to do computations (without computers of course).

    The modern day formulation of algorithms
    is due to work of luminaries such as Turing, Goedel, Tarski etc. -- all mathematicans. The contributions from the computer programming/discrete optimizing community such as those of Knuth, Karp, Cook etc. and others came much later.

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  2. The Wired magazine article illustrates that high impact, quickly applicable research can have serious "cracks." Yet, this type of research is encouraged, prized, and awarded in academia.

    One mathematician created a model and published it in an academic paper. Scores of bankers then blindly apply it (though with profitable results 99% of the time) without understanding its limitations or flaws. Should he have published his research in the first place? Even with plenty of caveats and warnings, would that have stopped the tsunami of greed from propagating? Is the mathematician responsible for any of this?

    Makes you think twice when searching for a research topic...perhaps Hardy had more wisdom than we give him credit for.

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  3. The question of "Math vs. CS" may be relevant for funding purposes, but is a bit silly.

    One could make a strong argument that Turing and von Neuman were Computer Scientists. After all, both built innovative hardware, wrote code, and used some of this work to address very practical questions outside Mathematics (or core CS). Of course, they could not be called computer scientists, because there was no CS at the time--just as Galileo was called a "Natural Philosopher", which was a general category that included today's Physics.

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  4. About the "Math vs CS" question...
    I'm an undergraduate student in Sweden, and I have also studied one year in USA.

    And a difference that I have noticed is that a lot of subjects that in US is studied in the CS department, are studied in the Math department in Sweden, i.e computational complexity.
    Don't know how it looks in the rest of Europe, but this might be a reason why a UK news paper chooses to describe algorithms as mathematics.

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  5. For someone who doesn't understand, really, what computer scientists or mathematicians do (i.e. most of the readers of the Guardian), calling the people who develop new algorithms "mathematicians" might get the point across better.

    Most people thinking of computers probably think of the programmers of the world---Bill Gates and whatnot. The work an algorithm-analyzing computer scientist does resembles a mathematician a lot more than a software developer.

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  6. "The contributions from the computer programming/discrete optimizing community such as those of Knuth, Karp, Cook etc. and others came much later."

    As far as I know, all of them have Math PhDs. The story of Cook being no receiving tenure from UCB is famous. We should accept that CS was born as a branch of math.

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