Prof’s skills add up to Hollywood gig!

So opines Doug Moe in the Wisconsin State Journal, which has a nice interview with me in tomorrow’s paper. Look closely and you’ll see that Ken Ribet has a photo credit!

In case anyone’s coming here from the WSJ and wants to read some of the things mentioned there: you can buy my book here. You can read my Slate columns here, including my thoughts on Barry Bonds and the placebo effect. The best pizza in Berkeley (or anywhere) is Cheeseboard, and the best ice cream in Cambridge (or anywhere) is Christina’s, as described in The Restaurant Hall of Fame.

To a guy like me, for whom “get this paper done in a hurry” means “within the next three months,” Moe’s output of five punchy columns a week is really startling. If you’re not already reading him, check out his recent columns on the surprising difficulty of street-naming and vanity plates too hot for the DOT.

Despite Moe’s lightning speed, his article gets the facts right. Well, except one: I do not “nurse” my coffee. Cold coffee is gross.

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6 thoughts on “Prof’s skills add up to Hollywood gig!

  1. Isabel Lugo says:

    So you went to graduate school in “numbers theory”?

    How is that different from number theory?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I had always conjectured that the writers of Numb3rs just sprinkled the dialog with random permutations of words from math book indices. Let me apologize now for the candor, you are in the unenviable position of being the first face / blog I can identify with the mathematical content of the show (plus the jokes almost write themselves). I considered restraining my criticism, but than I figured you either (1) have honest colleagues, and have heard much worse before, or (2) you are long overdue a healthy share of criticism. I kid you not when I say I once heard a friend introduce himself as: “I’m a mathematician… and ‘no’ I do not like Numb3rs!”

    I think the shows has two huge flaws:

    (1) The show is a great platform to dispense educational morsels, but it doesn’t. I am realistic, trying to put any significant mathematical content into a primetime show wouldn’t be successful. But the show suffers from some of your very criticisms of “One to Nine,” but to a much greater extent. Poorly crafted analogies are everywhere, and results are always attributed to a mindblowing theory we’re told about but never see (usually alluded to in the aforementioned listing of complicated sounding terms). A show that got this right, in my opinion, was the West Wing. It was entertaining, enjoyed high ratings, won awards but was also educational. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a classroom lecture, but I learned something about government with every episode. I don’t learning anything about math or logic with numb3rs. Certainly the subject matter is a bit more dense, but it could be done. As examples, I could see an episode that fully taught an induction proof or presented the complete proof of the solvability of chess. That would have people talking at the water cooler the next day!

    (2) The show gets it wrong. Worse than having an opportunity and not doing anything with it is having an opportunity and doing damage with it. Math problems are not solved in minutes! Certainly an hour of a guy doing scratch work wouldn’t make good TV, but the show could be true to the fact that mathematics takes hours/days/months without boring the viewer — but it doesn’t even try. This said, I haven’t gotten to the fact that many of the plot lines are outright outrageous! (If you wish to dispute this, I’d love to explore the specifics of some with you.)

    It isn’t all bad. I’m a fan of your blog, your book and your work — just not your TV show.

  3. Em says:

    What a nice article!

  4. David says:

    Hey, nice interview. There’s an espresso royale just down Commonwealth here (across from the BU central green line stop), about 5 minutes from the math building. Great place.

  5. [...] cheer for Numb3rs 12Jul08 An anonymous commenter denounced me — in a very thoughtful and civil way! — for working on the CBS show Numb3rs: The show [...]

  6. [...] paper of record interview Jordan Ellenberg! Jordan responds to the article here, and refutes anonymous detractors here. And he’s right about Joss, of [...]

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