Diary

Lois Lane in Cambridge

An ambitious young undercover reporter in an adorable red sari managed to crash a faculty
cocktail party at an unidentified University in Cambridge, MA. Her mission was to investigate
the sorry state of mathematics education in America. She landed this assignment ahead of more
senior colleagues because her editor found that she was the only one on the staff to get higher
than a C in any high school or college math class.
Using her considerable charm and eavesdropping skills, she managed to join several groups in
conversation. The most interesting one (as she discovered) consisted of a geeky young assistant
professor of mathematics, a strikingly beautiful forty – something full professor of education
wearing a designer dress, a slightly older tweed-clad economics professor who everybody
predicted would win a Nobel Prize, and an associate professor of climatology, whose
controversial work “The Sociological Implications on the Self Esteem of Diverse Ethnic Groups in
a World without Polar Bears” had won him instant acclaim.
With just the right combination of cuteness and sincerity, our intrepid reporter took advantage
of a nano-second lull in the pompous discussion to breathlessly ask the group if it was true
that all odd numbers greater than 1 are prime. The mathematician smiled smugly as he heard the
ed-school professor reply “What’s an odd number?”. The economist sneered and, with a lustful
gaze at our journalist said “Let us experiment. 3 is a prime number, 5 is a prime number, 7 is a
prime number, 9 is a prime number. Yes, it is safe to say that with 95% confidence, all odd
numbers are prime. She could see the climatologist was uncomfortable with that answer, as he
nervously corrected his older colleague, saying “9 is not a prime number, but 11 and 13
certainly are prime. Let’s just throw away that bad data point (9). We can still be certain
that all odd numbers are prime.” The economist gracefully accepted the correction and they
turned to the mathematician, who miraculously went from geek to cool as he took the reporter by
the hand, remarking that math education in America was hopeless, but that he had some Dom
Perignon at his place where he could show her a really huge prime number.