Wha?! 1+2+3...+N = -1/12

Update: People who know math deeply (i.e. not me) hate this video. Those people have spoken, loudly. Thx math people! Side note: Summing the number of planets in the Galaxy will never yield -1/12, so my research is safe...

Via Phil Plait on Slate.com, a little bit of mathematical hokus pokus:

EB said…
It's good for readers to see the follow up post by Phil Plait, as well as some other critiques offering more nuance to this video. It is slightly misleading now, particularly the "proof" and the ending discussion. See http://bit.ly/KCq4xG

In any sense, this result needs serious qualification. In a nutshell, 1-1+1-1+1-1+.... is not convergent, and you therefore need to discuss analytic continuation and the Riemann zeta function.

Ed Copeland offers more details in the longer video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-d9mgo8FGk&feature=youtu.be

It's slightly disappointing how this material is presented here, which is surprising, as usually Brady Haran's stuff with the faculty at Nottingham is so good. This video seems to push the "Math is cray and totz weird!!!1!" notion without providing vital caveats and explanations.

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…

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:

It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…