The Importance of Popular Science by Lê Nguyên Hoang at BtSM2013


I’m very happy and excite to be here I should mention I’m recording it and I plan on putting it on youtube because what I’m going to say I don’t want to just whisper it to you, I want to shout it to the whole world Popular Science is largely underrated on one hand and also, underdeveloped both in quality and in quantity I want you to take away the message that we have to do much more popular science and that it is essential I’m going to start with a real story so 8 years ago, I joined a football team (so I play football) it was the start the team was created the year I joined it. It was a family team with some Italian people. The name of the team was tifosis. so I guess I’m also partly Italian. It was a family team it was not very structured and the team was not very good if we switch to the next slide this is the ranking at the end of the year tifosis is here. at the bottom. We had 1 win. This is a miracle! There’s no physical explanation of that! was that an own goal? no… what’s even more troubling is this number this is the goal difference there were 18 eighteen games. We ended with -196. if you divide 196 by 18, it’s more than 10 goals a game… We usually lost about 10-0. it was played on sunday mornings I usually sleep. so we had to wake up every sunday morning to run all the way and lose 10-0. the atmosphere in the team… at first it was “yeah, we’re having fun” but after 2 or 3 games like that, it was horrible. There were internal conflicts people wanted to leave the team what’s extraordinary… most people left the team what’s extraordinary is that I didn’t. My friends and I didn’t. We stayed in the team even though it was terrible. and the next year we did better we were still last, but we did better we ended with -70. it was more like 5 or 6-0. and then we kept on and the next year, we got even better and we ended 7th of the league and then the next year we got even better and we ended up 3rd among 10 teams and we actually went up division and the question I want to ask you is why? why, when it was so hard, why did we keep going? and mathematics is said to be very hard but I kept on going in mathematics even though it was very hard. Why? my answer to this is PASSION. I’m passionated by football I play even though I lose games because I just like to be up there on the pitch and touching the ball that didn’t happen a lot but the few times it did similarly mathematics needs that mathematics and science we need passion we need passion to keep on going even though it’s complicated and we don’t understand anything I’m going to use a quote by Albert Einstein. He famously said that you see the importance of passion very often when I have a mathematical problem that I cannot solve I would spend hours and hours. I would stay late because I want to solve it, because I’m very interested by the problem and then I would go home I still don’t have the solution, but I keep on thinking about it when I go to sleep I’m still thinking about it and in the next morning I have a solution and it’s wrong but I keep on going. I keep on going. after a week or two weeks sometimes, I get the answer. but you need to be passionate to always think about it. It has to drive you crazy to really understand the problems and that’s the message I want to get here how can we add more passion I think football is a great example to show how passion is communicated there’s an extraordinary passion in football can you name a few football players beckham, kaka, messi can you name mathematicians? Stephen Hawking Bernouilli Who’s that mathematician who played for Brazil? Socrates I guess… I’ve heard Galilei Socrates and Galilei can be considered mathematicians but they’ve been dead for 2,000 years how can you inspire people with people who are dead? football has these stars, they walk on the street, they play in stadiums and on television where as the mathematicians we usually talk about are dead. It’s much less inspiring. yet there are great mathematicians out there doing amazing research today and we don’t talk enough about them. so that’s sort of the message. Let’s steal ideas from football. now that I’ve put passion on a very high level i think if we have passion everything will follow. Passion is the most important thing. it has consequences. so I’ve been writing on Science4All Science4All.org is my website. I write articles on this. and I’ve had a lot of feedbacks i’ve had a lot of good feedbacks i’ve had a lot of bad feedbacks what I want to mention here are the feedbacks which were meant to be good but I don’t find them good at all so let’s start with this one sometimes people say: it’s very interesting what you talk about but it’s a shame you had to dumb it down. and we don’t see the details of mathematics i really hate this sort of reaction There’s something much more important than being accurate and right it’s the whole idea of the theory which matters it’s the reasonings and the stories also when we’re trying to be technical mathematics in school is (not always but often) too technical we have too much focus on the details we’re missing out on the big picture the details leave out the big picture imagine we were walking in Bandung and I want to know Bandung. Bandung is sort of a mathematical proof we would like to know it what would be done in school is you’d
have a teacher guiding you through the city but if you have a guide who walks you through the city you might see some of the things and you might remember one or two things but you will never know the city you need to wander by yourself in the city you need to explore the different areas to really know the city and the first thing you want to know is to have the big picture the map of the city. You don’t want to have the picture of a particular street you want to have the big picture and that’s why popular science is essential to get this big picture another remark that I get is that science is great because it gives facts that also I don’t like I really don’t like such remarks they’re meant to be good… but I don’t really like these remarks and the reason why I don’t is because… the fact that a fact is a fact is in fact very boring! vibratory if you want to communicate passion, what do I care if a fact is a fact or not there’s a much bigger story behind that and that’s what’s amazing if you’ve heard of the proof of Fermat’s last theorem Fermat’s last theorem, I don’t care if it’s right or wrong. I don’t give a damn but the story of Fermat’s last theorem the fact that there was a mathematician three hundred years ago who wrote a theorem and he wrote in the margin that there was not enough space to put the proof. And that mathematicians for 300 years have struggled on this little simple proof it’s amazing and even the story of Andrew Wiles who proved Fermat’s last theorem he spent 6, 7 years alone working on his own on this problem and he got the answer and it was wrong imagine you spend 6 years on one single problem you give it to the world and every body applauds you and it turns out you were wrong what’s even more amazing is that 1 year after that. he had the solution and fixed the problem and when he talked about it it’s just so inspiring it’s right here. I know we’ve talked about emotions about learning through emotions, and it’s really about that. and we should work more on that an example of something that’s completely wrong. Einstein saying he has no talent i don’t believe him i think it’s wrong but the story behind this is just amazing what I want to take uh… so the last thing the last sort of remarks that I get and that always… i’m not very happy when I read that people would say: yes, your blog is amazing, kids are going to love it. I don’t know if you see what’s wrong with that what about the adults? yes! what about the adults? as Jan [Visser] put it in his slide the kid phase is here, like that the other phase is like that you want all of these people to learn too in fact it’s even more important i think that maths and science MUST not be associated with schools and kids only i think we all agree with that the consequence of just always associating maths and school grown-ups often tell me: Math? cool! I used to do it! i used to love it. I used to. That’s the problem: “I used to”. why don’t you do mathematics anymore? there’s so much amazing things you still have to discover about mathematics. Why is it over for you? and the consequence on kids is that kids, they grow up, they look at their parents, and they want to be like their parents and their parents don’t do mathematics anymore so what do they say? they say: I want to do real things like my parents and that’s awful that, right here, is a huge hurdle to the development of science I want to talk a little bit about popularizing science I want to talk about other things than what I do. There’s the museum of mathematics which just opened. I think it’s awesome. I haven’t been there yet. But I really want to go. First thing I’ll do when I get in New York! here is something amazing too in the UK, the government financed. the idea of bringing mathematics in workplaces by the idea of “math champions” just little mathematics but in workplaces you have movies and books which are amazing and these are 3 youtube channels. You really should check them out. Minute Physics, Numberphile, Veritasium there are many others I’m not mentioning here which are also very good so this is my website on my website there are links to all the youtube channels my website is Science4All.org the motto is “Make it simple. Make it cool.” i think it’s essential for the building of the scientific mind.