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Anti-racist math

  1. May 3, 2005 #1
    I have discovered a very strange thing:


    I don't think I want to have a discussion about math teaching pedagogy.

    But what about the whole social relativistic and postmodern ideas that science is just as much a social construction as anything else.

    I have a friend that studies literature and he loves to read stuff with strange postmodern theories. He has no real grasp of science and is always aware or afraid of discrimination, the role of males and christianity in western culture and other things like that. He claims his ideas mainly come from foucault and/or Derrida.

    I believe science does not equal to reality but that scientific models and theories describe reality. And I also believe science is the most objective and effective method we could wish for. My friend keept talking about 'social construction' and 'cultural influence'. I have problems making an argument that is 'true' from his relativistic perspective

    And now we have feminists trying to blame differences in math scores in the US regarding ethnicity and male 'superiority' on (the nature of) math?

    Any ideas about this form of 'scientific relativism'?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2005 #2
    Well, I'll tell you something I learned very little time ago:

    Relativity is not valid in human reality. I mean, here, that if five million people say that it was x who killed n and only one person says that it was y who killed n, then, in reality, we have to decide on x. because, without generalisation, which I hate, but need, we can't make rules.This is not detailñed about math cluture er etz....but on general relativistic aplication of reality.
  4. May 3, 2005 #3


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    I think science is the exact opposite of society. Society is a group collaborating and deciding on usually 2 or more ways of doing something and both having merit. With science though, no matter what society your in, african, american, european, asian, etc, your always going to come to pretty much the same experimental results. This is in open conflict with the idea of "social" construction as social construction is inevitably, a case by case basis.
  5. May 3, 2005 #4
    Read Foucalut for yourself: he has interesting things to say about the nature of power in human society, e.g. books like 'Madness and Civilisation." His basic insight is that what counts as knowledge, what counts as "reality" is determined by the powerful. Thus "reality" and "knowledge" are always skewed against the powerless: they're in a no-win bind. For example, the development of the science of mechanics was propelled by mercantile interests: mechanics became "real knowledge"; other ways of knowing the world fell by the wayside; likewise for chemistry and biology: the chemistry and biology of paramount importance today is determined by, e.g. large chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Thus, knowledge is never value-free.

    Science portrays itself as being objective, but actually rests on the authority of senior figures who have a vested interest in the status quo. That's why radically new ideas often face such a hostile reception.

    My advice would be to read more of the history, philosophy, and sociology of science, to see how it is enmeshed with current patterns of social and political power. Off the top of my head, I'd recommend Paul Feyerabend's "Against Method" and "Science in a Free Society", but there is a large literature on these topics.

    Foucault is insightful but avoid Derrida: he will confuse you. Also stay away from the other so-called "post-modernists" at this stage, unless you already have a strong background in classical philosophy.

    For a fun site, go to the "post-modern generator" site:


    This site generates post-modern rubbish at random. Also do a google search for Alan Sokal, the Sokal Affair, and the spoof paper he published in the journal Social Text in 1996.
  6. May 4, 2005 #5


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    Those who propound these "theories" are completely ignorant of what science and maths is about.
    It is that simple.
  7. May 5, 2005 #6
    It is never that simple.
  8. May 5, 2005 #7


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    All right, then: Educated crackpots..
    lucie Irigaray and Jacques Lacan are good examples of that.
  9. May 6, 2005 #8

    Tell your anti-racist-math friend if he knows about something called "algebra". It's one of the biggest (if not the biggest) themes stdueed in math, and it was obviously (by its name: AL-gebra) invented and created by muslims. is this racist?
  10. May 6, 2005 #9


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    I agree completely with Guille here:
    The strict adherence to logic in maths is, of course, in itself a "value judgment" , i.e logically coherent ideas are seen as more worthwhile developing than incoherent ideas, but I am unable to see how this can be seen as a racist judgment.
    As long as an idea is "good" in a mathematical sense, most mathematicians couldn't care less who developed it, other than justifying respect and admiration towards the developer.
    This isn't just fine words, we have in fact historical evidence,
    for example, take the case of female mathematicians.

    Maths has been one of those fields of human endeavour most accepting of females through history:
    Hypatia, Maria Agnesi, Sophie Germain, Sonya Kowalewsky and Emmy Noether all lived in times in which women were kept down, but from their contemporary mathematical environment, they were greeted with a level of respect for their abilities quite different than the contemporary attitudes in general.
    Last edited: May 6, 2005
  11. May 6, 2005 #10
  12. May 6, 2005 #11


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    Without any evidence, I am quite convinced that the highest percentage for African-Americans in tenured positions is to be found within the natural sciences.
  13. May 6, 2005 #12
    I also think this is true.

    My biology teacher is from Ghana. Whiles my Chemistry teacher from UK and Physics teacher from USA.

    In actuall math, or sciences, there is no racism. Another very different thing, is the racism caused by others things, that happens around science/math topics. For example, there have been racist scientists (although it is a fact that the smallest percentage of discrimination and racism are found, between all jobs, in scientific ones) and one of this was Spencer (can't remember his first name). He was a biologist who claimed that black (I don't know or care about the word used in english in USA or UK, I am going to use this word because I don't see any real racist problem with it.) people were less developed and a sort of retardation compared to white people.

    But science and math in their essence, aren't racist: for the simple reason because the very root of science and math is logic and racionalism. And racism or descrimination aren't logic or/and racional. I think this is a good conclusion.
  14. May 6, 2005 #13
    :rofl: :rofl:

    This idea of "racist math" is very perplexing to me. How could anyone even imagine that it is a tenable view? I think it's a form of denial--since some cultural groups and women tend to do less well at math, some try to deny it is a real failing to be corrected.
  15. May 6, 2005 #14


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    Maybe they have only read math books like this (you just have to see these exercises).
  16. May 6, 2005 #15
    It depend's on how you [apply] maths....

    But most of the time it's just stastical analysis on datas that have in fact nothing to do with reality.....see The Bell Curve.
  17. May 7, 2005 #16
    With all the respect but i never agreed with the western view of about physics. When Newton invented calculus and vectors in 1665, he forgot that these are abstract mathematical constructs. Seems like today abstract mathematics is confused with physics. Nature is not about math, it's about logic.

    If we want a scientific revolution (in this century) we'll have to change our view about nature.
  18. May 7, 2005 #17
    Well, I was puzzled too. My friend hasn't anything to do with math. He doesn't even know what it is :)

    But I was browsing through wikipedia and I hit on that article, which puzzled me also.

    I don't think we really have to discuss math itself, but rather in how far science is a social construction. Because the last is supposted by quite alot of people.

    I can see that science of a whole isn't detached from reality. But I do not see how culture can affect the way we create our scientific theories. Surely the cultural influence and the social constructions must be the least strong in an area like science. I don't see how anyone would gain from having another type of standard model. So why would culture influence that?

    The only influence I can see is the nature of the human brain.

    My friend always claims that we western people can't claim that primitive people who believe in magic and supernatural things are wrong in their theories.

    This is the point the extreme things like 'racist math' come from. And this is what we need to adress.

    M Model, I fail to see how nature is about logic, since things like relativity and quantum physics are so non-intuitive. Are they logical? I doubt it. They are mathematical.
    Last edited: May 7, 2005
  19. May 7, 2005 #18


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    Logic is also an abstract construct. How do you distinguish logic from math?
  20. May 7, 2005 #19


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    Why should your friend's claim bear any more weight than anyone else's claim? Your friend can't use logic or science to justify his claim, so what does he use?
  21. May 7, 2005 #20
    :rofl: :rofl: I would guess he uses patriarchical and western-centered oppression.
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