[ASC-list] mathematics in the news

Jan Thomas jan.thomas at amsi.org.au
Tue Jul 8 02:37:13 UTC 2008

Dear Joan

Following your post I (a) wondered what Social Epistemology was and 
(b) whether it used mathematics.

I was delighted to find in the first article I found from the journal 
you edit the following:

"Indeed, there are some well known
convergence theorems in the Bayesian literature (see Earman 1992) 
showing that any
initial probabilistic belief function over events of the right type 
will eventually converge
on a singular (objective) probability distribution, given sufficient 
frequency data. So in
principle at least, if there are objective chances and every 
individual in the group aligns
their degrees of belief with these objective chances, then we could 
arrive at group probabilities
on objective grounds."

Seems to me that to be a clever Social Epistemologist you need some 
pretty sophisticated Bayesian statistics. And you won't get students 
who can cope with that without a robust mathematics curriculum that 
continues into tertiary education.

What's happening in mathematics does not only affect the sciences and 

We should also be concerned about increasing inequity in mathematics 
education. Advanced level courses are rapidly becoming the preserve 
of the better resourced private schools and young women's 
participation is on the slide. And there is some very strong evidence 
that access to a decent mathematics education does impact on future 
earnings and careers.

And if the original mention of the Guardian article had been a more 
balanced one about the report it was based on rather than the kind of 
beat-up Jenkins one of the kind I thought ASC didn't approve  of I'd 
be happier.


>Thank you, Regan, for bringing the recent Guardian article to our 
>attention (for debate or otherwise!).
>I'm quite interested in the arguments that are marshaled to support 
>mathematics (in education or otherwise).  Simon Jenkins in _The 
>Guardian_ article suggests a couple of reasons mathematics education 
>is not that important. I'll summarise some of the 'biggies'. 
>First, most people do not need it (so he claims on various bits of 
>evidence including finding classical languages of more use himself). 
> Second, he suggests an historical argument (from the Soviet Union) 
>that more maths at the expense of other disciplines did the Soviets 
>little good.  Third, he argues that arguments for mathematics are a 
>cloaked conservatism (remember those fusty English professors who 
>lobby for the canon?).  These arguments seem to me of various 
>weights, but at least they are arguments.
>So, let's hear (from Jan, perhaps?) some arguments for a robust 
>maths curriculum.  Jenkins at least introduces one from the UK; a 
>lack of mathematicians might have cost the UK 9 billion quid.
>His argument that "students are clamouring for the humanities" seems 
>quite anglocentric; there is little of that in Australia.
>So, what does make Australia clever?  I'm not sure I've heard any 
>arguments that mathematics will do it.  But, I'm willing to be 
>Joan Leach
>Dr Joan Leach
>Editor, Social Epistemology
>Convener, Science Communication Program
>University of Queensland
>School of English, Media Studies, and Art History
>4th floor Michie Building
>St. Lucia  QLD 4072
>Cricos provider: 0025b
>ASC-list mailing list
>list at asc.asn.au

Jan Thomas
Executive Officer Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute

Past Vice-President, Federation of Australian Scientific and 
Technological Societies

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