Numb3rs Shmumbers Posted on 15 May, 2006 by michael The show Numbe3rs was devised by the Bush administration as a disinformation campaign in their war on science. Discuss.
While Numb3rs isn’t a cultural masterpiece, I liked the episodes I have seen. The story, characters ,acting etc are Ok and it is nice with a mathematician as a hero. (Not the least because the math department at my Institute of Technology has actually done some work in that vein.) The science has also been better than CSI. Numb3rs even does a pretty good job of explaining the math involved in popular terms.
What is your problem with the series?
Just the fact that a prime time show has a mathematician as a major character and a physicists as a minor character redeems all possible sins IMHO. There is no way a TV show written by people who are not professional mathematicians is going to manage to get the math right on a consistent basis. But if the show gets one person interested in math who wouldn’t otherwise be and they actually go out and try to understand the math, doesn’t that make it worthwhile?
(Notice that I did not go all girlie and tell you that Charlie is rather cute.)
Although I tend to like the show, I have to admit that the way “Charlie” writes his definite integrals and finite sums is much like fingernails on a blackboard to me. I don’t mean to start a vi/emacs war but \sum_(k=1)^n should be written in the following order: summation sign, k=1 and *then* n, not summation sign, n, followed by k=1.
I know that if all a tv show on a major network gets wrong (and they get more wrong then that) is how to write sums and integrals then life is golden, but it still drives me nuts.
Oh, and Charlie is rather cute. I spent the day buying pink Timberland shoes so I don’t mind going all girly.
I read in an interview that the actor who plays Charlie had never been good at math himself and he was doing his best imitating what he’d seen from real mathematicians on the blackboard. Since the majority of the audience doesn’t care, they probably don’t spend too much time on it. They also don’t intend to get the math exactly right eben though they have consultants from Caltech.
The nice thing about Numb3rs is not only that it’s shows mathematicians or physicists as competent, “real” people solving real world problems, but also that it doesn’t try to sell them as superheroes. I’d be really pissed off if Charlie was this Bond-like character and got involved in gunfights and arrests unlike CSI people in real life. They depict the physicist as absent minded, but likeable and even somewhat intriguing to the attractive FBI psychologist.
The one thing missing from the show is that they don’t show where this magic comes from. It’s not all genius and no studying. I liked the bit where Charlie was trying to figure out P & NP just not to think about a personal problem. The ex-gi-joe FBI guys could use some depth, too.
All your points are good (Megan, your frustration comes from being stuck in Dallas for too long). I had just reached my limit for the “random math argot” generator that supplies the show with its situation dialog between charlie, the physist, and the cute post-doc love interest. “Professor X is giving a talk on *insert random math discipline that was exahasted in the sixties, want to go?
*there is no way in HELL that charlie and the cute post-doc are going to go to a talk on point set topology.
So Michael, what would they go to a talk on? Asks the person who has extremely limited access to any type of math talk.
If memory serves, Charlie is an analyst, correct? (I saw a show where is was revealed that Charlie’s claim to fame was some result know as “Epps convergence”) and I ain’t one of those, but if they were into algebraic geometry, something with the words “moduli” “spaces” and “curves”, or “blow-up”. Algebraic Topologists: “Derived”, “Category” or “Universal”, “enveloping”, “algebra”, or perhaps “Category”, “localization”. Maybe Charlie is an an applied mathematician? Then “primal”, “dual” or “convex”, “function”
, or maybe even “VU” “decomposition”. That last one may be a little too much in the “point set topology” vein. If they were discrete geometers, the word “polytope” would DEFINITELY be in the title.
Michael – I read that Charlie was an applied mathematician. A nice thing for me – now when I’m talking to the employment people and they think that a degree in applied math means I’m a bookkeeper, I can say “no, I’m like Charlie.”
So I actually know all the words in your list except “VU” and “polytope” which if geometry related explains all. But have to go learn the new words.