ignorami rule

plane2There has already been many blog entries [incl. Andrew’s] on that story of a plane passenger calling security about a neighbour solving differential equations next seat and many jokes will certainly stem from it. My closest encounter with such a passenger was a while ago, when flying to Manchester for a visit to Lancaster, when the man next to me suddenly asked if I was working on particle physics because he would not tolerate it. Or something like this. As I did not want to get arrested upon arrival I refrained from smashing his head into the seat and muttered something indistinct between a curse and a comment that this was statistics, but I now regret I had not confronted this holier-than-thou (to keep polite) attitude! This story also reminds me of another flight, from Montpelier to Paris, when I was discussing ABC with Jean-Michel Marin and Jean-Marie Cornuet, when an AF flight attendant came by and added an x at random in one of my equations! This did not solve the problem but we had a good laugh and did not end up questioned by security!

Anyway, my reaction to this PDE (or is it ODE?!) scandal is of a more sombre tone: I find the fact that airline personal paid any attention to the complaint deeply worrying. Rather that dismissing the worries of this ignorant (or myopic) passenger [and possibly contacting a psychiatrist], they called security and the PDE had to be produced before the economics professor could resume his seat and the flight take off… This incident shows both (i) a trend in irrationality (if associating maths equations with terrorist threat) or ignorance (if confusing maths equation with Arabic writing), not to mention xenophobia and (ii) a readiness of companies and administrations to pester, detain, question and bother anyone with any exotic characteristics. Including solving PDEs or even trying to. [But what can we expect when bottled water or orange marmalade is treated as a potential threat by security checks?] Beside sticking to writing maths in my notebook when I travel, I think I should start signalling to flight attendants truly irrational behaviours of my fellow passengers, like reading newspapers that seem solely concerned by the anatomy of reality TV shows or muttering prayers to a deity at take-off and landing…

One Response to “ignorami rule”

  1. If only the mathematician had started to derive the Navier-Stokes equation for the frightened passenger, explaining to him what sorcery had allowed him to glide several kilometers in the air, only to be petrified by these equations!

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