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Damburger
2005-Nov-10, 03:44 PM
I'm not strictly a scientist (I'm a Computer scientists and a mathmatician) but I am aware that maths and therefore science is seen as obscure and inaccessable by people.

My idea is to alter some of the language of maths to make it, and the science it supports, more penetrable to the layman. A few simple examples:

1) Integrating standard form into natural language.

Say 6 * 10^23 out loud to someone on the street and they are not likely to have an idea what you are on about. Standard form numbers can't be expressed as concisely and clearly as normal numbers. Saying the 'ten' every time is likely to throw people off. Maybe you could say it something like 'six shift twenty three'. If such a verbal description was taught at school level it ought to find its way into language.


2) Renaming quadrilaterals

I'm serious. Lets call a parallelogram a rectangle, and what we now consider to be a rectangle a 'right angled rectangle'. This way, any triangle is half a rectangle, and a right angled triangle is half a right angles rectangle.


So, comment on mine and think of your own suggestions.

Swift
2005-Nov-10, 05:04 PM
I understand what you are saying and I agree with the idea of making science more accessable. But I don't understand how saying "six shift twenty three" is any more accessable than "six times 10 to the 23rd power", other than being shorter. Science has a precise language because it is trying to be precise. A rectangle and a paralleogram are not the same thing.

I think music and art should be accessable to everyone too. But I don't think you can achieve that by saying that any noise is music and any scribble is art. Science, art, and music (and most other human efforts) require some education and some work to appreciate.

publiusr
2005-Nov-10, 06:10 PM
This is why we have public schools, so that society gets to force the little munchkins to learn something besides video games.

The problem is that some questions are so large no one individual can wrap his mind around it as was once the case.

Let me tell you a sad tale.

I was in a college library the other day where I stumbled across some NASA papers and th Journal Of Spacecraft & Rockets---all donated by an individual most likely dead. There were other papers on medicine, etc.

They were covered in dust.

Mine were the first human hands that touched those books in 10-20 yrs I bet.

A lot of titles around were. I just like to brouse--sometimes even those titles that do not interest me. Often you work many years, you put your papers up for publication, and they sit around unused, and unpursued because we do not have large enough, state funded research that can keep up.

And don't get me started on discards.

(There is an interesting title with that name which should be required reading.)

Gillianren
2005-Nov-11, 02:14 AM
Actually, I think this board is part of the solution to the inaccessability problem. And the websites attached to it, and the BA's book. And, though I know some science people who cringe when I say it, MythBusters, too.

Look, the goal is to make science interesting, not dumb it down. The words exist for a reason; I'm an English major, so I know how important words are. The numbers make my eyes glaze over, but I have a deep fascination with what the words actually mean. (What, you didn't know that English nerds debated the term "quantum leap" and what it really means? We do, believe me.) Changing the words to accomodate those who don't know what they means is like, well, dumbing down Shakespeare.

So, then, what is the solution? Show the practical effects of science. Physics isn't so boring when you're not crunching numbers but instead watching rockets made of nothing but water, plastic, and air. (As on last night's MythBusters, for example.) Statistics are made more interesting when you've something to tie them to, like the odds of celebrities getting certain poker hands.

And, yes, I know a lot of you find the numbers themselves interesting. The point here is that quite a lot of us don't--but what the numbers can do is amazing. I don't remember what little optics I learned in high school, but I'm grateful for the telescope, you know?

Enzp
2005-Nov-11, 08:19 AM
I agree we shouldn't dumb it down, we should foster an interest. Perhaps if all you can think to say of something is 6x10^23, perhaps you should rethink the message. No one needs to know exactly what Avogadro's Number actually is unless they are engaged in the science that uses it. At that point they are beyond whether it is interesting. Other than to teach the theory of numbers, you don't need 10 to the whatever to teach concepts.

I don't think that saying this is a rectangle, and this is another kind of rectangle helps anyone. Rectangle means right angled, anything else is like referring to a square circle.

I think a large part of the inaccessibility of math is that it is abstract. We need to bring it home. Which is what Gillian said. My high school physics teacher was great, and he inspired me to go to college in physics. No matter what phenomenon he would discuss, there was always a real world application of it. DOn't worry about real world application of quantum theory, that isn't what teens need to hear about to make them interested in science.

Friction - tire traction. Solar energy or evaporation or many other things - experience at the beach. Gas refridgerator? (Yes, they used to make them.) How could that possibly work. How do some things not work? See Penn and Teller or any expose of things. And so forth.

We made Moby Dick more accessible. It came out like this:

My name is Ishmael. I'm a whaler. We caught one. My boss is nuts.

Is that what we want for science?

snarkophilus
2005-Nov-11, 10:17 AM
Say 6 * 10^23 out loud to someone on the street and they are not likely to have an idea what you are on about.


I say "6 followed by 23 zeros." It's usually accompanied by the word "roughly" and an enthusiastic emphasis of how GIGANTIC a number that is.

Talking about big numbers, and physics in general, turns out to be a great way to pick up women in bars. The more enthusiastic you are about it, and the less they know in advance, the better. It also helps to have examples describing just how big the numbers in question are, comparing them to blades of grass in fields or acres of swarming insects or whatever.



2) Renaming quadrilaterals


My little sister's first word was parallelogram! (I remember that I spent two solid weeks drilling it into her before completely shocking my parents with it.)

Damburger
2005-Nov-11, 12:26 PM
We made Moby Dick more accessible. It came out like this:

My name is Ishmael. I'm a whaler. We caught one. My boss is nuts.

Is that what we want for science?

Come on, that is nothing like what I suggested.

Our langauge developed as a communication tool before science and maths knowledge was widespread amongst the population. If part of the language is inadequate to the new task of technical communicaton, changes to the language should be filtered in through the school system.

This isn't newspeak or political correctness, this is tidying up mathematical language in order to make maths easier to teach and therefore increase the overall maths literacy of the population.

Oh, and don't get me started on the whole trapezium/trapezoid confusion...

Enzp
2005-Nov-12, 07:40 AM
I'm not picking on you, I just made an example taken to extreme to illustrate my view. Kids don't know what a rectangle is before you teach them the term. Parallelogram should be no different. it is not like there is a limit to the words one can learn. I don't think language is inadequate at all, after all we have words for each of the things in question. it is not the fault of our language that some people make no effort or have no interest in climbing out of ignorance. Our job is to foster that interest and that effort. Maybe we could hold off on teaching them "rhomboid" for a while.

hhEb09'1
2005-Nov-13, 11:30 PM
Come on, that is nothing like what I suggested.I agree with you Damburger that Enzp's example was nothing like your two examples. But I'm not going to let you off easy--in your two examples, you made up new terminology, that (IMO) wasn't much different than what you were replacing. So, you made it less accessible for both laypersons and scientists. I think (to extend Enzp's example) that would be like taking Melville's book and putting on it the dustjacket from Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. People would still be able to access it, it'd just be harder to do.

devilmech
2005-Nov-14, 03:36 AM
The word is accessibility (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=accessibility).

1)Scientific notation is in "natural" language. Simply because the person on the street doesn't understand what you mean when you say "six times ten to the twenty-third power", does not indicate a failure of language to express scientific notation. It indicates a failure of the person you're talking to to grasp basic high school level english or science.

2)Why should we call a parallelogram a rectangle when we already call a rectangle a rectangle and a parallelogram a parallelogram? Again, the failure wouldn't be accessibility or terminology, it'd be a failure of the person in question to familiarize themselves with basic geometric concepts.

As for mathematics and science being inaccessible, it's not. It's completely accessible and completely understandable to anyone with the desire and motivation to learn. What you see as a problem of accessibility is more a problem of education. People see mathematics and science as "obscure and inaccessible" because they don't know or understand the benefits of it. Take a peek at any math textbook for high school or college students. Many of these texts are archaic and arcane, and don't relate science or mathematics to anything but a closed system in a particular field of study. I can't say for anyone else, but my math and science teachers in high school were anything but enthused about the subject they were teaching, and they didn't explain topics in ways that someone who'd never approached them before could understand. I can't state it as fact, but it's my opinion that parents also don't understand math and science, and thus don't instill the value and love for them in their children.

In short, math and science are completely accessible, but most people don't understand the value and beauty that they offer us and how they can help us understand the universe around us.

Atraxani
2005-Nov-14, 04:22 AM
1)Scientific notation is in "natural" language. Simply because the person on the street doesn't understand what you mean when you say "six times ten to the twenty-third power", does not indicate a failure of language to express scientific notation. It indicates a failure of the person you're talking to to grasp basic high school level english or science.
That's pretty narrow minded. Communication works both ways, and it's quite often the speaker's fault when the listeners don't get it. Languages should conform to how people think and learn. Some languages are just plain better at expressing certain concepts, and some languages make certain concepts awkward and inexpressible.

If language, as you seem to think, has no effect on the ability to convey a concept, then why do we devise so many systems to do so? Why did the vector vs quaternion argument continue for as long as it did? Why do we sometimes represent complex numbers as a*e^(i*b), and other times of the form a+b*i ? Because each is suited for communicating different aspects.



2)Why should we call a parallelogram a rectangle when we already call a rectangle a rectangle and a parallelogram a parallelogram? Again, the failure wouldn't be accessibility or terminology, it'd be a failure of the person in question to familiarize themselves with basic geometric concepts.
That's also pretty narrow minded. There is much to be said for a consistent vocabulary and set of definitions. The SI units and the metric system are far more consistent than the english system. How many poles are in a furlong? How many square rods are in a rood? Is it better to express volume in "kilderkins, firkins, kennings, gills, chaldrons and drams" or in "cubic centimeters, cubic meters, and cubic decimeters?"

Do you actually think that poor language choice isn't atleast partially to blame for confusion and disinterest? Perhaps you endorse using set theory to explain addition, subtraction, and multiplication operations to first graders.

You have stated that math is perfectly accessible. Are you aware that it typically requires 12 years of schooling JUST to get to calculus? If you consider that "perfectly accessible" I wonder what you consider "mostly accessible" or "inaccessible."

The problem is not a disinterest. (Sensational pseudoscience books sell quite well.) The reality is that the language of math and science is built to be rigorously sound, and free from fallible intuition. This comes very much at the expense of efficient and flexible communication of the ideas, and math becomes inaccessible. Language does evolve, and the more inaccessible parts fall into disuse. Improvements have been made in the past, and there is room for improvement today.

DemonWerx
2005-Nov-14, 07:44 AM
Communication works both ways, and it's quite often the speaker's fault when the listeners don't get it.

This is applicable in certain situations and I don't think Devilmech was referring specifically to one of these situations.

Case in point:

Teachers are paid to teach their students. If the student doesn't grasp the concept the teacher is making, the teacher should go enough out of their way to teach the student. Granted the teacher does not sacrifice the learning of the rest of the class in order to teach the student, if this happens processes should be put take place to place the student into learning environment they can benefit from.

If the student does not want to learn what the teacher is teaching who is to held at fault?

If I go to an Advanced Physics discussion at MIT where they are discussing things way above my head, its not the Speakers fault I don't understand anything other than that they are speaking english.

Dumbing down the terminology of Science and Math is not the answer to getting greater accessibility in the long run, putting stress on educators to teach correct and solid principles is.

Dumbing down the terminology of Science and Math I fear would lead to the worst possible outcome of the statement "Languages should conform to how people think and learn" (I am not saying its not an important statement and true in the correct situtation). The outcome would be that in the process of conforming the Language of Math and Science that it would remove the integral components and precision that they rely on, simply in the name of making it "easier to understand" or in "laymans terms".

I always enjoyed science, (survived) math, and was introduced to Avogadro's number and calculus nearly four years earlier than 12th grade. (maybe I am the exception to the would-be rule)

~Demon

devilmech
2005-Nov-15, 12:12 AM
@DemonWerx: No, I wasn't referring to one of those situations at all, thanks for pointing that out. As for it being the speaker's fault, I brought up the possibility later on in my post if Atraxani would care to re-read it in context.

@Atraxani: Languages already have conformed to the way people think and learn. The English language is a verbal extrusion of our thought process. I can't say anything for the 'vector versus quaternion argument' as I'm not familiar with it, but as for the representation of complex numbers, the mathematical formulas we use to present them have nothing to do with any language other than the pure one of mathematics.

I never debated the value of a consistent vocabulary and set of definitions. In fact, I think I defended it quite well in what you so judgementally called "narrow-minded". Geometry has such a set of definitions, all of which are internally consistent with the whole, and as such, there's no need to reinvent the wheel, and then spend years teaching people what to call said wheel.


Do you actually think that poor language choice isn't atleast partially to blame for confusion and disinterest? Perhaps you endorse using set theory to explain addition, subtraction, and multiplication operations to first graders.
Sure, a certain math textbook or this math professor over here might choose poor language to describe mathematical concepts, and thus foster the current apathy towards mathematics, but math itself is very clearly and concisely defined, and it's not a failure of mathematical terminology and definitions that these textbooks and professors are subpar.

As for your second statement, it's a very nice example of several logical fallacies and I won't bother retorting.


You have stated that math is perfectly accessible. Are you aware that it typically requires 12 years of schooling JUST to get to calculus? If you consider that "perfectly accessible" I wonder what you consider "mostly accessible" or "inaccessible."

I will restate that math is perfectly accessible. Using calculus as an example, it "typically requires" 12 years of schooling because to put it mildly, these 12 years of schooling "typically" come at a point in a person's life where their brains aren't developed enough to handle advanced concepts like calculus. If you were to take a fully formed adult who'd never been exposed to mathematics and attempted to teach it to him, I would surmise that it WOULDN'T take 12 years before they could grasp calculus. It really doesn't hold up as an argument that math isn't accessible.


The reality is that the language of math and science is built to be rigorously sound, and free from fallible intuition.

My point exactly.


This comes very much at the expense of efficient and flexible communication of the ideas, and math becomes inaccessible.

Since when? Simply because they aren't communicated to you efficiently and flexibly doesn't mean they cannot be. You're seeing a failure of people as a failure of language. The tools are quite adequate, it's the wielder that's not.

Enzp
2005-Nov-15, 01:12 AM
I just don't think that parallelogram is what makes things inaccessible. The problem is that when you tell a kid that this is a parallelogram, not a rectangle, he'll say "So? What do I care?" That is the problem, not the terminology.

I did well on grade school, and went off to college as a major in physics. I took calculus in high school, at least the initial exposure. it was never clear to me what it was about. I could do it, and scored well on the tests, but as to WHY I might want to know the area under a curve, it was never made clear. I had an interest too. DiffyQ was a dream after calculus.

But if a science nerd like me who cared about the stuff didn't know what they were yammering about, how would some student whose interest and attention were elsewhere be expected to care?

Gillianren
2005-Nov-15, 01:58 AM
I was, once upon a time, an English nerd taking some fairly advanced math and science--at least, advanced for the high school level. Starting with pre-algebra in seventh grade (all my classmates save, I think, two, were eighth graders), they'd tell you that you would Use This In the Real World. They never told you how, though.

I admit that, as someone on disability, I don't have much use for most of what I learned in school. However, even in the days when I had gainful employment, I never did use the math I'd learned past about sixth grade. I use a lot of fractions, yes. Basic arithmetic aplenty. I'm faster at adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing in my head than some math/science geeks of my past acquaintance. However, I have never once used polynomials in the Real World.

Telling you that you will is, or at least so it has always seemed to me, a ploy to make you more interested in learning it; it didn't work for me. However, being told how other people used such things to make the things I saw every day would have actually made the math more interesting.

The language of math and the language of science are quite precise. Every word/symbol has a meaning that is far, far easier to define than words in the liberal arts. A rectangle is an object with four right angles. True, you must then define "right angle," but once that's done, you can spot every single example of a rectangle. We English majors can't agree on the definition of the word "classic" (though AMC clearly defines it wrong), let alone what any given author meant by the words actually contained within their writings.

And maybe that's why some people have such a hard time at math and science--there are right answers. All opinions are not valid. And, what's more, you can still be proven wrong long after you're dead, so it's this absolutely terrifying blend of Right Answers and Wrong Ideas.

Still, teaching people Real World applications might help.

Weird Dave
2005-Nov-15, 02:36 AM
Many scientists go way out of their way to try to enthuse the public about their work, and expressing it in accessible language. A certain Dr. Plait may be a suitable example. But you can't force people to be interested in it if they don't want to.

I semi-seriously wonder whether science should be compulsory at school at all, since most of the time it seems to put people off rather than enthuse them. Maybe we should teach people only what they need for their lives: how to tell a good experiment from a bad one (placebos, blindness, large samples and so on) and how to compare risks. Then people will be able to act sensibly on matters like GM foods, global warming, medicines etc. If they're interested, I think they will find their way to one of the very many good popular science books. If they're not, then it would have done no good to bore them out of their skulls at school.

A final comment: I've never heard a football commentator try to explain why I should be interested in football; or an art critic tell me just why modern art is any good. Or, indeed, an economist explain anything about how the economy works. Why should science be singled out for criticism?

Atraxani
2005-Nov-15, 06:52 AM
Languages already have conformed to the way people think and learn. The English language is a verbal extrusion of our thought process.
Interesting assertion. Can you support it? I could just as easy say it’s the other way around -- that the English language dictates and controls our thought process. Actually, in linguistics there is a scientific consensus that language influences thought (though degree is debated), as backed strong empirical data. Do a Google search on the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis” if you’re interested.

as for the representation of complex numbers, the mathematical formulas we use to present them have nothing to do with any language other than the pure one of mathematics.
The conventions we use to present them have everything to do with the ideas we want to express, and our purposes, and our field of study. The polar/exponential form is best for multiplication and division, but the Cartesian/rectangular form is best for addition and subtraction. Of the more practical engineering related fields, the polar form is more widely used than in the high theoretical fields. It’s a question of communicating different aspects of the same thing. No one would be silly enough to chastise someone for failing to readily grasp magnitude and direction when given the number in Cartesian form. It’s the fault of the speaker using the wrong form that makes those concepts less accessible. It is a question of accessibility.

I never debated the value of a consistent vocabulary and set of definitions. [...] Geometry has such a set of definitions, all of which are internally consistent with the whole, and as such, there's no need to reinvent the wheel, and then spend years teaching people what to call said wheel.
The imperial system had precise and consistent definitions. Does that mean that the situation couldn't improve? Of course not. That's why the system is obsolete (mostly) everywhere except in the US.
Like the imperial system vocabulary of geometry is inconsistent, despite having consistent definitions. The is about as consistent as the imperial system. The taxonomic classification of quadrilaterals is a particularly ugly example. In many cases, the words have nothing to do with what they mean. In other cases, one word doesn't exist, and two or three must be used. There is no word to denote a three-sides-equal trapezium. There is no word to denote an isosceles trapezium or a right angled trapezium. The words "kite" and "rhombus" are not used anywhere else, and have little to do with their definitions. The system is so fragmented because it was codeveloped by so many different persons over so many centuries.

Less widely known geometric taxonomies exist. In the case of quadrilaterals – complex/simple, concave/convex, cyclic, bicentric, tangential, et cetera. The concepts are not only consistent, but have a firm relationship between definition and vocabulary. They are reusable as well.



The reality is that the language of math and science is built to be rigorously sound, and free from fallible intuition.My point exactly.
If that was your point, you should have said so. As you didn’t, it’s my point, not yours.


The reality is that the language of math and science is built to be rigorously sound, and free from fallible intuition. This comes very much at the expense of efficient and flexible communication of the ideas, and math becomes inaccessible.
Since when? Simply because they aren't communicated to you efficiently and flexibly doesn't mean they cannot be..
Intuitive concepts are nonrigorous. If you try to make them rigorous, they are non intuitive, initially. Our entire thought process is built on forming invariant representations of observations that are variant. We generalize to form inaccurate stereotypes and derive our intuition from this. Here’s an example of a rigorous definition in a field outside of mathematics that you probably won’t understand, that, if I stated using natural language, you would understand in a heartbeat:
Tell-Tale – A tell tale T is a set of elements of a language member L1 in class C such that T is a finite subset of L1 and there does not exist a member L2 within C such that T is a subset of L2 and L2 is a proper subset of L1.
Do you see the tradeoff between intuition and rigor? Do you see how language actually plays a role? Are you beginning to understand the problem?

You're seeing a failure of people as a failure of language.
Gosh, I wonder what would have happened had James Madison decided that people are failures and that their selfish nature makes them ungovernable. What if he had decided that it previous systems of government that hadn’t failed at all, but rather people themselves were failures? I can’t help but wonder if your elitist and condescending attitude toward non scientists and non mathematicians isn’t part of the problem. Reducing those outside of your closed circle as failures does little more than alienate them.

Gillianren
2005-Nov-15, 07:20 AM
A final comment: I've never heard a football commentator try to explain why I should be interested in football; or an art critic tell me just why modern art is any good. Or, indeed, an economist explain anything about how the economy works. Why should science be singled out for criticism?

I'm here to tell you that it isn't. Believe me. I spend quite a lot of time explaining to people why it actually does matter that you're spelling a word right or wrong, that it actually is important to have the foggiest understanding of grammar. And some of that was while I was a copy editor; our sports editor seemed to think that the sports page could just conform to his own particular notion of grammar.

I've told people why teaching music in the schools is important. I've told people why learning history is important. There's just about no field you could name that I haven't either defended or heard defended at some point. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about specialties. (Okay, I'll admit one--I haven't ever had a sports fan explain to me why I should care about sports. Mostly, they treat you like you're blaspheming when you tell them that you don't care.)

I was in Academic Decathlon in high school, wherein one of the categories is Econ. And, yes, we had a real economist come in (friend of our coach) and teach us how the economy works. In fact, it's been ten years, and I can still tell you that his two products to demonstrate supply and demand were peanut butter and bananas.

The thing is, it doesn't take much work to explain to you that you will eventually need to communicate with people in text of some kind, be it writing a letter or writing a thesis. It only takes the mention of a few studies to show that music helps school-age children learn other things. But can you tell me when I'm going to need polynomials? (Which I can still do, which is why they're my example.)

Enzp
2005-Nov-16, 03:21 AM
Dave, you can't force interest in anything on anyone. but you can offer something in a manner that might make it appealing as opposed to a manner in which it is not. SOme folks will wax eloquent over the human drama of pitcher versus batter in baseball, but to me it is supremely boring. Watch a baseball game on TV. During the ten minutes between pitches we get back ground stories from the color man, endless stats from the play by play guy, we get pretaped interviews with players and coaches, we get all manner of fancy graphics designed to be appealing. We get slow motion replays of every pitch and multiple angle video shots of each play. The announcer never says "this is why you should be interested in baseball." But they work very hard in trying to make it appealing to you. Try sticking one wide angle camera behind home plate in the upper decks to cover the field and have no audio other than a crowd mic. See how viewership would plummet.

DO you recall the famous announcerless football game on network TV? Any time someone suggests the announcers talk too much, they trot out that fiasco. (apparently there is only talk non-stop or talk not at all, nothing in between)

Why teach science at all? You are kidding I hope. SOme people don't like science, in fact some people don't like school at all. But without exposure to it, many who do have an interest would never know it.

peteshimmon
2005-Nov-16, 07:41 PM
How about science display halls in every large
town with encouragements to individuals and
groups to supply exhibits. Lots of details
about financing, buildings, volunteers I know
but the end result could be a popular
occasional venue for the local populace.

Benign Terrorist
2005-Nov-16, 08:26 PM
Say 6 * 10^23 out loud to someone on the street and they are not likely to have an idea what you are on about. Standard form numbers can't be expressed as concisely and clearly as normal numbers. Saying the 'ten' every time is likely to throw people off. Maybe you could say it something like 'six shift twenty three'. If such a verbal description was taught at school level it ought to find its way into language.Six shift 23 is in a way a neat way of expressing Avagadro's Number. It conveys the idea that you need to shift the decimal point 23 places. It has though an interesting trap. The assumption is that you're working in base ten. Most of the time that will be true. Suppose though that you are working in genetics that involves a lot of base four. A human DNA strand has something like 3.2 million steps, so if you're working with DNA would you say shift 3.2 million or would you say shift 5.3 million, referring to four raised to the 3.2 millionth power?

Since you are using this shorthand for people who are not readily familiar with
mathematics, you might assume that they would not be with you anyway at this point and you would not need to make the quick mental conversion for them, multiplying by 0.6. Alternatively you might choose to assume that anyone who is still with you would know that you were thinking in base four and would know that shift 3.2 million referred to that base. It's an interesting question though, anyway you look at it. I'm guessing that the context of your audience will point you at what description system you choose to use.

Weird Dave
2005-Nov-16, 11:43 PM
I'm here to tell you that it isn't. Believe me. I spend quite a lot of time explaining to people why it actually does matter that you're spelling a word right or wrong, that it actually is important to have the foggiest understanding of grammar. And some of that was while I was a copy editor; our sports editor seemed to think that the sports page could just conform to his own particular notion of grammar. I agree with you here.

I've told people why teaching music in the schools is important. I've told people why learning history is important. There's just about no field you could name that I haven't either defended or heard defended at some point. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about specialties. (Okay, I'll admit one--I haven't ever had a sports fan explain to me why I should care about sports. Mostly, they treat you like you're blaspheming when you tell them that you don't care.)

I was in Academic Decathlon in high school, wherein one of the categories is Econ. And, yes, we had a real economist come in (friend of our coach) and teach us how the economy works. In fact, it's been ten years, and I can still tell you that his two products to demonstrate supply and demand were peanut butter and bananas.

The thing is, it doesn't take much work to explain to you that you will eventually need to communicate with people in text of some kind, be it writing a letter or writing a thesis. It only takes the mention of a few studies to show that music helps school-age children learn other things. But can you tell me when I'm going to need polynomials? (Which I can still do, which is why they're my example.) I can't think of any reason why you would want to use polynomials. And I can't think of any reason why I would want to know about the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (which we did in history). Just two examples of the useless stuff they teach us in school. In fact, my history lessons were worse than that: I was never taught anything about American history (no Civil War or War of Independence) or the Cold War. It would have been quite useful for understanding US films and TV to learn a smidgen about US history.

Weird Dave
2005-Nov-17, 12:16 AM
Dave, you can't force interest in anything on anyone. but you can offer something in a manner that might make it appealing as opposed to a manner in which it is not. SOme folks will wax eloquent over the human drama of pitcher versus batter in baseball, but to me it is supremely boring. Watch a baseball game on TV. During the ten minutes between pitches we get back ground stories from the color man, endless stats from the play by play guy, we get pretaped interviews with players and coaches, we get all manner of fancy graphics designed to be appealing. We get slow motion replays of every pitch and multiple angle video shots of each play. The announcer never says "this is why you should be interested in baseball." But they work very hard in trying to make it appealing to you. Try sticking one wide angle camera behind home plate in the upper decks to cover the field and have no audio other than a crowd mic. See how viewership would plummet.
I'm not saying that science programs should be boring. But the difference between sports coverage and science coverage is that the sports presenter assumes that the viewer knows what's going on. They don't start every match by explaining the rules, and in the analysis they go into as much depth as possible. And ultimately, you do get to watch the game and not just an artist's impression of the game.

Most science coverage starts with the very basics, doesn't give meaty details and often spends more time on jazzy computer graphics than real footage.

It sometimes seems to be taken for granted that programs about the arts, fashion, sport, politics etc. are watched by fans of the subject. But I don't often see science programs aimed at scientists. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be science coverage for the layman; but some acknowledgment that scientists watch TV too would be nice...

DO you recall the famous announcerless football game on network TV? Any time someone suggests the announcers talk too much, they trot out that fiasco. (apparently there is only talk non-stop or talk not at all, nothing in between)

Why teach science at all? You are kidding I hope. SOme people don't like science, in fact some people don't like school at all. But without exposure to it, many who do have an interest would never know it.
I was semi-serious. I don't really think that we should stop teaching science (or anything else). But there has to be something wrong when so many people leave school with the firm impression that science is boring, just because they were forced to do it. Maybe if they weren't force-fed so much, they would retain enough curiosity as adults to pick up one of the many excellent popular science books that are out there.

I'm not entirely sure that making science "relevant" is the answer. One of the most important parts of physics for people's everyday lives is probably semiconductor physics, yet IMHO it is incredibly boring. What is the most useless bit of science? Arguably it's astronomy (except for a few limited aspects like solar weather, satellites and defending the planet from meteorites). Yet astronomy is probably the most fascinating of all the sciences (not that I'm biased or anything :liar: ), and thanks to pretty pictures from Hubble I expect that much of the public agrees with me.

One final thing, to be closer to Damburger's question. I would like to see some unit reform: replacing electronvolts with an SI (derived) unit like femtojoules. And do astronomers really need parsecs and light years? This wouldn't help the public though; I think it would make my life as a scientist a bit easier!

Bignose
2005-Nov-17, 02:52 AM
Perhaps it is more a motivational problem for the typical student. Beyond about 4th grade, there is very very little math and science a typical student/future member of society will need. At about 4th grade, they have enough math to balance a checkbook, divide a cake, or estimate the power bill. Unless the student plans on becoming an engineer, or physicist, or other scientific field, they are probably done learning all the is required for day to day life.

But, there is one huge benefit from learning and practicing math: logical thought. Implimenting logical thought is exceptionally useful for every person everywhere, and like all skills, it needs to be practiced in order to hone and train it correctly.

Where better to train logical thinking techniques than with a math class? Every tool in math is well defined, e.g. addition does one and only one thing. Same thing with subtraction, multiplication, differentiation, integration, etc. Real world tools are never as exacting... ever use pair of pliers (or even your shoe) to drive in a nail when you couldn't find the hammer?

Next, every problem in math (until you get to some very high level classes) have an answer and even then have only one correct answer. The answer can be judged exactly right or wrong. Real world problems can have multiple answers or maybe no answer. For example, there can be many solutions as to how to get to work if your car breaks down. There may not be a solution as to how to watch both your son's baseball game and your duaghter's softball game scheduled at the same time in different counties. But logical thought can help distinguish between the possible and impossible.

In other words, the fostering of logical thought will help nourish a good sense of skepticism.

Finally, the practice of logical thought in the perfect environment of the mathematics class transfers to all the other classes and aspects of life. Clearly, logical math transfers to logical science, but logical writing? Sure, when writing an essay the tools are sentences and paragraphs and methaphor and analogy, but the words and sentences have to be arranged in a logical manner so that the author's thought are conveyed properly. The tools in writing are definately not as exact as in math (all the previous posts on the inexactude of some words like 'classic' is the perfect example) but training in logic will belp get the message across more clearly.

In my mind, it is not so much that math is inaccessable, as it is that the proper motivation is never offered by the teachers for the class. If the teachers would explain to the students that the math class is an opportunity to learn logical thought, and not so much "you have to learn this because I said you do," perhaps a few more would be motivated to learn it.

Ilya
2005-Nov-17, 03:28 AM
And, yes, I know a lot of you find the numbers themselves interesting.
Absolutely! In fact, let me try to find an uninteresting number:

1 - first integer
2 - first prime, first even number, the only even prime, and the only number n such that n+n = n*n = n^n
3 - the only number equal to the sum of its predecessors
4 - first square
5 - first prime n such that n-2 is also a prime
6 - first perfect number (equals to sum of its proper divisors)
7 - first n such that regular n-gon can not be constructed with ruler and compass
8 - first cube
9 - going from 8 to 9 is going from 2^3 to 3^2
10 - 1+2+3+4 (being first 2-digit number does not count -- it's an artifact of decimal system)
11 - first prime which exceeds preceding prime by more than 2
12 - the only number with as many divisors as its largest proper divisor (six)
13 - first non-trivial sum of two different squares
14 - sum of cube's corners and sides; also sum of octahedron's corners and sides
15 - ...I am getting tired; 13 and 14 were hard to come up with. Anyone wants to continue?

Enzp
2005-Nov-17, 03:53 AM
No, that is exactly the kind of stuff that glazes the eyes of folks lacking the nerd instinct. SOme kid interested in watching some hoop is not interested in prime numbers at all, let alone their relationship to anything.

I understand prime numbers, but in 50 years of electronics, i don't recall it ever mattering if a number was prime or not.

The Supreme Canuck
2005-Nov-17, 04:06 AM
Prime numbers are very important in cryptology. And so they are important in electronic banking. Really, most of these things you can't see, but we need them anyway.

Gillianren
2005-Nov-17, 09:49 PM
I once did a report for a college math class (the token "math for liberal arts people," so I didn't have to take calculus, which I would've failed) on sacred numbers--three, four, and five being the biggies. And that was interesting. But you show me lists of equations, and I just don't care. Even when I do know what they mean, I'd much rather read Shakespeare. (And reading Shakespeare isn't half so interesting as watching the plays performed, unless it's the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, where reading is way more interesting than watching.)

Hey, we all have different interests, and that's what makes our society possible. However, I do think a basic grounding in science is important to understand the world in which we live. I just don't necessarily think that the science we're actually taught in grade school is it.

Swift
2005-Nov-17, 10:13 PM
<snip>
I once did a report for a college math class (the token "math for liberal arts people," so I didn't have to take calculus, which I would've failed) on sacred numbers--three, four, and five being the biggies. And that was interesting.
I don't mean to take this thread off track (ok, maybe a little ;) ), but "sacred numbers" sounds interesting. I can guess three because of the triology (Father, Son, Holy Ghost). Four is my lucky number so that one is obvious ;) . Why five (and really why four)? Just curious.

Atraxani
2005-Nov-17, 10:53 PM
What's a sacred number? Perhaps you meant "perfect number" or "magic number" or ...?

peteshimmon
2005-Nov-17, 10:55 PM
Its chance really! If youngsters are exposed to
all the wonders of the modern world properly
by a good school system, they each choose their
own way hopefully for their own best chances
of happiness. A good book may inspire them,
a school play, the comtempory world. Over the
last 25 years, many have found Information
Technology through using these new micro
computers. (well they were new once!). Its no
use forcing the issue.

Grey
2005-Nov-17, 10:56 PM
Absolutely! In fact, let me try to find an uninteresting number:There are no uninteresting numbers. Here's a simple proof by contradiction.

Suppose there is at least one uninteresting number. In that case, we could list them in order and find the smallest such number (we've already seen that it must be greater than 14). Then, because of its unique position among uninteresting numbers, this smallest uninteresting number is actually very interesting. This is a clear contradiction, so we can conclude that our initial premise was false, and thus that there are no uninteresting numbers.

;)

Enzp
2005-Nov-18, 04:48 AM
I didn't read "sacred" as literal.

Prime numbers are certainly important to people who use and need them, but unless you are doing that encryption, they are arcane. Thermodynamics is fundamental to the operation of a car engine, but my mom doesn't need to know it to drive to the store.

Grey, you worked magic. You took an uninteresting number and had it make all the numbers around it uninteresting as well.

Damburger
2005-Nov-18, 08:13 AM
There are no uninteresting numbers. Here's a simple proof by contradiction.

Suppose there is at least one uninteresting number. In that case, we could list them in order and find the smallest such number (we've already seen that it must be greater than 14). Then, because of its unique position among uninteresting numbers, this smallest uninteresting number is actually very interesting. This is a clear contradiction, so we can conclude that our initial premise was false, and thus that there are no uninteresting numbers.

;)

Oh, thats brillliant :)

Ilya
2005-Nov-19, 12:16 AM
There are no uninteresting numbers. Here's a simple proof by contradiction.

Suppose there is at least one uninteresting number. In that case, we could list them in order and find the smallest such number (we've already seen that it must be greater than 14). Then, because of its unique position among uninteresting numbers, this smallest uninteresting number is actually very interesting. This is a clear contradiction, so we can conclude that our initial premise was false, and thus that there are no uninteresting numbers.

Yep.

Actually, I know this exact reasoning. I first saw it in Rudy Rucker's book "Infinity and the Mind", published in 1983. It was one of his examples of definitions that invalidate themselves. Like "the smallest number that can not be described in less than fourteen words" -- well, I just described it in thirteen, didn't I? :)

Gillianren
2005-Nov-20, 12:44 AM
"Sacred" was meant as literal. As in, numbers that have significant religious connotation.

Three, of course, is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or Maiden, Mother, and Crone, or whatever trilogy your particular religion ascribes to.

Four is the elements, the directions, the seasons, etc., all of which have big significance in Pagan circles.

Five is the points on the pentacle, the adding of Two and Three, all sorts of things.

And, yes, there are at least three versions I can cite, all to do with one religion or another, as to why thirteen is considered unlucky.

Ken G
2005-Nov-20, 06:14 AM
There are no uninteresting numbers. Here's a simple proof by contradiction.
;)
Yet, now that we've established all numbers are interesting, that number that otherwise would have been the smallest uninteresting number has lost its claim to fame! Hence, it is once again rendered uninteresting.... :doh:

Enzp
2005-Nov-20, 08:53 PM
Sacred it is then, sorry.