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Its hard to love math

August 9, 2012

Caroline Tucker explains why.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeremy Fox permalink
    August 21, 2012 2:59 pm

    But the real issue isn’t what people like, it’s what people understand:

    http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/on-equations-citations-and-mathematical-understanding/

    • August 21, 2012 7:36 pm

      No argument. I was just being silly and not very clear. What I meant was “its hard to be me (i.e. steve) because i like taking a mathematical approach to ecology, while most ecologists don’t want to read papers with lots of math…and this leads to people not reading the papers i’m most proud of.” I of course also recognize that there may just not be many people who are interested in what I’m interested in…independent of the equation count.

      • Jeremy Fox permalink
        August 21, 2012 7:46 pm

        Your last remark is something I wonder about a lot. I jokingly compare my papers to fine wine–only appreciated by a small number of people, and so not much cited. But underlying the joke is a serious(ish) point. Even within fields, different numbers of people are interested in different things, for all sorts of reasons, many of them totally independent of science. So to what extent are citation counts, and the “impact” indices based on them, just measuring how many people happen to be interested in, say, math?

      • August 21, 2012 7:55 pm

        Fantastic point.

      • August 21, 2012 8:02 pm

        On the other hand, there’s a flip side to this issue: is it defensible to label results that no one (or few people) find interesting as ‘good’ science? Doesn’t good science have to be *both* interesting and correct?

  2. Jeremy Fox permalink
    August 21, 2012 9:12 pm

    “Doesn’t good science have to be *both* interesting and correct?”

    Well, that depends on why you think lots of people are interested in certain things, and few people are interested in other things. For instance, if you think things that interest only a few people are esoteric, trivial, or personal, then you’re going to write off work on such topics as bad science and everyone who works on such topics as a bad scientist. Conversely, if you think things that interest many people are just trendy bandwagons, and that things that interest few people are novel and/or really difficult, then you’re going to be particularly impressed with work that only interests a few people.

    My own view is that science isn’t a popularity contest. Something that interests lots of people is not *by definition* “interesting” or “important” or etc., and something that only interests a few people is not *by definition* “boring” or “unimportant” or etc. But nor do I think that everything is equally interesting or important, or that these terms are totally subjective in the way that “which is better, pie or cake” is totally subjective. So I do think that, as a scientist, you ought to be able to offer good reasons, appreciable by others, as to why your work is interesting or important. But I don’t think those reasons should include “lots of other people think the topic of my work is interesting and important”.

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