Monday, April 13, 2009

SPEAK UP against misomathy!

    So you're at a social event, and someone tries to make small talk:
"So what do you do?" they ask politely.
"Oh, I'm a student." I'm avoiding the inevitable.
"And what do you study?"  
And here comes the internal struggle--  do I say "mathematics" or "topology"?
This is like a choose-your-own-adventure book.  You choose now. 

 I.       "Oh, I study topology."
 Long silence,  and then "Oh, yeah, maps are really cool."
"Actually, that's topography, which sound very similar and comes from the same root word, but topology is a branch of mathematics.  And ironically, we have our own meaning for the word "map"-- it's just not what you might expect."
Bewildered look... then reluctant "Oh, what type of math is topology?"
So now, I have to explain what it is as quickly as possible, and the person really doesn't care.  Their eyes glaze over, and I get the sense that they are looking for a reason to end the conversation so I try to be brief.
 "Well, it's the study of spatial relationships that don't depend on measuring."
 "Huh, well, somebody's gotta be good at math, but it isn't me.  That stuff is just BEEEEEEYAWWWWWND me.  You must be, like, a, genius, or something. 
 I've just always sucked at math."

II.  "Oh, I study math.  Specifically..."
Quickly interrupts: "Oh, I h@te math."

 Now, I have developed several ways of coping with this situation:

 I. In response to "What do you study?"
 "Oh, I am SO LUCKY -- I just think all day.  I can work while I'm walking or in a coffee shop, and the things I think about are so beautiful.  I study mathematics. What do you do?"  Enthusiasm abounding in my tone.

Or, if I'm feeling sinister/nasty:
II. In response to "I h@te math." or "I always sucked at math."
"Oh, I see.  What do you do?"
"I'm a musician, and..."  
 cutting them off "Oh, I HATE music." or "I always sucked at music, it's just BEEYAWWWND me!"

In the above spirit, I am now going to keep track of how many hits there are for "I h@te math"
on google (with a lower case "a"-- I don't want to contribute to my own count).  Okay, so that's
93,000 hits, and since I wouldn't want to discriminate against british english speakers, let's google "I hAte maths" -- 23,000 hits.  Now, try your favorite "I hate _________".

CHALLENGE:  Find something that a greater number of people hate than the number of people who hate math!  Hint: the following won't come very close:  "racists", "english", "science", "homos", "arabs", "jews", "stupid people"....

Yep, I'm not kidding!  

There are mathophobe "support groups", there are lists of professions not involving "any" math, there are books that happily advertise that they are for math haters.

And now that I think about it, mathophobia is not really the right word.  It's more like 
misomathy (ala misogyny), with "miso" coming for the greek meaning "hate".  

So here is my pledge to fight misomathy and encourage philomathy (even though it's hard to pronounce)!  Enough already!  We should not live in a world where people are proud of their ignorance.

Next time someone says "I h@te math", just say "Don't be a hater!"  They may laugh, and they may recall the conversation later....

No comments:

Post a Comment