- improved by a quote, contribution, or guidance from a mathematician. The point is to leverage existing coverage rather than try to create a new genre or set of stories about mathematics itself.
- Develop a working group of 10 to 12 people who are familiar with trends in math itself and who will try to express these innovations in metaphors and analogies that are communicable to nonmathematicians. Every gathering of mathematicians should have a working session where participants are funded to come up with a presentation or concept that is designed for a lay audience.
- Make sure that people can articulate the history and the story behind the idea. It is often easier to explain an idea in the context of its origins than to explain the idea itself. History is inherently narrative.
- Create one-day workshops for members of the media (and relevant federal and state staff) that invite the best mathematicians around to give accessible tutorials on major math themes. The goal should be not to produce faux literacy but rather to promote a conceptual appreciation of why that particular aspect of math warrants further study. The analogy is Leonard Bernstein teaching people how to listen to Beethoven. People don't have to be able to read music to better listen to it.
- Parasitize other public relations initiatives by the science and technology community. When engineers or physicists are putting on a press briefing or a conference that attracts media coverage, make sure that mathematicians are there to put their spin on how mathematics is influencing advances in those fields.
- Make a concerted effort to infiltrate the business press. Between Wall Street quants, economists' simulations, and computation, the quantitative content of the business world is rapidly increasing. Mathematicians should be commenting on how the future of math will shape the future of value creation. In other words, how can math—like microprocessors—be seen as a "mission-critical" part of the information economy?
- Identify the rivalries and cultural conflicts in the math community and "market" them to the media as signs of an institution undergoing introspection and renewal. Science magazine "News and Comment" stories like this invariably get picked up by the mainstream media. The challenge: How can these conflicts be portrayed in ways that give the mainstream greater insights into how mathematicians define their field?
There is no doubt that mathematics remains a vibrant and evocative discipline whose intellectual influence is expanding in spite of the limitations of the community that defines it. It is time that the mathematics community recognized—and acted upon the recognition—that it has a moral obligation to make it easier for people to appreciate what mathematics can be. Knowledge and understanding are too much to ask; appreciation and awareness are not.