# Mathematics Can Be Racist?

DaveC426913
Gold Member
Either way -- not from Europe.
They were spurious examples; no truth to them. I'm sure there are those who could find valid examples.

I was simply pointing out to Pengweenie examples to answer his question. Read his post to see how he had trouble understanding how one could be "racist" in one's teachings.

How do you even teach math differentially to a different race though? When math is explained to me, it's all in symbols and numbers. Do people go up to a rich white student and say "Imagine this function is like the path your golf ball takes at your country club" and to a poor black student and say "Imagine this function is how many kilograms of drugs enter your neighborhood as a function of t"? Then again, it's been years since I've had a math course that had any realistic connection with reality (and by that I mean a course where real life examples are necessary... high school math for example), so maybe I simply don't remember how math is taught to kids.
http://www.stumbleupon.com/s/#2kEiPk/www.theonion.com/content/node/28768/

(When you see the onion screen, click "continue" to get to the article.)

Ignore it at our peril. We all know about the antiscientific nonsense that comes from the fundamentalist right. All that ignoring this nonsense accomplished was to let the nonsense grow to the extent where a very significant portion of the US thinks evolution is false. "It's only a theory."

Unfortunately, antiscientific idiocy is also rampant on the far left. The article cited in the original post is the tip of the iceberg. Google the phrase "Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual'". After that, think about this statement by Luce Irigaray:
Is e=mc2 a sexed equation?...Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest...​

It seems that their main point (besides not having even the foggiest idea of how mathematics is taught) is that they would much rather have math and science teachers teach anything but math and science. Teaching multi-culturism would be particularly nice.
"Google the phrase "Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual'"

Office_Shredder
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
"Google the phrase "Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual'"
Stuff like this is far less mainstream though. There tends to be a prevailing opinion that the "harder" a science is, the less the common person can question it. Probably because harder sciences tend to have more convincing and demonstrative experiments to back them up, and 2-3 times the history as biology etc.

EDIT: On that note, I googled it and when I clicked on the first link I got a "Firefox does not trust this page.. Are you sure you want to proceed?" warning. Obviously I chose not to

I don't suppose you could summarize or excerpt?
The onion is a parody newspaper. The article was a parody article about the surprising efficiency of inner city youths in use of the metric system. It was in reference to the comment about teaching mathematics differently by different use of examples.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
The onion is a parody newspaper. The article was a parody article about the surprising efficiency of inner city youths in use of the metric system. It was in reference to the comment about teaching mathematics differently by different use of examples.
Oh. I didn't realize it was 'The Onion'. The Onion is good parody stuff. All I saw was your 'stumbleupon' URL, which is ambiguous.

The quote about the principia being a "rape manual" I've heard attributed to Sandra Harding, the author of one of the references in the wiki article on anti-racist mathematics. Not sure why, radical feminism seems to be her thing.

Still, teaching theorems by famous female mathematicians would be one way to improve A-level standards- Noether's theorem, anybody?

D H
Staff Emeritus
The quote about the principia being a "rape manual" I've heard attributed to Sandra Harding, the author of one of the references in the wiki article on anti-racist mathematics. Not sure why, radical feminism seems to be her thing.
She's the one!

Still, teaching theorems by famous female mathematicians would be one way to improve A-level standards- Noether's theorem, anybody?
People from many cultures and both genders are now making contributions to mathematics. Teaching these contributions first presents a basic problem: It misses the basics. How can one you learn Noether's theorem without learning Lagrangian mechanics first, and Newtonian mechanics and calculus before that?

Take this too far and nobody would be making contributions to mathematics because nobody would be learning mathematics. The foundations of math happened to have been created largely by white male Europeans, and there is no getting around that. We can't change the past.

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If we try really hard, and protest enough, we can change the past to one that suits us the best......

The quote about the principia being a "rape manual" I've heard attributed to Sandra Harding, the author of one of the references in the wiki article on anti-racist mathematics. Not sure why, radical feminism seems to be her thing.

Still, teaching theorems by famous female mathematicians would be one way to improve A-level standards- Noether's theorem, anybody?
To be fair, it seems there might have been some context for the statement that would make it seem less ridiculous.

To be fair, it seems there might have been some context for the statement that would make it seem less ridiculous.
That would be some powerful context. I mean I can't even play devils advocate. I'm going to try to find wherever she wrote this, just to see.

ideasrule
Homework Helper
<rant>Except in recent times, nearly all of mankind's great achievements--its inventions, its science, its politics, its art and literature--were made in Europe. If other people did anything significant, it didn't send shock waves around the world in the same way that Euclid or Newton did. Denying this by emphasizing the "achievements" of female, black, Native, Indian, or chimpanzee intellectuals isn't lying; it's worse than lying. It's no different from the selective use of facts that white supremacists exploit in proving their point. (If anti-racist math gets implemented, though, the white supremacists may have a valid point.)

Why did Europe rise to prominence in nearly every field whereas the rest of the world failed? That might be an interesting question for a historian, but it couldn't be less relevant to a math course. Maybe Europeans sucked the brains out of Africans, drank their blood, and got the nourishment that made their brains smarter. Maybe aliens came and told them the answers. Maybe they got help form the invisible pink unicorn. Whatever the case, it was Newton and Leibniz who developed calculus; it was Greece that gave us the foundations of mathematics. There's no denying that.</rant>

DaveC426913
Gold Member
<rant>Except in recent times, nearly all of mankind's great achievements--its inventions, its science, its politics, its art and literature--were made in Europe. If other people did anything significant, it didn't send shock waves around the world in the same way that Euclid or Newton did. Denying this by emphasizing the "achievements" of female, black, Native, Indian, or chimpanzee intellectuals isn't lying; it's worse than lying. It's no different from the selective use of facts that white supremacists exploit in proving their point. (If anti-racist math gets implemented, though, the white supremacists may have a valid point.)

Why did Europe rise to prominence in nearly every field whereas the rest of the world failed? That might be an interesting question for a historian, but it couldn't be less relevant to a math course. Maybe Europeans sucked the brains out of Africans, drank their blood, and got the nourishment that made their brains smarter. Maybe aliens came and told them the answers. Maybe they got help form the invisible pink unicorn. Whatever the case, it was Newton and Leibniz who developed calculus; it was Greece that gave us the foundations of mathematics. There's no denying that.</rant>
Did you just equate the significance of discoveries by females and blacks with those by chimpanzees?

: Takes three large steps away from ideasrule :

D H
Staff Emeritus
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another question for you, why did newton and leibniz discover calculus at the same time? this seems to happen fairly often, btw.

Has anyone brought this up?; the desire by some to portray mathematics as racist is a racist desire.

This is so very much like the shrinks who found solace by labeling bullies to be low on self esteem, where the opposite were true. But this bit of common delusion sure boosts the self esteem of the bullied.

<rant>Except in recent times, nearly all of mankind's great achievements--its inventions, its science, its politics, its art and literature--were made in Europe. If other people did anything significant, it didn't send shock waves around the world in the same way that Euclid or Newton did. Denying this by emphasizing the "achievements" of female, black, Native, Indian, or chimpanzee intellectuals isn't lying; it's worse than lying. It's no different from the selective use of facts that white supremacists exploit in proving their point. (If anti-racist math gets implemented, though, the white supremacists may have a valid point.)

Why did Europe rise to prominence in nearly every field whereas the rest of the world failed? That might be an interesting question for a historian, but it couldn't be less relevant to a math course. Maybe Europeans sucked the brains out of Africans, drank their blood, and got the nourishment that made their brains smarter. Maybe aliens came and told them the answers. Maybe they got help form the invisible pink unicorn. Whatever the case, it was Newton and Leibniz who developed calculus; it was Greece that gave us the foundations of mathematics. There's no denying that.</rant>
ORLY?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avicenna

I was gonna say. I was fairly certain that most of the foundation for advanced mathematics was developed outside of europe.

D H
Staff Emeritus
Yeah, I mentioned Islam science and math back in post #20, as well as the Indians, the Chinese, and the Mayans. Each of these could have been the seat of the scientific revolution -- except of course they weren't.

I think a big part of the problem here comes from the completely different way in which math and science are taught versus the way the humanities are taught. The humanities have people read the writings of their esteemed scholars. How many of you have tried to read Principia? I've tried; it is torturous. Even Maxwell's papers are a bit verbose. They lacked the modern tools to represent mathematical expressions. Math and science are constantly reinventing and economizing their nomenclature. In comparison, there has been very little improvement in the basic representation scheme used in the humanities for since the invention of the alphabet 4000 years ago.

Here is the kind of nonsense al-Khwārizmī had to deal with to determine that 1 is one of the two roots to $(10-x)^2=81x$ (from Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī[/URL]):
[indent]If some one say: "You divide ten into two parts: multiply the one by itself; it will be equal to the other taken eighty-one times." Computation: You say, ten less thing, multiplied by itself, is a hundred plus a square less twenty things, and this is equal to eighty-one things. Separate the twenty things from a hundred and a square, and add them to eighty-one. It will then be a hundred plus a square, which is equal to a hundred and one roots. Halve the roots; the moiety is fifty and a half. Multiply this by itself, it is two thousand five hundred and fifty and a quarter. Subtract from this one hundred; the remainder is two thousand four hundred and fifty and a quarter. Extract the root from this; it is forty-nine and a half. Subtract this from the moiety of the roots, which is fifty and a half. There remains one, and this is one of the two parts.[/indent]

We do not and should not teach students to solve problems in this manner. The screams of "Oh no! Not another word problem!" would take on an entirely new meaning. It might be a good idea to show kids how people used to solve problems. This will serve multiple purposes. It opens a path to counter the claims of Eurocentricism. It also lets kids know that the word problems they face aren't so bad after all.

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Staff Emeritus
Here is the kind of nonsense al-Khwārizmī had to deal with
Or number theory. Imagine the excitement when it was recognized that MMMMMMCDVII factored into LXXIII x LXXXIX.

Yeah, I mentioned Islam science and math back in post #20, as well as the Indians, the Chinese, and the Mayans. Each of these could have been the seat of the scientific revolution -- except of course they weren't.

I think a big part of the problem here comes from the completely different way in which math and science are taught versus the way the humanities are taught. The humanities have people read the writings of their esteemed scholars. How many of you have tried to read Principia? I've tried; it is torturous. Even Maxwell's papers are a bit verbose. They lacked the modern tools to represent mathematical expressions. Math and science are constantly reinventing and economizing their nomenclature. In comparison, there has been very little improvement in the basic representation scheme used in the humanities for since the invention of the alphabet 4000 years ago.

Here is the kind of nonsense al-Khwārizmī had to deal with to determine that 1 is one of the two roots to $(10-x)^2=81x$ (from Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī[/URL]):
[indent]If some one say: "You divide ten into two parts: multiply the one by itself; it will be equal to the other taken eighty-one times." Computation: You say, ten less thing, multiplied by itself, is a hundred plus a square less twenty things, and this is equal to eighty-one things. Separate the twenty things from a hundred and a square, and add them to eighty-one. It will then be a hundred plus a square, which is equal to a hundred and one roots. Halve the roots; the moiety is fifty and a half. Multiply this by itself, it is two thousand five hundred and fifty and a quarter. Subtract from this one hundred; the remainder is two thousand four hundred and fifty and a quarter. Extract the root from this; it is forty-nine and a half. Subtract this from the moiety of the roots, which is fifty and a half. There remains one, and this is one of the two parts.[/indent]

We do not and should not teach students to solve problems in this manner. The screams of "Oh no! Not another word problem!" would take on an entirely new meaning. It might be a good idea to show kids how people used to solve problems. This will serve multiple purposes. It opens a path to counter the claims of Eurocentricism. It also lets kids know that the word problems they face aren't so bad after all.[/QUOTE]

It's worth noting in the context of this discussion that al-Khwārizmī (a persian) and Al-Kindi (an arab) were principally responsible for the adoption of the Indian numeral system into the Islamic world, which lead ultimately to its adoption in Europe. This is the system of numerals that is still in use today, none of which were invented by europeans.

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Yeah, I mentioned Islam science and math back in post #20, as well as the Indians, the Chinese, and the Mayans. Each of these could have been the seat of the scientific revolution -- except of course they weren't.

I think a big part of the problem here comes from the completely different way in which math and science are taught versus the way the humanities are taught. The humanities have people read the writings of their esteemed scholars. How many of you have tried to read Principia? I've tried; it is torturous. Even Maxwell's papers are a bit verbose. They lacked the modern tools to represent mathematical expressions. Math and science are constantly reinventing and economizing their nomenclature. In comparison, there has been very little improvement in the basic representation scheme used in the humanities for since the invention of the alphabet 4000 years ago.

Here is the kind of nonsense al-Khwārizmī had to deal with to determine that 1 is one of the two roots to $(10-x)^2=81x$ (from Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī[/URL]):
[indent]If some one say: "You divide ten into two parts: multiply the one by itself; it will be equal to the other taken eighty-one times." Computation: You say, ten less thing, multiplied by itself, is a hundred plus a square less twenty things, and this is equal to eighty-one things. Separate the twenty things from a hundred and a square, and add them to eighty-one. It will then be a hundred plus a square, which is equal to a hundred and one roots. Halve the roots; the moiety is fifty and a half. Multiply this by itself, it is two thousand five hundred and fifty and a quarter. Subtract from this one hundred; the remainder is two thousand four hundred and fifty and a quarter. Extract the root from this; it is forty-nine and a half. Subtract this from the moiety of the roots, which is fifty and a half. There remains one, and this is one of the two parts.[/indent]

We do not and should not teach students to solve problems in this manner. The screams of "Oh no! Not another word problem!" would take on an entirely new meaning. It might be a good idea to show kids how people used to solve problems. This will serve multiple purposes. It opens a path to counter the claims of Eurocentricism. It also lets kids know that the word problems they face aren't so bad after all.[/QUOTE]

The difference between these two is that while mathematical language seeks clarity of meaning, or in other words, restricting meaning so as to increase precision, the evolution of language has been the exact opposite.
In fact, one of the reasons english has become so dominant, besides the historical reasons, is its ability to continually expand its vocabulary and thus incorporate greater nuance. It could be said then that the goal of language evolution is not precision but range of expression. Paradoxically, a greater range of expression allows for greater specificity.

I do think the goal of post-modern speak is often to obscure rather then to clarify, but this does not mean that complex language is a negative thing.

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The difference between these two is that while mathematical language seeks clarity of meaning, or in other words, restricting meaning so as to increase precision, the evolution of language has been the exact opposite.
In fact, one of the reasons english has become so dominant, besides the historical reasons, is its ability to continually expand its vocabulary and thus incorporate greater nuance. It could be said then that the goal of language evolution is not precision but range of expression. Paradoxically, a greater range of expression allows for greater specificity.

I do think the goal of post-modern speak is often to obscure rather then to clarify, but this does not mean that complex language is a negative thing.
As someone once observed:
"How can French be the language of science when it has no word for eighty?"