Friday, June 29, 2012


The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has recently released a report on the impending shortage of people trained in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. They note that mathematics courses are a bottleneck in this process. In a brilliant example of problem-solving, they have squarely fixed the blame on mathematics teachers, and decided that the cure is to have mathematics courses developed and taught by faculty in ‘mathematics-intensive’ disciplines instead. As I have said on numerous forums, the study of mathematics has been honed, pruned and refined for 2,500 years. I would suggest that we might be doing something right. Perhaps, as some good educational and cognitive psychology studies suggest, ability in mathematics is a fairly rare talent, but nonetheless essential for the training of good scientists?


The Arthurian said...

Let's set aside "ability in mathematics" and just shoot for a willingness to look at things mathematically rather than politically.

Show most people a graph these days and they will tell you it shows that [insert political name here] is right and [insert political name here] is wrong.

I look at graphs to see how economic quantities are related and how the relations change over time. Not enough politics for most people, I guess.

Ding. It's beer o'clock.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Depends on what degree of proficiency in maths you are talking about. This would include, as TA explains, a willingness to look at numbers in some sort of context.

In fact, I think people are better at maths in the abstract sense than in the real world. Ask them whether they'd rather have a £200 cash gift for their birthday or for Xmas, and some people would choose one and some would choose the other. They can tell it's the same thing.

But ask them whether the "Winter Fuel Allowance" should be scrapped, they wail about pensioners freezing to death in winter, if you offer to increase the state pension by £4 a week and they'll tell you it's not enough.