Ten Irreligious Questions for Politicians and Others

by John Allen Paulos The separation of church and state seems to be dissolving. It’s becoming increasingly easy for politicians and other public figures to cross the line between expressing their faith and aggressively proclaiming it and its alleged real-world consequences. Although often leading to social strife and intolerance, such overweening proclamations are growing in…

Assessing Military Edge with Lanchester’s Square Law

by John Allen Paulos Lanchester’s square law was formulated during World War I and has been taught in the military ever since. It is marginally relevant to the war in Ukraine, particularly the balance between the quantity and quality of the two armies’ weapon systems. Although more accurately expressed in terms of differential equations, Lanchester’s…

Playing with Oulipian Literary Techniques

by John Allen Paulos The Ouvroir de Littérature  Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature), Oulipo for short, is the name of a group of primarily French writers, mathematicians, and academics that explores the use of mathematical and quasi-mathematical techniques in literature. Don’t let this description scare you. The results are often amusing, strange, and thought-provoking. The…

The Vaccinated Are a Large Fraction of the Hospitalized — Not a Bad Thing

by John Allen Paulos Covid has given rise to a variety of counterintuitive mathematical outcomes. A good example is this recent headline (link below): One third of those hospitalized in Massachusetts are vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers have seized on this and similar such factually accurate headlines to bolster their positions. They, and others as well, interpret them…