### The simple power of presence in even modest numbers

 Shirley Jackson, the first African-American female Ph.D graduate of MIT. She is now the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Upon arriving in Cambridge I've had the pleasure of getting to know Prof. Chris Rose, who is an engineering professor at Rutgers, currently visiting MIT as an MLK Scholar. We've been talking about diversity in the sciences, with a particular focus on increasing the footprint of what Chris refers to as "the Greater Us," referring to the small community of Black folk among the American science professoriate. Sadly, "small" in this case means epsilon-small.

 Prof. Chris Rose (Rutgers)
Even in 2013, there are only of order 10 Black professors at top-40 astronomy institutions according to this poll taken circa 2007. That's about 1% of all astronomy professors in the US, compared to the 12.6% representation of Blacks in the US population. The same order-of-magnitude discrepancy in representation persists across all science disciplines, from physics to chemistry to comp sci. Decades after the Civil Rights era, the overwhelming majority of all US science professors are white (and male).

That's the bad news. The good news is that increasing the absolute numbers with the addition of ~10 individuals results in a 100% change in the fractional representation of the Greater Us in science in general, and  the astronomy community in particular. And such a change brings benefits that go well beyond the warm fuzzies associated with the mention of progressive concepts of "diversity."

The practical implications are vast and important for scientific progress. For hundreds of years, since the dawn of modern science, only a small fraction of the world's population has participated in the advancement of humanity's knowledge of the Universe. If game-changers like Copernicus, Newton, Einstein and Feynman emerge at a rate of <1% from the white male population, increasing the population to include underrepresented minorities and women (not to mention people from other countries!) will greatly increase the numbers of brilliant individuals coming up with creative solutions to long-standing problems. I don't think it's unreasonable to attribute the slow progress in the understanding of, say, dark matter and dark energy to an artificially reduced talent pool. Scientific innovation cares not for humanity's arbitrary racial and socio-economic boundaries.

 National Society of Black Physicists
Increasing the footprint of the Greater Us also has a positive feedback effect that leads to even greater representation. Diversity begets diversity, as we in the astronomy community have seen among the ranks of our graduate students with the increase in the number of women over the past 20 years. The resulting geometric growth has led to huge advances in diversity/inclusion in the young field of exoplanetary science, where the Old Guard holds less sway.

Anyway, all of this was to set up a beautiful email I received from Chris Rose the other day about a profound, recent experience he had at MIT:
Hi Guys,

I was headed to my office in building 36 this evening,  and as I passed through the lobby I saw two Black men standing around engaged in conversation.  They were both academic types (one had the typical professor's soft leather briefcase and they were both around my age or a bit older...

One was about my height and between Wes' and Dave's complexion with long tight braids. The other was taller (maybe 6' 5" or more) and somewhere between Jim's and my/John/Emery's  color.  And both were clearly from the same cultural stock as everyone on this distribution  (diaspora though it is).    And they were almost certainly having a technical discussion.

Strong, tall, confident  Black MEN of our professional tribe having a comfortable chat.
And suddenly I felt at home, relaxed, engaged as I passed by on my way to a waiting elevator---though I did not know them, I'd not said a word,  and they'd not noticed me.

The feeling was kinda remarkable.

It was so remarkable that it wasn't until I reached my floor that I realized how remarkable it was.  I hit the button for the lobby. But they were gone.  I wandered around a bit, hoping to catch sight of them. No luck. But I suspect they had just come from some conference/meeting.  I know they're not faculty in my area.

So, now I'm back up in my office and obviously pondering.  The simple power of presence in even modest numbers comes to mind and what it could mean for not only our young men and women but for us too.  And what must the current environment be for someone who's been hardened by a professional lifetime of being mostly the only to react in this way?

The only thing I can take away right now is that we need to make our numbers higher. Much higher. High enough at all stages of the academic endeavor that tonight's conversation in the Lobby does not even register as I go to meet my colleagues and students, many of whom look just like those two strangers and are just as comfortably sure they have a shot at a MacArthur, a Fields or a Nobel.

Or we need to find somewhere to invent what we need.

Cheers,

Chris
(emphasis mine)

Personally, my hope is that that somewhere becomes Harvard sometime during my career. I'll be working hard to make it so, and I'm proud to be in a department that will support me and assist in the effort.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…