Posting on the contents of my email bag earlier in the week, I mentioned that many, many listeners and readers had directed my attention to the October 2nd statement by a committee of the Mathematical Association of America, the MAA, urging “all members of our profession”—so I guess that means mathematicians—to embrace social-justice activism. I promised to pass comment.
If you write books about math, you get regular emails—I’m still getting them—from people who want you to read and pass opinions about their eighteen-page paper on Chebyshev polynomials or Morse Theory (which, trust me, has nothing whatever to do with dots and dashes).
My boilerplate reply is: “I am not a mathematician, only journalist a with a math degree. Please contact the math department of your nearest university.”
There’s a bit more to be said than that. I love math, but it’s an unrequited love. Math doesn’t love me. I’m not much good at it. I discovered that when I took my degree.
Still the old affection lingers. I belong to both of the professional associations in Math, the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society. I mingle with real mathematicians any chance I get.
That’s how I feel about math. So now, this October 2nd statement from the MAA Committee on Minority Participation in Mathematics. Title: Anti-Science Policy and the Censure of Discourse on Race and Racism.
Members of the stone-kicker fraternity might respond positively to that heading. “The Censure of Discourse on Race and Racism” Hey, maybe the MAA is taking a stand against the suppression and outlawing of race realism! “Anti-Science Policy”? Yay, let’s have more respect for careful empirical inquiry, no matter where it leads.
You might object that math is a rational inquiry, not an empirical one; and that there is no need for the MAA to take any position at all on race realism. Sure, yeah, but the heading as it stands is open to a positive interpretation.
Vain are the hopes of man! In fact, the statement is mainly an angry denunciation of the Trump administration’s bans on the anti-white indoctrination of the federal workforce.
I’ll just quote the last paragraph to give you the flavor:
It is time for all members of our profession to acknowledge that mathematics is created by humans and therefore inherently carries human biases. Until this occurs, our community and our students cannot reach full potential. Reaching this potential in mathematics relies upon the academy and higher education engaging in critical, challenging, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about the detrimental effects of race and racism on our community. The time is now to move mathematics and education forward in pursuit of justice.
And is it actually true that “mathematics is created by humans”? If the human race were to be wiped out by a rogue solar flare next Tuesday, would two plus two still be equal to four? If two stars in our galaxy went supernova, and then two more, would that be four supernovas altogether?
Some very smart people indeed have been ruminating on such matters for a couple of thousand years.
They still are: If you want to take up the topic, I recommend starting with Lakoff and Núñez’s 2001 book Where Mathematics Comes From.
One thing that is indisputably the case is that the math we have today was created by, or stands on foundations created by, persons of white-European or West Asian stock, well-nigh all of them male. I don’t think …
Sounds of screaming.
Sorry, sorry, sorry. Never mind.
So how do I feel about this MAA statement? For a person like me, who reveres math, it is crapping on the altar.
Or to revert to my original metaphor: Here I am in the street under the balcony of my one true love, playing a melancholy ballad on my lute in hopes of touching her heart.
That’s how I feel. I am seriously contemplating canceling my MAA subscription.
A footnote to the preceding: A friend to whom I showed the MAA statement spotted a thing I’d missed. Of the eighteen signatories to the statement, twelve are female. (It looks like thirteen at first glance, but “Kamuela” is a male name, from Hawaiian.) Twelve out of eighteen: A little math tells me that is precisely two-thirds. Draw your own conclusions.
More demographic info on the signers
Math Community Members:
Anne Dudley, AMATYC Executive Director (White Female)
Carrie Diaz Eaton, Chair, Committee for Minority Participation in Mathematics (White Hispanic Female, father from Peru)
Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer, Senior Director for Programs, MAA (White Female)
Francesca Bernardi, Committee for Minority Participation in Mathematics (White Northern Italian Female)
Jenna Carpenter, Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (White Female)
Jennifer Quinn, President-Elect of the MAA (White Female)
Kathryn Kozak, AMATYC President (White Female) [AMATYC is the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges, I.E. community colleges]
Margaret Reese, Committee for Minority Participation in Mathematics (White Female)
Marilyn Elaine Mays, Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (Female, Probably White, almost unknown and probably retired)
Nancy Sattler, member AMATYC, MAA, TPSE, & Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (White Female)
Christopher Goff, Committee for Minority Participation in Mathematics (White Male, Assistant Provost for Diversity at his university)
Victor Piercey, Chair of the Michigan Section of the MAA (White Male)
Omayra Ortega, [Pictured right] Editor-in-Chief of the NAM newsletter and NAM representative for Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (Panamanian-American black Female)
Yun Kang, AMS representative for Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (Asian Female, Mainland Chinese)
So the only people on this list who would actually qualify as minority are Kamuela Yong, the Hawaiian, and Omayra Ortega—unless you’re unaware that many white people in Spain, Italy, and South America have vowels on the ends of their names . Yun Kang, from Mainland China, is a minority in the US general population, but not an underrepresented minority in math, or in the world: there are currently 1,439,323,776 people in China.
James A. M. Álvarez [Pictured right] has a story of historical discrimination on his MAA page:
James A. M. Alvarez was born in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up near Saspamco, Texas, on a farm originally purchased by his great grandparents after they immigrated to Texas in 1890 from Camargo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. His pursuit of higher education was encouraged by his parents, in particular by his mother Olga Mendoza Alvarez and his father Jonas Alvarez. His mother grew up in an era of intense discrimination against Mexican Americans, but managed to graduate from high school at the age of fifteen, eventually receive both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and teach elementary school for forty years. His father, who immigrated to the United States in 1963, is also a teacher.
What it amounts to is Alvarez’ family has been in America since the 19th century, they owned their own farm, both his parents were teachers, and you can’t tell from his picture he’s Mexican.
The MAA Congress Minority Interests people need to try harder.
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by VDARE.com com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.