February 27, 2006

What's math for, yet again

For some reason, my "What's math For" post about the Cohen article in the LA Times has disappeared from the blog. It's still somewhere in the ether, because I can link to it (in the previous post, for example or in Google Cache) but doesn't appear in the main listing. It's kinda scary to think that there may be other posts that I've made over the years that have just vanished. So, in the spirit of putting things right, here's the post again:

As has been reported a fair bit in the scienceblogosphere, The Washington Post's Richard cohen has a rather bizarre post on whether or not everyone needs to know algebra.

Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a similar column about algebra. Math teachers struck back with a vengeance. They made so many claims for algebra's intrinsic worth that I felt, as I once had in class, like a dummy. Once again, I just didn't get it. Still, in the two decades since, I have lived a pretty full life and never, ever used -- or wanted to use -- algebra. I was lucky, though. I had graduated from high school and gone on to college. It's different for you, Gabriela. Algebra ruined many a day for me. Now it could ruin your life.

I always find these mathophobic posts rather interesting. Can anyone think of any other field of intellectual attainment that supposedly educated people would practically brag about being bad at or ignorant of? Literature? History? Film? Geography? Don't think so. Math & science? Hey, ignorance is a badge of honour. Does everyone need to know about math in their everyday lives? Probably not. But the same could be said for all those other subjects too. Knowing who Sir John A. was has never once made my life even a bit easier. Really, the very existence of a whole lot of people who have bothered to learn about those arcane math & science subjects and have built up our very technological society has made it pretty easy for the unknowing to get along pretty well in their ignorance. That's fine, I guess. But at least Mr. Cohen and his ilk could demonstate a little appreciation rather than scorn.

Some other, probably better, fiskings can be found at ScienceBlogs here, here and here, plus some more comments via Technorati.

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