The title of this entry in my blog (at least the part not in brackets) refers to a short story by Neil Gaiman (one of my favourite authors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Gaiman). The title has always resonated with me as like many other young men whilst growing up I always found it difficult to walk up to girls (or anyone in fact) introduce myself and just have a conversation with them. This problem was always compounded if I managed to start a conversation but it turned to what I did, for upon revealing I was a mathematician one of the person I was speaking to would usually do one of the following things (unless it was another mathematician I was speaking to):
• Say something polite but lose all interest in the conversation
• Walk away
• Choke on the bit of food they were currently swallowing
This of course had the effect of making me feel more awkward about talking with anyone at parties, and feeling a bit embarrassed about being a mathematician.
However, we should all be very proud of being mathematicians and be able to dazzle anyone we chat with about how special and important Maths is in the world without resorting to too much technical detail. A bit like Benedict Cumberbatch does in the TV movie Hawking when talking to a young lady in a pub.
There are resources you can use to make sure that you are armed at parties to talk about the importance of Science and Maths, should you find yourself in a situation similar to the one I describe above.
For instance there is Science and Maths.net (http://www.futuremorph.org/scienceandmaths/#/intro ) we have all seen the adverts on TV (well I have at least), stressing the importance of Science and Maths and how studying them can lead to a varied number of careers.
There is also an article in Maths article in a recent issue of Maths Today, the IMA’s (http://www.ima.org.uk/) main publication for members (note it is well worth joining the IMA just to get this magazine in my humble opinion) called ‘Being a School Speaker’. The article looks at how the ‘IMA School Speakers Scheme’, is helping pupils to understand the importance and the excitement of Mathematics.
There is also an article (http://www.ima.org.uk/mathematics/mt_oct09_the_case_for_support.html) in the same issue of Maths Today, called ‘The Case for Supporting Mathematical Research in Mathematical Sciences’. The article looks at how Maths has supported cutting-edge technologies such as
• Digital Communications (particularly error
• The Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry
• Google (Search Engines)
• Uncovering environmental trends
• Face recognition systems
• Understanding the Human Genome
There is also an article by WT Gowers http://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~wtg10/importance.pdf describing the importance of mathematics and how it is used a video of which can be found here http://math-blog.com/2008/03/31/on-the-importance-of-mathematics/.
These examples only touch on the number of articles etc. which discuss the importance of Mathematics and we need to highlight this importance too at those parties and other social events we may attend to make sure everyone gets the message. So if you are having a conversation with someone who looks at you a bit old fashioned then explain them (in articulated terms) about the excitement and the importance of Mathematics in the world. If they still do not want to talk to you then that person is not worth talking to at parties.