October 15, 2011 | 15

Davide Castelvecchi is a freelance science writer based in Rome and a contributing editor for Davide Castelvecchi is a freelance science writer based in Rome and a contributing editor for

How did I miss this until now? This clip has apparently been making the rounds of the Interwebs for years, but I couldn’t resist posting it after I saw it on Facebook this morning. I have no idea where the article was published–nor whether it’s a joke–though the news may have originated from **a 2005 poll by Ipsos**.

Add a Comment

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues

+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world of mathematics: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

Link to thisWe’re giving up too soon on kids and math. I was an average math student who struggled to keep up. I was fortunate to have teachers who taught me the importance of persistence and discipline in trying to master the subjects I was poor at as well at the ones I was good at. Eventually, I learned to love mathematics and now consider it a recreation. We need to abandon the notion that if you don’t get a subject right away, you should move on. I tell my kids to work at it and not be surprised or disappointed that the kid at the next desk seems to find it simple. Math is too important to be left to the geniuses in the world.

Link to thisBased on my studies of instruction and learning, I believe that people hate math for two major reasons.

First, math concepts are usually taught (and practiced) out of context. As a result, the concepts are more difficult to understand, apply, and appreciate. Put simply, people want to know “What’s the point?” Throughout history, people have invented mathematical methods to solve real world problems. The utility of math should be emphasized, first and foremost.

And second, high school students resent being forced to learn math that they know they will never need. Let’s suppose that only 1% of the population will ever apply certain math concepts during their day-to-day lives or professional careers. Why insist that 100% (or even 10%) of the population learn those concepts during high school? What a tremendous waste of time, energy, and money! People who want to learn esoteric math should learn it, either in high school or college. Other people should be able to opt out without penalty.

Link to thisSorry Mr Bacon, but I disagree. I didn’t know I was going to be an accountant when I was at school (and in fact I would’ve loathed the very idea). But the maths I learned in high school is still useful.

This would be the case in many other professions, including economics, bricklaying, surveying, architecture, and of course journalism. Yes basic maths is handy, but what about when you want to do some decent number crunching – if you didn’t learn how to do it in school it’s a lot harder to learn on the job.

Link to thisI agree, “aurum79″. Math is too important to leave to OJT. Yes, girls have more trouble understanding math than boys…because of our brain structure, but if a girl is taught math by a teacher who is a true teacher and who also knows how to teach comprehension, the girl can learn math just as easy as a boy can who has a crummy teacher. If a teacher can take the confusion out of math; math will become second nature to both girls and boys.

A quick Quiz: Barbie cannot teach Ken math to where he will have a working understanding of math? – true or false. Answer – True. Because of Barbie’s entangled understanding of math, she cannot teach Ken an understanding of math that he can use in a working environment…our brains are too different.

Link to thisI’ve been a geologist for 32 years and have never used the differential calculus I struggled with in university… used trigonometry a couple of times.

Math requirements deter many from entering medicine, etc.

Math is a vital tool in engineering, physics,etc. but, unfortunately, is too often is used as a academic hurdle to jump over (and then forgot)in many disciplines. I’d prefer my surgeon to have gotten ‘A’s in sewing or mechanics than linear algebra.

Link to thisBack in earlier times before computer connectivity became an urgent necessity I worked for a company that built clones to work with a variety of main frames, like Univac,Honeywell etc… Each company had it’s own protocols utilizing various number systems, ranging from binary (for tiny “pencil” switches,) octal, hexi-decimal, hexi-decimal with an ASCII off-set, etc… I’d have a helluva time teaching new technicians how to interface with these different main frames, simply because they had to move from one number system to the other, on their feet, in the field, sometimes while receiving instructions of the phone. It was easy for those who understood basic concepts of math that they learned as infants, impossible for others who had learned math as a mechanical exercise. My point being that it is crucial to have EXPERT teachers teaching and demonstrating math concepts at the kindergarten, even pre-school level, and into primary school. High school is too late. That’s why the USA is falling behind, we still have a privileged class, or even caste system, in education, which is extremely wasteful of or human resources.

Link to thisI am a woman who holds a master’s degree in applied math.

My thoughts: elementary ed teachers are typically not in love with math, and that is people’s first impressions of math.

Men and women learn differently. For many hundreds of years men have been teaching men math (and other stuff). So the men have been have been teaching it to people who think like them, so it was ‘easy.’ But it’s not that women can’t understand math, it’s just that we don’t want to acknowledge that men and women are different and learn differently.

And yes, as someone said, math is not so easy for everyone, but that doesn’t mean everyone can’t learn math. When placed into ‘honors’ math in middle school, my mom got the note saying: well, we think your daughter might be able to handle the higher math class. And, well, I did.

Link to thisI hope I am wrong, but it seems that 8 0f the first 9 comments didn’t notice that 4 out of 10 is NOT a majority. I hope that is the point of the article.

Link to thisThere is a big difference between mathematics and arithmetic. Everyone needs arithmetic and basic statistics (mean, variance, trend) in order to make sense of their lives and to properly process everyday information for decison-making. Higher math already is optional. The problem is that arithmetic is optional too. Arithmetic and basic statistics may be difficult for some to learn, but the payoff is tremendous.

Link to thisand the word MAJORITY is HIGHLIGHTED

Link to thisCould the blunder have been presented more obviously ?

Only some of the the objects of concern in math are numerical. Mathematics is calisthenics for the mind. Its usefulness is not limited to its obvious applications. For example, recognizing subdivisions of categories of objects based on their attributes–quantifiable or not– helps one establish what is true by logic. Knowing calculus and how to differentiate equations helps broaden one’s ability to solve problems in completely different realms.

Link to this@geojellyroll

I’m glad math is used as a hurdle in medical programs. First of all, most physicians are not surgeons. Second of all, many surgeons would probably take umbrage with your comments, which seem to imply that theirs is not a thinking trade (though in some cases, I agree). Additionally, in order to be board certified, surgeons have to go through several years of post-medical school training to learn the physical skills of their trade – having mastered sewing as a high school student/undergraduate would be of essentially no utility.

I’m a medical student at Keck (USC), a very highly ranked program, and I often marvel at my classmates’ poor analytic and creative thinking skills. In my opinion, every premedical program in the US should require higher level mathematics (at least two semesters of calculus and one semester of statistics). I’d rather my doctor be a smarty pants than not.

Link to thisThe text of the article is from AP, but it was originally published under a different headline. http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2005/Back-to-School-Means-Back-to-Math/id-58b1ebe20baa0083f8943c26e1a2905c

Link to thisI expect based on the original story that a local editor was making a joke about the topic and not an error. As for learning math I look at it as less of a learn math issue and more of a learn how to sole problems from the simple to the complex. I do not use calculas or differential equations in my day to day work but I do solve problems that have multiple dimensions and competing priorities.

I am often amazed when I hand a cashier $23.00 for a $12.50 bill and they try to give me $3 back or even better enter $20 into the register and not be able to figure out how to make change.

Link to this