The Coronavirus Post

This post is inspired by an article by Tomas Pueyo, which I believe is compelling reading for understanding the growth of and the control of the COVID-19 outbreak:

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now

(Update 01/04/20: Pueyo’s follow up article, from 20/3)

I have no idea who Pueyo is, I cannot vouch for his data, and commenters are free to argue against his analysis and his conclusions. I do not claim to know what Pueyo’s analysis might imply for how any particular city or country should be responding at any particular time.

I’m not sure where this post, or this blog, might go for the next while. Nothing is as important to society right now as managing COVID-19. Ironically, I’ll probably have plenty of time sitting at home in the next weeks or months, to write on the standard maths ed topics.

I plan to update this post from time to time, with links to articles and reports that, to my amateur eye, seem considered and important. In general the articles will be linked without comment; linking them means I believe they are worth reading, but I am not pretending to be an expert and I am open to counterclaim on anything. Commenters are also welcome to suggest articles; I may then update the post with a link up high. My general intention, however, is to have fewer articles, of high quality.

To be clear, this post is not particularly intended to be a forum for naive mathematical models, and I don’t intend to engage in that. I’ll also try to lay off the snarkiness, at least in the actual post. Commenters can comment as they wish. If, for example, some Liberal clown or some Greens clown says something stupid on social media, feel free to call it out. But the post itself is intended to promote clear-headed analyses. My other posts will continue to be as charmingly snarky as ever.

UPDATE (19/03/20)

Link 1 Here is the link to the original article, by Thomas Pueyo, that inspired this post:

Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now (and Pueyo’s follow-up article.)

Link 2 Here is a World Health Organisation summary that commenter Steve R gave below:

WHO: Situation Reports (updated 25/03/20: link points to all reports)

Link 3 Here is an comprehensive map from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at John Hopkins University:

CCSE map of global cases

UPDATE (25/03/20)

Below are a few more links (and link 2 above has been redirected). The top two come from David Nagayam Nayagam a sciency friend of ours who sends article-links to an email list. David mostly links to technical-clinical articles. If you want to be added to David’s list, you can email David directly.

Link 4 Our World in Data

OWD: Coronavirus Summary

Link 5 Imperial College analysis of public health measures (widely reported upon)

IC: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions

Link 6 Snopes factchecking

Snopes: The Coronavirus collection

Link 7 Norman Swan’s podcast

ABC: Coronacast

UPDATE (27/03/20)

More links below, from David Nagayam Nayagam. You can still email David directly, if you wish to be added to his email list. (Also, David’s twitter account contains more day to day information, plus howling at Australia’s idiocy.)

Link 8 University College London National Research Group’s tracking for each country

UCL: Worldwide Growth Rates

Link 9 National Center for Biotechnology Information hub for scientific literature on Covid-19

NCBI: LitCovid Hub

Link 10 A survey and discussion in Lancet on the public use of face masks.

Lancet: Rational use of face masks in the COVID-19 pandemic

UPDATE (01/04/20)

We’ve added a link added to Pueyo’s follow-up article from (20/03)

An Educational Qandary

We see that Monday’s episode of Q & A has an education theme. The panel features Tanya and Adrian and, of course, Eddie the Great. (There’s also a token principal and a token student, who one hopes have the foresight and the intelligence and the courage to be troublesome tokens.)

We won’t watch. We can’t watch. We do, however, have a question about how the show might go:

How long into the show might it be before we have the first dumb question on PISA, and how long until the first dumber answer?

We’ll guess 2 minutes into the show for the question, and 2:30 for the answer.

UPDATE (11/02/20) We had to look up the commenters’ reference to “Jurgen Klopp reply”, but we’re glad we did. It should be watched by everybody with a platform in the media and, in particular, by everyone who appears on Q and Fucking A:

Woody Gets a Hachette Job

After signing a deal to publish Woody Allen’s memoirs, The Hachette Book Group has pulled out. That comes after Ronan Farrow whined about the deal and HBG employees walked out in protest. HBG spokeswoman Claire Cottrell stated that “The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one”, but of course Claire is lying. What was difficult, and what proved to be too difficult, was for HBG to stand up to a lynch mob. Meaning, we suppose, that we’ll have to stick to actresses for models of integrity, rather than self-righteous publishers.

UPDATE (22/03/20)

Lionel Shriver has written a very good article on the Hachette job.

What Happened to the Evil Mathologer?

I know something of the current Mathologer issue, but not much. I’ll write more soon.

ps. For those who are unaware, I always refer to the Mathologer as ‘Evil”. I support the Evil Mathologer 100%, here and always.

UPDATE (Wednesday Morning)

I’ve talked to the Evil Mathologer, and all is (sort of) OK.

Mathologer will definitely continue, with a new video under construction as we speak. As for the deleted Mathologer videos, Burkard is enquiring about that, but no promises for a quick fix. As for why the videos were deleted, I don’t want to preempt whatever Burkard may want to say or not say about that.

UPDATE (Wednesday Afternoon)

OK, the Mathologer videos are now back up! Except, there was (hopefully only) a glitch with the re-upping of the latest video. I think Burkard expects that also to be sorted out soon.

UPDATE (Thursday)

Unfortunately, the Evil Mathologer’s latest video is still not back up, and nothing really to report. I had begun to write a comment for people who know (or think they know) what happened, and how I think they should try to understand it. I thought better of it.

What I do hope to do, in the next day or so, is write some of the prehistory of the Mathologer channel. That might at least provide some perspective.

UPDATE (Friday)

Burkard’s latest video is back up!

INtHiTS 3: ScoMoFo Is Told Where to Go

scottmarsh.com.au

Australia is on fire. Which has led to pretty much the whole country, and a good part of the planet, telling Scott “Morals” Morrison to go fuck himself. But supposedly Morals “understands“, and can see why people “fixate“, and “doesn’t take these things personally“.

You’re wrong, Morals. It is personal. Many, many people are disgusted by your person. They are disgusted because you’re a sanctimonious, unprincipled, greasy huckstering halfwit who deserves to fry in Hell if only for the sheer loathsome meaninglessness of your government. Fuck you, fuck the mining lizardmen and Murdoch gargoyles who cover for you, and fuck all the dumb fucks who allowed themselves to be conned into voting for you.

Foundation Stoned

The VCAA is reportedly planning to introduce Foundation Mathematics, a new, lower-level year 12 mathematics subject. According to Age reporter Madeleine Heffernan, “It is hoped that the new subject will attract students who would not otherwise choose a maths subject for year 12 …”. Which is good, why?

Predictably, the VCAA is hell-bent on not solving the wrong problem. It simply doesn’t matter that not more students continue with mathematics in Year 12. What matters is that so many students learn bugger all mathematics in the previous twelve years. And why should anyone believe that, at that final stage of schooling, one more year of Maths-Lite will make any significant difference?

The problem with Year 12 that the VCAA should be attempting to solve is that so few students are choosing the more advanced mathematics subjects. Heffernan appears to have interviewed AMSI Director Tim Brown, who noted the obvious, that introducing the new subject “would not arrest the worrying decline of students studying higher level maths – specialist maths – in year 12.” (Tim could have added that Year 12 Specialist Mathematics is also a second rate subject, but one can expect only so much from AMSI.)

It is not clear that anybody other than the VCAA sees any wisdom in their plan. Professor Brown’s extended response to Heffernan is one of quiet exasperation. The comments that follow Heffernan’s report are less quiet and are appropriately scathing. So who, if anyone, did the VCAA find to endorse this distracting silliness?

But, is it worse than silly? VCAA’s new subject won’t offer significant improvement, but could it make matters worse? According to Heffernan, there’s nothing to worry about:

“The new subject will be carefully designed to discourage students from downgrading their maths study.”

Maybe. We doubt it.

Ms. Heffernan appears to be a younger reporter, so we’ll be so forward as to offer her a word of advice: if you’re going to transcribe tendentious and self-serving claims provided by the primary source for and the subject of your report, it is accurate, and prudent, to avoid reporting those claims as if they were established fact.

A PISA With Almost the Lot

At current count, there have been two thousand, one hundred and seventy-three reports and opinion pieces on Australia’s terrific PISA results. We’ve heard from  a journalist, a former PISA director, the Grattan Institute, the Gonski Institute, the Mitchell Institute, ACER, the Innovative Research University Group, The Centre for Independent Studies, the AMSI Schools Project Manager, the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, the Australian Science Teachers Association, Learning First, an education journalist, an education editor, an education lecturer, a psychometrician, an education research fellowa lecturer in educational assessment, an emeritus professor of education, a plethora of education academics,  a shock jock, a shock writer, a federal education minister, a state education minister, another state education minister, a shadow education ministeran economist,  a teacher and a writer.

So, that’s just about everyone, right?

A Quick Message for Holden and Piccoli

A few days ago the Sydney Morning Herald published yet another opinion piece on Australia’s terrific PISA results. The piece was by Richard Holden, a professor of economics at UNSW, and Adrian Piccoli, formerly a state Minster for Education and now director of the Gonski Institute at UNSW. Holden’s and Piccoli’s piece was titled

‘Back to basics’ is not our education cure – it’s where we’ve gone wrong

Oh, really? And what’s the evidence for that? The piece begins,

A “back to basics” response to the latest PISA results is wrong and ignores the other data Australia has spent more than 10 years obsessing about – NAPLAN. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy is all about going back to basics ...

The piece goes on, arguing that the years of emphasis on NAPLAN demonstrate that Australia has concentrated upon and is doing fine with “the basics”, and at the expense of the “broader, higher-order skills tested by PISA”.

So, here’s our message:

Dear Professors Holden and Piccoli, if you are so ignorant as to believe NAPLAN and numeracy is about “the basics”, and if you can exhibit no awareness that the Australian Curriculum has continued the trashing of “the basics”, and if you are so stuck in the higher-order clouds to be unaware of the lack of and critical need for properly solid lower-order foundations, and if you can write an entire piece on PISA without a single use of the words “arithmetic” and “mathematics” then please, please just shut the hell up and go away.

Fibonacci Numbers to the Rescue

No, really. This time it’s true. Just wait.

Our favourite mathematics populariser at the moment is Evelyn Lamb. Lamb’s YouTube videos are great because they don’t exist. Evelyn Lamb is a writer. (That is not Lamb in the photo above. We’ll get there.)

It is notoriously difficult to write good popular mathematics (whatever one might mean by “popular”). It is very easy to drown a mathematics story in equations and technical details. But, in trying to avoid that error, the temptation then is to cheat and to settle for half-truths, or to give up entirely and write maths-free fluff. And then there’s the writing, which must be engaging and crystal clear. There are very few people who know enough of mathematics and non-mathematicians and words, and who are willing to sweat sufficiently over the details, to make it all work.

Of course the all-time master of popular mathematics was Martin Gardner, who wrote the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American for approximately three hundred years. Gardner is responsible for inspiring more teenagers to become mathematicians than anyone else, by an order of magnitude. If you don’t know of Martin Gardner then stop reading and go buy this book. Now!

Evelyn Lamb is not Martin Gardner. No one is. But she is very good. Lamb writes the mathematics blog Roots of Unity for Scientific American, and her posts are often surprising, always interesting, and very well written.

That is all by way of introduction to a lovely post that Lamb wrote last week in honour of Julia Robinson, who would have turned 100 on December 8. That is Robinson in the photo above. Robinson’s is one of the great, and very sad, stories of 20th century mathematics.

Robinson worked on Diophantine equations, polynomial equations with integer coefficients and where we’re hunting for integer solutions. So, for example, the equation x2 + y2 = z2 is Diophantine with the integer solution (3,4,5), as well as many others. By contrast, the Diophantine equation x2 + y2 = 3 clearly has no integer solutions.

Robinson did groundbreaking work on Hilbert’s 10th problem, which asks if there exists an algorithm to determine whether a Diophantine equation has (integer) solutions. Robinson was unable to solve Hilbert’s problem. In 1970, however, building on the work of Robinson and her collaborators, the Russian mathematician Yuri Matiyasevich was able solve the problem in the negative: no such algorithm exists. And the magic key that allowed Matiyasevich to complete Robinson’s work was … wait for it … Fibonacci numbers.

Label the Fibonacci numbers as follows:

F1 =1, F2 = 1, F3 = 2, F4 = 3, F5 = 5, F6 = 8, …

It turns out that with this labelling the Fibonacci numbers have the following weird property:

If Fn2 divides Fm then Fn divides m.

You can check what this is saying with n = 3 and m = 6. (We haven’t been able to find a proof online to which to link.) How does that help solve Hilbert’s problem? Read Lamb’s post, and her more bio-ish article in Science News, and find out.