Some errors in ‘Mathematics of Life’ by Ian Stewart


This book was interesting overall–I thought the most engaging part was the argument about why genetic engineering is hazardous, while I was disappointed that it didn’t really address the question of why and how far maths was relevant to biology, merely giving a number of topics as examples.  There were also some alarming errors that I noticed:

More precisely, what leaks is ions:  charged atomic nuclei.  (p161)  Since we’re talking about nerve conduction, I suppose that must be Na11+–doesn’t sound too healthy…

Experience shows that continuum models are very effective provided  the discrete components are much bigger than the effects being described.  (p178)  ‘Bigger’ as in smaller, I guess.

The light green [lacewings] are more common on grass, so light green females encounter light green males; similarly for dark green insects on conifers…The end result is identical:  assortative mating can occur, opening the door to sympatric speciation.  (p236)

...assortative mating.  Organisms in a given group share similar habits, eat similar food, and therefore meet up more often than they do with members of the other group.  (p239)

That’s ‘assortative’ as in associative–the opposite.

Finally, on page 256 we have this diagram:

mathslife1_0002_NEWwhile the corresponding text on page 257 says:  Two neighbouring cells with low levels of Notch activity never occurred.  And the caption says that the white cells are the ones with low Notch activity.  Go figure.

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