COMET • Vol. 3, No. 02 – 16 January 2002


(1)  “Meet the Man Behind the Mind” by Alex Beam

Source:  The Boston Globe – 15 January 2002


Russell Crowe does a surprisingly credible job playing tormented mathematician John Nash in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Only one man plays the part better – Nash himself – and if you are patient, you’ll get to see him in a one-hour “American Experience” [PBS] documentary, “A Brilliant Madness,” to be aired April 28 on WGBH-TV at 9 p.m. [check local PBS listings for broadcast date(s)/time(s) in your area]. (Brief digression: ‘GBH chose the air date to capitalize on the possibility of an Oscar nomination for the movie…)

I’ve seen portions of Nash’s on-camera interview, and it is very affecting. He speaks calmly and lucidly of his many travails, including his mental illness. How did he move from his delusional, schizophrenic state into the clear? “I willed it,” he says. “I decided I was going to think rationally.”

You can also read an astonishing brief autobiography Nash wrote when he won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. It can be found at the Nobel Committee’s “e-Museum” ( Among other topics, Nash addresses what he considers the mixed blessing of achieving society’s norm of mental “health”: “So at the present time I seem to be thinking rationally again in the style that is characteristic of scientists. However, this is not entirely a matter of joy as if someone returned from physical disability to good physical health.” The comments are worth reading in its entirety.


Related link at PBS for this documentary:

Coming soon to American Experience [PBS]:

“Phantom Genius” (working title) is the story of a mathematical genius whose career was cut short by a descent into madness. At the age of 30, John Nash, a stunningly original and famously eccentric MIT mathematician, suddenly began claiming that aliens were communicating with him and that he was a special messenger. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Nash spent the next three decades in and out of mental hospitals, all but forgotten. During that time, a proof he had written at the age of 20 became a foundation of modern economic theory. In 1994, as Nash began to show signs of emerging from his delusions, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics…

Broadcast date: TBA

Web site projected launch: TBA

(2) “A Beautiful Mind” Film Reviews

(a) “From Math to Madness, and Back” by A. O. Scott

Source: The New York Times – 21 December 2001


(b) “Devlin’s Angle: A Beautiful Portrayal and a Confused NYT Reviewer” by Keith Devlin

Source:  MAA Online – January 2002


(c) “The Math in ‘A Beautiful Mind” by Nicholas Thompson

Source:  The Boston Globe – 1 January 2002


(d) “Mathematics in the Movies” by Wayne Patterson

Source:  The Washington Post – 4 January 2002


(3) “The Math in the Movies Page: A Guide to Major Motion Pictures with Scenes of Real Mathematics” by A.G. Reinhold


“Mathematicians in the Movies” by A. G. Reinhold


(4) “Math and Science Could Be Big Losers Under New Law” by David J. Hoff

Source:  Education Week – 16 January 2002


Math and science teachers will lose their designated federal funding for professional development because the new K-12 education act created a block grant, in part, with money from a 15-year-old program aimed at improving the skills of such educators.

The changes “virtually eliminate dedicated federal funding for K-12 math and science education,” advocates for math and science teachers declared in a last-minute plea for help in lobbying for a new mathematics and science program.

In the end, the effort late last year failed to change that provision of the “No Child Left Behind” Act signed last week by President Bush. Under the new law, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, math and science teachers will have to compete for professional-development aid from the new $2.85 billion block grant, pitting them against teachers of other subjects and efforts to reduce class sizes.

To replace the $485 million Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program, which guaranteed a big chunk of the program’s money to math and science teachers, Congress established a new pot for demonstration grants to enhance those teachers’ skills. But, to the dismay of many lobbyists, Congress fell far short by appropriating only $12.5 million of the $450 million math and science advocates had sought and at one time appeared in line to get.

“No Child Left Behind is well-funded, with one exception,” said Linda P. Rosen, the senior vice president for education at the National Alliance of Business, a Washington-based group that lobbied for the new math and science program. “Twelve and a half million dollars is not going to go very far.”

Federal officials, however, say they expect that districts will continue to pay for math and science professional development with block grant money, because local education leaders know that teachers’ skills are lacking most in those subjects.

“Local school districts will use [block grant] money for math and science, whether or not someone says they have to spend it on math and science,” said Susan K. Sclafani, a counselor to Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “Schools are going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

But math, and especially science, promoters are doubtful that their teachers will do as well as they did when the Eisenhower professional- development program reserved at least $250 million for them.

“From what we’ve seen, a lot of money is going to reading and math programs,” said Jodi L. Peterson, the director of legislative affairs for the National Science Teachers Association, a 60,000-member group based in Arlington, Va. “We’re seeing science squeezed out in elementary schools.”

Mathematics and science advocates worked throughout 2001 to avoid being in that position.

From the start of last year’s debate on the education bill, they endorsed President Bush’s proposal to put the Eisenhower program into the block grant and replace it with new math and science partnerships.

The new program will require a pairing of colleges and school districts to offer sustained professional development for teachers.

The program is designed to solve one of the weaknesses of the Eisenhower program, which critics and supporters alike said too often provided money for short-term workshops that had little impact on classroom practice.

Math and science supporters believed that the new partnerships would be financed at $450 million.

The House version of the ESEA bill would have set aside that amount from the block grant and dedicated it to the math and science partnerships. In contrast, the Senate version separated the math and science partnerships from the block grant, though it authorized spending of up to $900 million on the partnerships.

When the House-Senate conference committee separated the partnerships from the block grant, however, the appropriators didn’t take money out of the block grant to pay for the math and science program. And congressional appropriators ended up giving it $12.5 million, a small fraction of what had been anticipated, much less provided in the past.

“Right out of the blue, it caught us by surprise,” said Tom Lindsley, a lobbyist for the Business Coalition for Excellence in Education, a group of 80 companies that pushed for the new partnerships.

Without a significant amount set aside for the new partnerships, mathematics and science teachers will compete with others.

Yet math and science teachers are more likely than their colleagues to be teaching a subject they hadn’t majored in as college students, according to James M. Rubillo, the executive director of the 100,000-member National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “From elementary schools on,” he said, “teachers have more training in reading and other subjects than math and science.”

But Ms. Sclafani noted that history suggests that math and science teachers will fare well.

When Congress previously reauthorized the ESEA in 1994, it took away math and science teachers’ exclusive rights to Eisenhower funds. Still, by last year, about $375 million of the program’s $485 million was awarded to math and science projects.

What’s more, congressional appropriators included nonbinding report language to “strongly urge” that the block grant money keep funding for math and science teachers at current levels. The Education Department plans to pass the word to districts through regulations, Ms. Sclafani said.

In addition, the Education Department is working closely with the National Science Foundation to ensure that the two agencies’ math and science programs don’t overlap, Ms. Sclafani said.

Congress appropriated $160 million for a revamped National Science Foundation program. The Math/Science Partnerships will solicit grant applications from teams that include universities and school districts. The teams will promise to work on upgrading the skills of math and science teachers who haven’t been trained to teach the subjects. Recipients also will need to work toward raising the number of high school students taking high-level math and science courses, said Judith A. Ramaley, the NSF’s assistant director for education and human resources.

(5) “Math Gender Gap Doesn’t Add Up” by Trish Wilson

Source:  The [Raleigh, NC] News & Observer – 11 January 2002


…After decades of research showing that boys consistently test higher than girls in math, investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are publishing a report today staking their position in what has become a testy debate. The problem, they say, is that previous studies have focused on narrow groups, such as super-smart seventh-graders and college-bound SAT takers.

“These studies were making broad generalizations, ‘Here’s the difference between boys and girls,’ and we didn’t think those were warranted,” said Erin Leahey, primary author on the report she co-wrote with Guang Guo, an associate professor of sociology. “We felt uncomfortable with that. ‘Hey, maybe if you used a really broad sample you wouldn’t find it.’ And that’s what we found.”

Leahey and Guo examined for the first time the test results of 14,000 students in elementary through high school. They found that girls had higher average math scores than boys until about age 11 and higher reasoning scores at ages 11 to 13.

Boys did, however, tend to progress faster, and by the end of high school that learning edge resulted in a 1.5 percent advantage over girls, which is very small, Leahey said.

“We expected to find pretty big gender differences, and we expected to find them early,” she said. Initially, she and Guo thought they had done something wrong. They recrunched their data. They started with young students and expanded the study to include older ones. They looked at overall math scores and then narrowed it down to geometry and reasoning. No change.

Julian C. Stanley, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, was among the earliest to document the gender gap. In 1971, he launched the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. In the early 1980s, he published a study in the journal Science, which said that when the SAT, the college admissions test, was given to gifted seventh-graders, about four times as many boys as girls scored above 600 on the math portion. The top score is 800 on each portion.

When college-bound seniors take the tests, men typically score 35 points higher on the math test than women, and five points higher on the verbal test.

In Baltimore, Stanley, now retired, was less than impressed by the UNC results.

“We’ve known that for a long time,” Stanley said. “I think they may be claiming more for their results than the literature shows. It’s been known for years that girls do better in school. It’s the reasoning component that they have more trouble with.”

Among social scientists, he said, it is common knowledge that there is no math gap when looking at the general population of students. The difference only surfaces when focusing on the very brightest students, and only on reasoning tests, such as the SAT…

(6) “Revised GED Test Shifts Focus to Analysis” by Christina A. Samuels

Source:  The Washington Post – 7 January 2002


Rosemary Hubbard, of Southwest Washington, made a New Year’s resolution: Now that her children were getting older, she would earn her GED at last and go to college.

The General Educational Development test that Hubbard will face this year, however, is dramatically different from the one she attempted five years ago. It has been revamped for the first time since 1988 to keep up with what high school students are now expected to know when they graduate, the GED Testing Service said. The changes took effect Tuesday.

Math questions now dispense with multiple-choice answers and instead require students to fill in the correct answer. The social studies portion of the test requires understanding excerpts from “key documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions. And in addition to ferreting out themes presented in snippets of literature, poetry and plays, students are expected to analyze everyday documents found at home or in the workplace, such as human resources forms, instruction guides and recipes…

Another change test takers will find: Those who previously passed part of the five-section GED test can no longer roll over their passing scores. This new rule provoked a scramble in testing offices nationwide in recent months as students hurried to get their certificates before the new standards kicked in.

“We’re expecting to see a 30 to 50 percent increase nationwide” in the number of test takers in 2001 over previous years, said Joan Chikos Auchter, executive director of the GED Testing Service at the American Council on Education. The council designs and administers the GED, which is taken by about 860,000 people around the world every year.

Responsible for making sure that the GED mirrors a high school student’s education, test creators started the revision process in 1997. “We are measuring the current and lasting outcomes of a high school education,” Auchter said. “We had to reflect those changes.”

Changes had been made before. When the GED was first given in 1942, it had a military focus as a test designed to move former soldiers into civilian life.

In 1977, the tests were revised to move away from industrial-based education and strict factual recall. In 1988, the questions called for more problem-solving skills, and a 45-minute essay component was added.

Describing the impetus for the latest changes, Auchter noted that high schools now emphasize “higher-level” thinking skills — analysis and decision-making rather than just spouting back ideas, she said. Students also are expected to analyze data presented in different forms, including charts, graphs and photographs.

For the first time, the council formed a committee of representatives from major employers. The committee contributed workplace documents, which are now part of the test.

Before the new test was finalized, the council administered it to 15,000 high school seniors qualified for graduation. It set the passing mark at the score 60 percent of the students would have reached.

K. Brisbane, director of the State Education Agency for Adult Learners in Washington, said that the District will require students to take a practice GED exam before taking the actual test. “One of the things we believe we can do in helping people to pass is to lay out all the material for them,” Brisbane said.

Brisbane expects passing rates in the city to drop as the new test is implemented. “I think people will find it harder,” she said. “The emphasis has changed. There’s a requirement for strong verbal skills.”

Leslie Manning, an adult basic education teacher with Fairfax County public schools, said that while the reading portion of the test used to focus more on simple comprehension, the new test requires greater understanding of the information presented.

“Basically, if they can read the information really well and understand and analyze what they’ve read, they should do fine,” she said. “The math section is the one that to me seems to have gotten significantly harder. It’s a very problem-oriented-solving test”…