"I really like polyhedra."
March 11, 2014 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Polyhedra and the Media - On the new polyhedra of Schein and Gayed, and mathematical journalism.
posted by Wolfdog (20 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
This does not answer the most important question, which is: can we make dice out of these polyhedra?
posted by graymouser at 6:47 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hm... dice with faces of different sizes aren't very common (for some strange reason). But they might be fun. There's nothing to say all outcomes have to be equally likely, after all. But I think that these are so nearly spherical that, at any reasonable size, they would tend to roll more easily than you'd like, and be difficult to read. Plus even d30s (rhombic tricontahedra) are notoriously difficult to make so that they are unbiased, and mine was mostly used for demonstrating the chi-squared test because I could depend on it to fail decisively.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:58 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Soundtrack: Little Jinder - "Polyhedron"
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on March 11, 2014

For some reason, the author reminds me of the Onion's autistic reporter in the best possible way.
posted by NapAdvocacy at 7:17 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Science writing has got to be just as hard as fashion or celebrity beats, the tiny element of new "news" involved is so subtle and unremarkable (in this case "So, their result is new because of the equilateral property" which is going to totally be meaningless to a significant percentage of the readers) that the writer bone has got to be twitching to beef up the message.

His conclusion (although buried in the exact center of the blog post):

This guy just copied an article from another website, an article that was almost as far off from the truth, went further and misunderstood every detail of the first article, took no effort to check his facts, obviously did not consider looking at the original research paper, and turned in and published pure garbage.

seems to be a commentary on this whole internet thing. Should science writers be held to a higher standard? Does it need to be right as long as it's got some LOL or cat tie in? I do remember my one foray into tech journalism (there's my lol) the absolute single important article criteria was "get something turned in on deadline", not spelling or grammar or ethics or interest, just words sent.

And I'm not joking about the "just as hard", I was in a gaggle of writers and there was one that had done fashion, there was a "ooh that must be fun" but her response was that finding anything at all new to talk about was almost impossible, it's all the same.
posted by sammyo at 7:18 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The article says they are convex, does that mean that the vertices all intersect with a sphere? If not, is there a class of polyhedra that do?
posted by 445supermag at 7:19 AM on March 11, 2014

The article says they are convex, does that mean that the vertices all intersect with a sphere? If not, is there a class of polyhedra that do?

I'm not sure that any convex polyhedron would be circumscribable in a sphere, but any regular polyhedra would be, at least.
posted by kmz at 7:26 AM on March 11, 2014

Convex just means if you draw a straight line segment through any two points of the solid, the line segment is entirely contained in the solid.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:30 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

445supermag, these do not in fact intersect with a sphere. This is because the sides are planar and yet not equiangular. Imagine a spherical bowl, and drop a regular hexagon into it. All the vertexes would touch the bowl. But these are stretched out hexagons, so the points on the long ends would touch and the two middle ones would not.
The only polyhedra that do are the Archimededes and Platonic groups. And I guess prisms and antiprisms.
posted by bitslayer at 7:40 AM on March 11, 2014

You have to put it all in context. This kind of news would be anti-climactic for the press and then they lose interest, after all, The Sun is always crowing about discovering new shapes they splash on Page 3...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2014

I covered the science beat for a couple of years on a fairly prominent blog, and I have to say, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. You're either an expert in one specific field, and only cover advances in one area, or else you're somehow tasked with covering all of science ever—which is what I had to do. Every week, I'd go trawling through new journal releases, trying to sift what was actually interesting out of the super-niche minor developments; filter the associated press releases to weed out the garbage nonsense; become knowledgeable enough in a specific scientific field that I'd never even looked at before to read at least part of the journal paper; and then process it enough to write an article about it for a lay (if enthusiastic) audience. And, if time permitted (ha!), get some outside quotes and information.

I won't say I was perfect at it, but I like to think that my stuff wasn't overly hyperbolic, and was generally accurate. And it was rewarding. I ended sticking with it for far longer than I should have, given the horrible pay, just because I felt like I was doing something good.

But good, readable, and accurate science reporting is hard. So much of it is just people copying and pasting press releases from a university.
posted by themadthinker at 8:13 AM on March 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

(also, one time my editor erroneously corrected "feces" to "faces", which totally changed an article)
posted by themadthinker at 8:16 AM on March 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Those hexagonal meshes....

As for applications, I'd bet many chemists, organikers and spectroscopists both, see the Schein/Gayed polyhedra as new personal challenges from the math community. Be cool to see what the properties of these materials are.
posted by bonehead at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2014

(also, one time my editor erroneously corrected "feces" to "faces", which totally changed an article)

Boy, they must have had egg on their feces after that one.
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

But good, readable, and accurate science reporting is hard.
This is entirely true, if grossly understated. But is it really any easier to perform good, readable, and accurate reporting on culture, business, politics, etc? It might be easier to produce something that passes for good and accurate (science and math tend to be more definitive than these other subjects, so you're less likely to have an expert bringing an unequivocal hammer down on your mistakes like this), but for the same reasons you're less likely to produce something that is good and accurate (when even experts disagree, how likely are you to get it right)?

It's not strange that people who are experts in a given field (or even just eager amateurs; I've been cringing at computer technology reporting since grade school) notice awful gaffes when more generalist reporters have to cover that field. It is a little strange that we don't then always extrapolate to those fields that we aren't familiar with. I've heard this called the "Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect" and the "Igon Value Problem", but there's probably some more official name for such a glaring cognitive bias.
posted by roystgnr at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that Science News, favorably mentioned in the linked article, is an excellent source for good science journalism, making things reasonably accessible to the intelligent layperson, and putting them into context without the overhyping that you see in a lot of popular science journalism. It's been around for quite a while — the print version debuted in 1922.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:36 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can only speak as someone who's mostly otherwise covered gadgets and pop-culture stuff, both of which are far less mentally taxing (that is, until you start getting into the super nitty gritty stuff, like how camera autofocus algorithms work and stuff).

But for science writing, I would over the course of one week have to write about, say, research into corvid intelligence, a new drug delivery method using hairy nanocubes that could be zapped with lasers to retract their walls, something obesity related, using slime molds to replicate transportation networks, and new work on battery efficiency. The amount of mental acrobatics that go into the dramatic shifts in approach and knowledge to cover all of that was often headache inducing. And I was doing this by reading the original papers, often in fields I had no previous background in. Of course, these were often written by field experts, so not exactly welcoming to a new reader.

Combine that with pay so low that I could only spend 30-60 minutes on each one (and even that was too long), and it was crazy-town.

The alternative with using field-specific experts is that you need to first find an expert that's good at writing at a level that the general public finds both interesting and understandable. And then if you hire them, there has to be enough published in their area of knowledge to make it worthwhile. And the increasingly expert that person is, the increasingly narrow their niche becomes.
posted by themadthinker at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2014

This is a neat result---and relevant to my research! So it's like I'm doing work while reading metafilter!

The article says they are convex, does that mean that the vertices all intersect with a sphere? If not, is there a class of polyhedra that do?

As somebody upthread said, convex just means that the line segment joining any two points on the boundary is contained in the interior of the shape.

I think there is a name for a polyhedron whose vertices all lie on a single sphere, but I don't offhand remember what it is. Here's an interesting MathOverflow question related to that.

Coxeter apparently proved that all unicorn polyhedra have all vertices on a single sphere (conspheric? In analogy to concyclic?) Certainly there are convex nonuniform polyhedra with this property as well (take half an icosahedron).

I'm not sure there's been a whole lot of work in classifying equilateral polyhedra without other constraints. I should read the actual paper. (How many symmetry classes of edges are there?)
posted by leahwrenn at 3:11 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I genuinely accidentally managed to type "unicorn convergence" on a Real Analysis HW, which my prof just rather dryly crossed out in red, but then I started writing "converges unicornly" and "unicorn spaces" and so on in my own notes just for fun, and you know how that goes... eventually you find it's become an engrained habit. And then one day much later still, you find yourself at the blackboard teaching topology, wondering why everyone's laughing...
posted by Wolfdog at 4:49 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older Love is the Answer   |   "One travels far to discover what was at home all... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments