I Dare!

sunday_assembly_3 (Click photos* for larger view)

Yes. I dare to show equations during public lectures. There’ll be equations in my book too. If we do not show the tools we use, how can we give a complete picture of how science works? If we keep hiding the mathematics, won’t people be even more afraid of this terrifying horror we are “protecting” them from?

I started my Sunday Assembly talk reflecting upon the fact that next year will make 100 years after Einstein published one of the most beautiful and far-reaching scientific works in history, General Relativity, describing how gravity works. In the first 30 seconds of the talk, I put up the equations. Just because they deserve to be seen, and to drive home the point that its not just a bunch of words, but an actual method of computation, that allows you to do quantitative science about the largest physical object we know of – the entire universe!


It was a great audience, who seemed to enjoy the 20 minute talk as part of their Sunday proceedings, mixed up with talk about the community work they do, poetry, songs, and so forth. I was able to update them on some of the latest research in Cosmology, and help unpack our best understanding of how the universe came to be, which is a remarkable story.

sunday_assembly_2 (In the slide I’m showing here there’s a montage of equations.. not mean tot be understood, or even read, since they are quite small… they are just communicating the idea that there is a calculation that can be done by an actual person that takes the observed components of the universe and returns a precise number for the age of the universe…)

If you’re a scientist giving a public lecture soon… do consider showing an equation and explaining what it does. The audience will probably be fine with it, and might get a better sense of what science actually is.


*Thanks for the photos aef!

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5 Responses to I Dare!

  1. robert says:

    I have often found the punters to be quite receptive to equations, both as a shorthand for lots of working out of stuff (that they might be interested in)and as a performance art. A splurge of sums, presented in the right way, might even be seen as sexy (well it has worked for me) So don’t hold back CJ. More seriously, the demystifying of the day to day processes of well defined and accountable analysis (an MBA characterisation of math perchance) must be a good thing, and we should all do our bit.

  2. I enjoyed listening to your comments on the Screen Junkies youtube video about the movie science of Interstellar and decided to visit your blog here.

    I’m quite impressed. I appreciate you listing the equations you use for many reasons. First, I agree we need to foster the idea that math and science are exciting – not scary. Second, with great understanding and knowledge come great power and I assert its the ethical responsibility of such people to pass it on to anyone willing to learn. Third, even though some equations are so complex that they are essentially pro-forma for the situation they are being presented in, it is important to leave a trail of credibility for others to follow in case they have the need to understand something later in life if only your work remains. Please keep up the great work. I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts.