The danger in ALL "era of mathematician" claims

It’s in plain sight, really. Just look around you.

The danger in ALL "era of mathematician" claims /img/math-joke.jpg

An expert in Applied Mathematics, Data Science, Statistics just claimed that “the Era of the Mathematician Has Arrived” because:

  • Only those with a math background can truly make sense of the tsunami of analytics that is already on our shores
  • There is no better field to start out in than mathematics if you want to make sense of everything new that is happening around us

“The era of the mathematician has arrived”

“No longer will academic pursuits be the only realistic option for those who want to immerse themselves in the beautiful world [of mathematics]. We are already starting to see and will continue to see, an impressive growth of enterprise roles as mathematics practitioners, many of which are directly impacting outcomes in the world around us”.

If THIS is ALL that has arrived… we’re toast

Make no mistakes: numeracy is important, and it is a skill that really everybody should master, at least at its basic levels. For more on this, see the other posts in this category.

But there are at least two big issues with this proclamation of a Golden Age of and for mathematics. Or maybe there are two complementary faces of the same, lethal issue, namely:

the risk to believe that "math" and yes, even "programming", for every definition and combination of "math" and "programming" could ever be enough to make a functioning human, or a functioning society.

This mathematic nightmare is not a theoretical scenario

Many of the problems we face today, from “trickle-down economics” to abusive and addictive social media, are in no negligible part due exactly to letting people very good at math or programming, but completely ignorant in any other field, free to “disrupt” everything in sight, side effects be damned.

That risk, or illusion, can take two faces:

  • at the personal level, the risk to limit yourself to “being good at math”, or programming. Like this epochal moron, for example
  • in society, the already happening risk to glorify people who are only good at math, and proud of it

Zuckerberg, Musk, and Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF, the guy who never read a book), to name just the three most recent, very popular examples, are all surely pretty good at math, programming or both, but very little else that is socially relevant. Are they examples to follow uncritically?