I’m writing in response to the article on Ching-Yao Lai *18 (Behind the Research, December issue). This is a comment not on the article itself, which highlights what looks like a truly exciting research program, but on the accompanying illustrations (the “paratext”: thanks November issue!). For research on ice flow, there is a picture of a lonely polar bear; for glacial blisters, we see people in coats drilling through ice. For a paragraph on a mathematical project involving fluid dynamics and machine learning, a field which lends itself to illustration, there is ... a frumpy white guy with male pattern baldness, having a touching moment with his nonsense-covered blackboard.
I myself am a mathematician, and I happen to be a frumpy white guy with male pattern baldness. It’s a great portrait of me. But I do not belong in this article on Lai’s work. And this is not what all mathematicians are like (most have more hair).
More seriously though, I’m surprising no one when I say that mathematics is not in a good place with regards to the representation of women and minorities. Whenever we can combat the general cultural stereotype that math is incomprehensible and belongs to the white guys, we should. I feel like PAW has made a concerted effort in recent years to showcase the research and accomplishments of Tigers of all stripes, something which I appreciate. It’s just a little embarrassing for all of us that this cartoon made it through the editorial process, probably without a second thought.