No judgment

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I like an expert that can write for a non-expert audience. Some time ago I was reading the book How not to be Wrong, by mathematician Jordan Ellenberg. In the midst of making a point about a particular mathematical principle, he puts something in parentheses that caught my attention:

(A short computation follows. If you’re not on board, avert your eyes and rejoin the text where it says “And a lot of twin primes…”)

There’s no judgment. He doesn’t say, “if you can’t hack it, catch up with us later,” or “for those of you unable to follow elementary math, I’ll try to use small words.” There are any number of reasons I might not be on board–maybe I’m reading on the train, and can’t apply all my concentration, or my last calculus class was back when acid washed denim was very stylish.

Spoonful_of_Sugar_45_coverOr perhaps I’m skimming along while having breakfast, and it’s too early in the morning for a contemplation of natural logarithms. I appreciate Ellenberg’s tone, and recognize that it’s the sort of spoonful of sugar that can help technical medicine go down.

What experts have you read or heard that can help you get acquainted with a complex subject without swamping you or making you feel small? Please tell me about them in the comments.

For more from Jordan Ellenberg about his book, this is a short NPR interview (audio and transcript highlights).

[Image:, Wikipedia]



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