Published in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on May 3, Mathematics Professor Manil Suri wrote his third column since being named contributing opinion writer on the application of math to predict Maryland’s blue crab population. He examined the complexities and various factors that can go into a mathematical formula to predict the population.
“Fecundity and survival rates — so innocuous as algebraic symbols — can be difficult to estimate. For instance, it was long believed that a blue crab’s maximum life expectancy was eight years. This estimate was used, indirectly, to calculate crab mortality from fishing. Derided by watermen, the life expectancy turned out to be much too high; this had resulted in too many crab deaths being attributed to harvesting, thereby supporting charges of overfishing,” Suri wrote.
In his column, Suri further discusses the difficulty in finding an accurate quantitative formula to calculate the blue crab population, which depends on a number of factors that are not easy to predict.
“In some sense, that might be the wrong goal anyway. Randomness is built into biological processes, so predicting a population is never going to be like calculating the interest on a bank account. The best we can do is use available science to make educated guesses about various outcomes,” he wrote.
To read the full column titled “Mathematicians and Blue Crabs,” click here.