Peter Krautzberger · on the web

Mathematics in Newspapers (Germany vs USA)

I meant to write about this for a while now but everytime I began the post became either too boring or too much of a rant.

It fascinates me (in a horrible kind of way) how the quality of popular mathematical writing (be it blogs or newspaper columns) in German is so much lower than in English. Granted, many more people write in English. But it is not the language that seems to matter, it is the style of writing.


Recently, I read the following.

Günther Ziegler at Die Zeit

compared to

Steven Strogatz at The New York Times

Ziegler’s article is quite nice but Strogatz’s column is so much more. Both articles contain easy to read anecdotes (always great so that readers can relate). But that’s where Ziegler essentially stops (or rather, repeats) whereas Strogatz just gets started and continues with actual mathematics, not afraid to throw in equations (shocking!) and actually explaining an important tool of mathematics — just like any other science journalist.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I admire Günther Ziegler (how could I not after doing my PhD in Berlin where the mathematical community profits so much from his numerous endeavours) and I know he is a great communicator (even though I don’t like ‘Proofs from the Book’ but that’s another post). So I cannot help but wonder if it is somebody else’s fault, namely the editor’s, that there is no actual mathematics in that article.


The situation is rather the same when it comes to blogs. I admit I only read one mathblog that's in German — mathlog which is very good. But last week I noticed a series of blog posts at scilogs and I found it extremely boring. I am always interested in external opinions on mathematics (pure mathematics is extremely self-centered) but I found no interesting opinions (or anything else) in those posts. It felt, all in all, very artificial compared to other posts of these bloggers. So again, maybe there is an editor to blame, I don’t know.

I don’t want to write about all the English math blogs I read. But I wanted to mention it for a different reason anyway, so Timothy Gowers’s is as good a representative as you’ll find — this time not just by subject but by technology. For his ongoing series of experiments on mathematical thinking he uses a Prezi Presentation. I wish I found the time to learn prezi…


So I keep asking myself: Is this a misconception due to my narrow minded blogroll? Where are all these great examples of German math writing that I miss?