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MAA to Honor Authors of Year’s Best Writing in Mathematics

WASHINGTON, DC - Awards for the year’s best writing on mathematics will be given to Tom Leinster and Cathy O’Neill by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). The award winners will receive their prizes on Jan. 17, 2019 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, the world’s largest gathering of mathematicians, in Baltimore. Leinster will receive the MAA Chauvenet Prize, awarded to the author of an outstanding expository article on a mathematical topic, for “Rethinking Set Theory," in The American Mathematical Monthly. O’Neill will receive the MAA Euler Book Prize, awarded annually to the author of an outstanding book about mathematics, for her book Weapons ofMath Destruction.

Chauvenet Prize

“Rethinking Set Theory,” tackles the issue of mathematicians working understanding of sets related to Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms plus the Axiom of Choice. Leinster reformulates axioms with striking simplicity and expands the primitive terms of the axiomatization to include functions and the composition of functions. Leinster replaces the Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms with ten axioms that can be easily understood and accepted by any undergraduate math major.

“The MAA is proud of our tradition of fostered high-quality mathematical exposition, allowing all of us within the mathematical sciences community to expand our understanding of modern mathematics. Leinster’s article does just that by simplifying categorical set theory in a way that is accessible to any mathematician,” said Michael Pearson, executive director of the MAA.

Leinster studied in Oxford and Cambridge, doing a Ph.D. on higher category theory. He is the author of three books: Higher Operads,Higher Categories,Basic Category Theory, and Entropy and Diversity: The Axiomatic Approach. Leinster currently lives in Scotland and works at the University of Edinburgh.

Euler Book Prize

Cathy O’Neill’s book, Weapons of Math Destruction tackles, “the dark side of data science.” O’Neill’s discussion of ethical issues and how mathematical models, data, and algorithms are used to manipulate society is important both socially and politically. By confronting the harmful uses of mathematics, while at the same time promoting its benefits, O’Neill enhances the public’s perception of mathematics.

“Cathy O’Neill has issued a powerful warning of the unintended negative consequences of bias in algorithms that process the vast assortments of data that, more and more, are used to make decisions about everything from credit ratings to law enforcement. Her work shows how important it is to expand the mathematical expertise that is brought to bear to better-understand the implications of data science and machine learning so that these tools will promote human flourishing,” said Michael Pearson.

O’Neill earned a Ph.D. in math from Harvard University. Then she worked in finance and as a data scientist. She wrote Doing Data Science and launched the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia University. Most recently she founded ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing company.