Numb3rs and the MAA

The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) has generally been enthusiastically positive about the well-known television show, Numb3rs. So has the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). These reactions are to be expected: both organizations want to promote interest in math, and Numb3rs surely has promoted such interest. After all, “we all use math every day.”

But in the November 2006 issue of Focus, the newsletter of the MAA, mathematician Alice Silverberg, writes a very negative essay about the show, even though she’s a consultant for it. Three excerpts:

If you’re watching Numb3rs because you think you’re learning some mathematics, or because you think you’re watching mathematics as it’s actually used in the real world, be warned: you’re not. Getting the math right and getting it to fit with the plot are not priorities of the Numb3rs team.

[Producer] Cheryl [Heuton] was very generous with her time… in which she mostly explained why talking with mathematicians would be a waste of their time.

I have concerns about the violence, the depiction of women, and the pretense that the math is accurate….

In between these excerpts, Silverberg decries the “excessive violence” of the show — she must not watch much television — and the depiction of women. She claims that women on the show are portrayed only as love interests and sex objects.

I guess this counts as a refreshingly different viewpoint.

Categories: Life, Math, Movies & (occasionally) TV