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The Sciences

Substance & style

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanFebruary 17, 2006 3:10 PM

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Richard Cohen's column dismissing the importance of algebra is so plainly stupid that it beggars the imagination. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that mathematics is important in "practical" contexts because it is a collection of unified techniques which happen to have wide ranging utility in the world around us. But Cohen's point that kids should take more history and English is actually a good one, technique must be married to material, tools without tasks are as worthless as tasks without tools. In other words, more scientists need to be aware of the humanities and more humanists need to be aware of the sciences. Addendum: Let me make two things clear (from where I stand). First, not everyone needs to learn algebra. Second, Algebra is very important. A problem only crops up when people assume that all humans have the same aptitudes, interests and resources, and they don't. Cohen seems to be working under the assumption that all people are basically the same, so if he can dispense with algebra, others can. This might be true, but others does not equal everyone, so waxing on about the lack of importance of algebra is rather unseemly for a modern human. If Cohen was a fashion or arts columnist I wouldn't think twice about his admitted lack of mathematical intelligence, but, it seems that his brief is more general, so I am a little disturbed....

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