Temple University professor Dr. John Allen Paulos will honored this month for his work that bridges the gap between mathematics and other topics like affirmative action, religion, gun control and politics.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has recognized him as being “one of the greatest mathematical storytellers of all time.” They will present Paulos with the 2003 AAAS award for public understanding of science and technology.
Paulos will receive the award and a $5000 grant Feb. 15 at the AAAS annual meeting in Seattle, Wash.
“It’s gratifying. A real honor,” Paulos said when asked how it feels to be the recipient of this year’s award.
To qualify for this award a candidate must be able to promote the public interest of science and math. Paulos’ books, columns and opinion pieces – on math testing for presidential candidates, for example – consistently demonstrated his ability to meet the criteria for this award.
Paulos’ published work and public discussions on how mathematics and numbers are portrayed in everyday life have made him nationally recognized. He has made numerous television appearances over the years including the Today Show, the David Lettermen Show and more than 100 interviews on radio, including Larry King Live.
Despite his other numerous accomplishments, Paulos believes this will not take away from his latest award. The recognition ranks high compared to other achievements.
“I am particularly pleased to receive this award because it is something that I do,” Paulos said. Sometimes one receives awards that are peripheral to one’s activities and interests.
But getting people to comprehend the impact of mathematics on their lives is a large part of what I do,” he said said.
Since 1973, Paulos has been a member of the mathematics faculty in Temple’s College of Science and Technology. In the early 1980s, university presses published two books written by Paulos; they dealt with math, humor and the philosophy of science.
Being a mathematician was not always in Paulos’ plans. During his undergraduate years he bounced back and forth among several majors, including English. He enjoyed writing very much but always seemed to come back to math.
His broad interest did allow him to make many comparisons to math in media forums like the newspaper.
“It struck me that a lot of stories in the newspaper had a mathematical component that was usually obscured in the writing of the story,” Paulos said, “and that people’s innumeracy often blinded them to the real importance of the story.”
Paulos’s creativity through writing has attracted new, interested audiences to the field of math. By using humor as a tool, Paulos believes any and everyone can understand math.
The AAAS award was established in 1987. Recipients from previous years include Anthony Fauci for public understanding of AIDS (1988) and Edward O. Wilson for the awareness of restoring and preserving the Earth’s biodiversity (1994).
Michael Abdul-Qawi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org