North & South

Mathematics, a beautiful elsewhere

WHEN HIS SON Leo was small, my brother Geoff, like most parents, read him stories at night. Unlike most parents, he also lobbed his six-year-old maths problems, which Leo seemed to enjoy just as much. I once heard the two companionably solving sums together, after the light was out.

Geoff wanted Leo to know the simple pleasure of figuring stuff out, and to know that maths is not just sums, not just a language, but also a playground.

My brother does maths for a living. He teaches probability, statistics and applied mathematics at Oxford, which might sound dry. But in academia, stats is an access-all-areas lanyard. Being able to make sense of data for other researchers is a sought-after skill from science to the humanities.

“If I offer [other scientists] stats help, I get buried

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