Low Dimensional Topology

April 1, 2011

Go to Japan

Filed under: Misc. — dmoskovich @ 7:53 am

On Friday, March 11, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan, followed by a tsunami. The events which this triggered at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are still dominating the headlines, but the relationship between these headlines and the science on which they are based is tenuous. In my opinion, these events highlight the complete failure of mathematicians and of natural scientists to communicate science to the public; and we should view what we are now seeing as a call to arms, to explain mathematics and physics better and to a wider audience.

My personal stake in these events is that, having gone to graduate school and worked as a postdoc in Japan, and with the language we speak at home being Japanese, I would like Japan to succeed. Furthermore, I was also a postdoc at TIFR in Mumbai, which is a nuclear research institute among other things, and mathematicians who work there get “nuclear researcher” clearance cards (which in fact is rather comical) so I have a vested interest in “nuclear researcher” having positive connotations. Most of all, I know people who are experts in nuclear power, and I have been hearing the inside-talk of just how ridiculous the public reaction has been.
It would appear to me that the rational reaction to recent events would be for mathematics graduate students and postdocs to rush to Japan right now, to take full advantage of the fact that so many foreigners left in a panic. Japan is a very good mathematical environment, GCOE offers very nice postdoc conditions, and MEXT scholarships for graduate school are very good. Japan is a wonderful environment for low dimensional topologists especially. And the Tohoku region in particular (Tohoku University in Sendai being one of the mathematically strongest, and most beautiful, campusses in Japan) could use new topologists. Apply to every opening in Japan which you see!
Americans should note that my recommendation contradicts the travel warning of the US State Department.

We should also redouble our efforts to popularize mathematics, so that people feel informed instead of intimidated by it.



  1. I’m not so sure if this is an issue of poor coverage of one event, or more the issue that TV news, and to a lesser extent print news and radio gravitates towards everything that’s hyperbolic and alarmist. It appears to be the nature of the beast that in super-specialized societies people have little incentive to be generalists, so detailed knowledge of things like nuclear power can’t be expected of most people. So this kind of stuff happens. :( Maybe someday we’ll have more interactive news sources where one can convieniently learn details about nuclear power from a calm, expert source rather than the one-size-fits-all news sources we have today. Perhaps we’re not far from that.

    Comment by Ryan Budney — April 1, 2011 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

    • That would be wonderful! Imagine if each news story came with links to original data, and its evaluation by experts, together with a detailed linked list of citations (as, indeed, I would expect from a scientific paper). I don’t see any obstruction to news sources doing this, so surely it would exist soon.
      I would appreciate that on any news story about which I care enough to read.

      Comment by dmoskovich — April 2, 2011 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

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