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Education Math Science

Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95 96

Posted by timothy
from the sad-to-note dept.
From James Randi's blog comes word that science writer Martin Gardner has died at the age of 95. I never met Gardner, but one of his books (Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects) has been a favorite of mine since I was 6 or 7 years old; I didn't realize until just now quite how many books he authored.
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Science Luminary Martin Gardner Dead at 95

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  • Besides all his great mathematical puzzle books, I really loved Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
  • Adieu, Martin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ridgecritter (934252) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:16PM (#32310444)
    His pages in Scientific American were something I always looked forward to, and from which I always learned something. Glad he was among us.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by schwaang (667808)

      I learned Conway's Game of Life through Gardner's SciAm columns, and programmed it for display on a Televideo 925 terminal hung off an S100 bus machine running CP/M on an 8088. I hope Martin boarded a Glider headed for some distant Pulsar...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, I remember coding one such in Fortran on an IBM 1130 back in the day, almost 30 years ago. I'd corresponded with Gardner about that and he pointed me to Lifeline, Robert Wainwright's GoL newsletter. I never forgot that little kindness.

      • by johndiii (229824) *

        I also learned about Conway's game of Life from Gardner's column. I coded it in Fortran for a Burroughs B-1700 (IIRC) in 1975.

        I had much enjoyment from the Mathematical Games columns in Scientific American, and I was quite disappointed when they ended - though I came to enjoy Hofstader's work quite a bit as well.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Martin's SciAm column rocked. I used to read it back in the late 60's and all through the 70's. He nearly singlehandedly inspired popular interest in mathematics in the United States during that era.

      Hey, it beats the shit out of playing another round of Modern Warfare, which is what damn near every kid these days spends his free time doing. I enjoy computer games, but I also fear what mass consumption of them will do to our children and our culture's ability to achieve scientific results.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bth (635955)
      I agree...his Scientific American articles brought out all the magic in mathematics.
    • Re:Adieu, Martin (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dbg1000 (1817578) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:12PM (#32311028)
      This great quote sums it up for me and my son:

      "Martin Gardner has turned dozens of innocent youngsters into math professors, and thousands of math professors into innocent youngsters."

      From "Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems," attributed to Persi Diaconis
      • Not quit in my case (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:04AM (#32313220)
        A kind letter from Gardner after I sent him the results of an investigation I had done into polyominoes went some way to convince me that I had enough symbolic manipulation skills to change career to systems design. This proved the best decision I ever made after deciding to get married. So long, Martin Gardner, resquiescat in pace.
      • by alexo (9335)

        This great quote sums it up for me and my son:
        "Martin Gardner has turned dozens of innocent youngsters into math professors, and thousands of math professors into innocent youngsters."

        Which of his books can be recommended for youngsters (grade school)?

    • Glad he was among us.

      Indeed. He was a man who definitely left the world a better place. He brought intellectual joy to many people, no mean feat.

    • He also did columns in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. They were always interesting, always intriguing, and always entertaining. He was a great man, and a great teacher. Time to go see if I still have his books...if not, time to go hit a bookstore for them. RIP, Martin.
    • I stopped getting Scientific American after they cancelled his puzzle column. In fact, I often used that column as the deciding factor as to whether or not I should buy the issue.

    • I believe I read every column he wrote for SciAm. There are few of my generation that were not influenced by Martin.
  • Hope I make it to 95.

    Gardner will be missed.

    -jcr

  • Aha (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eulernet (1132389) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:19PM (#32310468)

    Before I discovered Martin Gardner's books, I was unable to understand mathematics, and I had very bad grades.

    One day, I bought one of his books, and suddenly, I was able to see that math and logic was fun, and we could play with them.

    To the amazement of my teachers, my grades increased in a few days, and I wanted to become a mathematician at this moment.

    I became a programmer because I wanted to solve some of his puzzles so badly with my computer.

    Thanks Martin !

    • I think if Martin Gardner were still alive and read your post, he would be very happy.

      The take-home lesson of that is: let your childhood heroes, your idols and your mentors know that you are thankful while they still live.

      (because maybe you will mentor someone and they will come back and thank you for good tutelage.)

  • one of a kind (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:21PM (#32310480) Homepage
    Martin Gardner was one of a kind. I grew up with his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. His book Relativity Simply Explained is what I recommend whenever people ask me for a good intro to relativity. His intelligence and ability to explain were extraordinary compared to a lot of people with much more formal education. He had a long life and seems to have remained sharp and active for almost all of it.
    • by melikamp (631205)

      I was reading Gardner when I was a kid, too. Something from Aha! series, iirc. His writing on logic and set theory, and Conway's life and other automata influenced my interests in a very dramatic way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:22PM (#32310488)

    I want to speak for the entire geek community, so I'm posting A.C.

    Martin, you will be dearly missed. You've probably changed more lives than you could ever realize, and this planet was a better place because you existed.

    Requiescat in pace.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by MoeDumb (1108389)
      I'm wondering if he and Richard Feynman ever got together. Would love to have been a fly on the wall for those conversations.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:26PM (#32310520)

    It's guys like Martin that provided some balance against mindless idiots like those on the Texas education boards.

    Let's hope there's a thousand more Martins out there. Surely he would hope the same.

    RIP.

  • by Walter Wart (181556) * on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:33PM (#32310562) Homepage
    Martin Gardner was one of the best. Keen intellect, gentle wit, vast knowledge and warm heart. I only met him once, but it was memorable. He will be missed. If he had known the date and hour of his death he would have had a handful of interesting facts tying together all of the numbers. And he would have published it as a puzzle for his readers. Goodbye Mr. Gardner. We will not see your like again soon.
  • RIP A GREAT MAN (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:34PM (#32310566) Homepage Journal

    Without his influence, I would not be in the position I am in now to influence the viability of man living in space.

    RIP to one of the greatest influences on my life. While the mathematics got beyond me, everything else inspired me.

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @08:39PM (#32310612) Homepage

    Phil Plait has a writeup [discovermagazine.com] as well.

  • What a sad day. A single book that shaped me [google.com] even in college from a man who could somehow make Mathematics fun. Now I'll never know him personally but I'll always know that a collection of his puzzles [slashdot.org] put me on track to be who I am today. While writers as popular as Clarke and Sagan shaped me as well, Gardner is in the lesser known category that shaped me just as much if not more.

    A near maniacal thirst to algorithmically solve puzzles was instilled in me from his mind via plain old paper.

    Rest in peace, Martin Gardner.
  • He is a man to whom scores of people thank for igniting the first spark of appreciating math and science. He will be terribly missed.
  • May his memory be for a blessing.

  • by Shimmer (3036) <brianberns@gmail.com> on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:29PM (#32310850) Homepage Journal

    In the 1970s and early 80s, before the internet, before personal computers, nothing linked geeks together more than Martin Gardner's monthly column in Scientific American. I amazed myself with his binary card deck, and collected matchboxes to make a tic-tac-toe learning computer.

    His work will live on. I'm sitting next to a shelf full of his books as I type this.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @09:39PM (#32310892)

    Martin Gardner is known to many for his writings in recreational mathematics, but I also came to admire his persistent and vigorous work promoting naturalistic and scientific rigor and his work to discredit fringe science and junk science.

    Some of the areas he wrote on were creationism, organic farming, Charles Fort, Rudolf Steiner, Scientology, Dianetics, UFOs, dowsing, extra-sensory perception, the Bates method, and psychokinesis.

    Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, revised 1957) is a classic and should be required material in our school systems.

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      organic farming

      Just curious here, but why does organic farming (lack of pesticides and genetic modification?) require debunking as belonging to fringe or junk science?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Organic farming in and of itself isn't pseudoscience, but sometimes the claims made about it fall into that realm. Examples being that the products of organic farming are necessarily healthier for you, or better for the environment, or conversely, that the use of pesticides and genetic modification are necessarily detrimental. They can be or not be, and such claims have to be analyzed on an individual basis. But there does exist a large segment of the population that adheres to the naturalistic fallacy t

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        organic farming

        Just curious here, but why does organic farming (lack of pesticides and genetic modification?) require debunking as belonging to fringe or junk science?

        It's not the existence of organic farming, it's the claims that are associated with it. Sometimes the organic choice turns out to be less healthy than non-organic type (like when some nutso places try to sell you non-pasteurized milk).

        Some of the organic choices are probably indeed better for you. A lot of it is most definitely more ethical in terms of treatment of animals. And if we all switched to organic, large portions of the human population would starve, as we couldn't possibly produce as much food

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @08:11AM (#32313556) Homepage Journal

          And if we all switched to organic, large portions of the human population would starve, as we couldn't possibly produce as much food as cheaply to feed everyone.

          Wait a minute, people would starve because we can't feed them cheaply? This is bullshit. Organic wouldn't be the reason people would starve, corporate greed would be. Further, all we have to do to have enough fertilizer for organic food production for all citizens would be to stop piping our shit off to sewage "treatment plants" and shit in a composting toilet instead. Sewage sludge is not a safe fertilizer; composted shit is. The Green Revolution fed nobody who would have otherwise starved, and there are numerous methods of organic farming which produce more food per acre than so-called Green Revolution methods. Today, most farming doesn't even utilize crop rotation; we're not using even the most basic technologies of farming.

          • by LizardKing (5245)

            Wait a minute, people would starve because we can't feed them cheaply? This is bullshit.

            No it's not bullshit. The introduction of modern fertilisers lead to massive increases in crop yields. Before this revolution (and that is not too strong a description), scientists feared that we had reached a peak in agricultural production. Coupled with a rapidly growing human population, this lead to fears of global food shortages and famine. Unfortunately, we are nearing a repeat of that crisis. Agricultural produc

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              No it's not bullshit.

              Saying it's not doesn't make it not.

              The introduction of modern fertilisers lead to massive increases in crop yields.

              I covered this recently, in the discussion on pesticide-resistant weeds. You produce more food per acre with biointensive methods like permaculture (an organic farming methodology) than with monocultures. The only thing "green revolution" farming provides is the ability to use machinery. Further, pesticide-resistant weeds are not a threat to organic farming.

              Before this revolution (and that is not too strong a description),

              Let me state again: Not one person was fed by the green revolution that would otherwise have starved.

              scientists feared that we had reached a peak in agricultural production.

              When you say th

              • by LizardKing (5245)
                Bloody hell, you're so confused as to be beyond help. Nice lack of irony in the first sentence of your response as well.
                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  Bloody hell, you're so confused as to be beyond help.

                  Is this what you do when you run out of supporting arguments?

          • Organic wouldn't be the reason people would starve, corporate greed would be.

            I think it's more a case of human greed. And human mistrust.

            I think that the world has enough arable land to feed its inhabitants; and if enough people would volunteer their time, or their money which could be used to hire other people, we would have that food grown, easily.

            But we don't, because people don't give those donations, because they don't know that donating $200 per month rather than $10/m will actually fix it; and maybe it won't, because your neighbor won't know that you will cooperate, and ...

            W

            • by Carnildo (712617)

              I think that the world has enough arable land to feed its inhabitants; and if enough people would volunteer their time, or their money which could be used to hire other people, we would have that food grown, easily.

              The world has enough food to feed everyone. Right now.

              The problem is one of logistics. By the time that food gets to the people who need it, much of it has spoiled, been eaten by pests, or been sold by corrupt middlemen. A few well-placed revolutions and a few tens of billions of dollars inves

  • Dr. Matrix (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Gardner had a character called Dr. Matrix, an eccentric mathematician (perhaps not unlike the real life Paul Erdos, or Gardner himself) who popped up periodically in his columns. One I remember was Gardner interviewing Dr. Matrix in prison; seems the doc was busted for slicing twenty dollar bills into 20 strips, and "rearranging" them into modified bills composed of 19 strips each. Unfortunately, after that charming episode was published in Scientific American several people were similarly busted for copy

  • bringing it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by trb (8509) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @10:59PM (#32311220)
    From the product description of his collected SciAm Mathematical Games columns [amazon.com] on CD:

    His column broke such stories as Rivest, Shamir and Adelman on public-key cryptography, Mandelbrot on fractals, Conway on Life, and Penrose on tilings.

    Wow.

  • by GrendelT (252901) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:07PM (#32311260) Homepage

    In his honor, I'd like to link to the 3D paper dragon [neodux.com] that was created for Gathering for Gardner.
    RIP Gardner.

  • by Cliff Stoll (242915) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @11:56PM (#32311510) Homepage

    After he saw one of my first Klein Bottles, Martin Gardner encouraged me to make them for recreational mathematics enthusiasts. "Even if the Klein Bottles don't work out, you'll have fun meeting these folks"

    And so began my zero-volume business.

    In high school, I followed his instructions to make hexaflexagons and fooled with Knights tours on chess boards. Much later, I was honored to correspond and meet him.

    In person, he was just as curious, creative, and encouraging as you would expect from his writing.

    Along with others here, I will miss Martin Gardner - his Scientific American articles, his wide ranging books, and his warm support. He leaves a wide wake behind him.

    -Cliff

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Paradise Pete (33184)

      After he saw one of my first Klein Bottles

      Hey, Cliff Stoll! I remember thoroughly enjoying The Cukoo's Egg.
      For those who are unfamiliar with it, it's his late 80's account of tracking down a spy who had gained root access to Lawrence Berkeley.

      • Agreed. Great book.

        I grew up reading Gardner's SciAm columns in the 60s. Cliff, I look to you to carry on in the Gardner tradition!

    • Oddly enough I am thinking of getting one of your steins for my brother.
      The only problem, as you mentioned on the site, is that it is hard to clean the "inside".
      I was thinking that it could be seperatable with the inside taken off the outside.
      You then wash the 2 parts, and put them back together clean.

      P.S. You could make a zillion different kinds of designs.
      P.P.S. I have no idea if you will read this but I still think it is a good idea.
      Maybe I will try to find an email address on the site.

  • by fishexe (168879) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:38AM (#32311756) Homepage
    I guess the pirates finally got his last coin. Or he finally ate the chocolate square with the soap on it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In memoriam, I dug up my copy of The Annotated Alice. Like others have mentioned, I think Gardner's research and interpretation add multiple dimensions to any reading of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

    If you can find a copy, it is well worth it. I purchased mine in Portland's Powell's bookstore for (so the inscribed price tells me) $6.95, many years ago.

    From the introduction:
    "Let it be said at once that there is something preposterous about an annotated Alice. Writing in 1932

  • Sad to hear that one of the master educators of our time is gone. But, like "Hello!", how many times was he ever on Oprah, you know?

  • I recall many "puzzling" moments at the local pool reading the latest issue of "Scientific American" where he wrote a column regularly. And no, reading this title never attracted any chicks to join me on the blanket, but this is /. after all... ;-)

    Godspeed Martin, your wit & humor will be missed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In memory of his death, Scientific American today republished a wonderful profile [scientificamerican.com] of Martin Gardner from the December, 1995 issue.
     
    They also reprinted 3 of his puzzles. [scientificamerican.com]

  • by nyri (132206) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:50AM (#32314974)

    Here are some links (provided to you via Arts and Letters Daily [aldaily.com]):

    The Associated Press [nwsource.com]
    Sci Am [scientificamerican.com]
    Discover [discovermagazine.com]
    James Randy [randi.org]
    Roger Kimball [pajamasmedia.com]

    The Man's last essay. [csicop.org] It's titeled Oprah Winfrey: Bright (but Gullible) Billionaire.

  • changed my life... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aminzade (799206)
    This is a long posting, a copy of the one I just put up on randi.org. It wasn't supposed to be long, but it turned out that way. Just a way to remember how important Martin Gardner was not just to science and math popularization, but to the sceptic movement as well.

    I never met Martin Gardner, but he certainly touched my life. In the late 1970s a girlfriend of mine gave me a copy of "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science." She was given a copy but didn't want to read it.

    I was not exactly a person

  • Martin Gardner probably had more impact on my intellectual development and rigor of thinking as a teenager than anyone else. As an adult, his book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener" had more impact on my thoughts on philosophy than anyone else. My hat is off to him.
  • I became aware of Martin Gardner as an adolescent (in the 1970s), and I've often looked to his work as the best evidence that a self taught amateur can ably and artfully pursue a love of science, math, and a rational life without the aid (or hindrance) of advanced university degrees or a lab full of expensive equipment.

    Mr Gardner's infectious enthusiasm and excellence in recounting his explorations played a big role in shaping my sense of self and my appreciation for the positive role model that an amateur

  • I want to submit an astrological death chart to Randi's site.

  • I will always remember Martin Gardner as one of the key influences in my mathematical leanings. His column in Scientific American was always interesting, even when I didn't know enough to understand half of what he wrote.

    Anybody knows if one can get a collection of all his SciFi columns in a single volume or a set of volumes? I would gladly pay significant bucks to be able to have all those interesting articles in my possession.

    So long Martin. Thanks for all the wonderfully wasted hours.

  • A rare talent. RIP and thank you sir.

In the sciences, we are now uniquely priviledged to sit side by side with the giants on whose shoulders we stand. -- Gerald Holton

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