# Opinion 7: Mathematicians As Charlatans

## By: Doron Zeilberger

Written: Oct. 24, 1995.

In Regis's book on the Institute for Advanced study, somebody
is quoted saying:
``Mathematics is so hard that a mathematician can only work a few hours a day,
the rest of the time he is bugging everybody else''.

Indeed, mathematicians
are one of the most arrogant creeds, although for the most part, they
keep their arrogancy within, when they try to
linearly rank the subfields of math, and the practitioners of math,
where their own subfield, and self, are at the top (or close to it,
there is always a Margulis or a Gelfand who is slightly better.)

Sometimes, however, they try to point out how stupid
non-mathematicians are, especially when they try to use mathematics.
Some, like that enfant-terrible from Yale, are fond of combating
`charlatans' in Political Science (they usually put a quote
around the `Science' in PoliSci, to indicate its bogusness), who
allegedly abuse mathematics. In doing so, it is they who are
being the charlatans. Huntington did not use sheaves or etale-cohomlogy
to make his point, but fifth grade math. Lang is no more
qualified to comment on the math than any MITS, and is completely
incompetent to judge the work as a whole, since he
knows nothing of political science.

Another breed of charlatans, who however, have very good intentions,
and are genuinely concerned about the issue, are celebrated
mathematicians who crusade against `Calculus Reform' or other reforms.
They are world-class mathematicians, but that does not make them
authorities in teaching Freshman Calculus. They are usually
excellent teachers, but only to the top 5%. They have
no expertise or feel for teaching the average or below-average
student. While they are entitled to be heard, it should be
remembered that they are speaking as laymen and rank amateurs
in the field of Mathematics Education.

Fortunately, the intersection of the set of Great Mathematicians
and Great Mathematical-Educators is non-empty, witness
Bressoud, Strang, and many others.

So let mathematicians stick to math, and whenever they
apply it elsewhere, they should do it in collaboration
with experts in the other field.

Back to
Doron Zeilberger's Opinion's Table of Content