Edward Frenkel’s denial on the economic crisis

Mathematics professor Edward Frenkel is in a state of denial w.r.t. the reponsibility of mathematicians for the economic crisis since August 2007. I know of only one mathematician by name who warned before the crisis developed, and that is Paul Embrechts of ETH. Compared to him, there were various economists, read Dirk Bezemer on “No one saw this coming” (2009), but see also my protest w.r.t. some self-serving errors by Bezemer (including my irritation that he doesn’t look into my warning, since I am still warning about more things).

“We have to realize the power of mathematics. By now it’s well-understood that the global economic crisis was caused, in part, by misuse of mathematical models. People who understood those models were actually sounding the alarm. It was the executives who had the power, who were the decision-makers, who did not understand how these formulas functioned. Their logic was: “Well, while these things work, we’re making profits.”” (Frenkel in Slate 2013)

Thus, Frenkel denies and misrepresents the role of the mathematicians and “rocket scientists” who “understood those models”.

A key point is that mathematicians are trained for abstraction. Thus, they are oblivious to the risks in the real world, as they are oblivious to the empirical aspects in the education in mathematics. See my book Elegance with Substance (2009) that makes those points, and proves them too, with key cases from didactics and with an analysis of the political economy of the mathematics industry.

These statements by Frenkel are laudable:

“I would not tell any scientist to stop his or her research because it might have some possible evil applications. But once you discover that it does have these applications, I think it’s also your responsibility to do whatever you can to prevent the discovery from being used for evil purposes. [This seems to be formulated somewhat crookedly / TC]

(…) Mathematical power is not the power of a bomb. You cannot see its effect as immediately as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But a formula can be just as powerful in terms of controlling our lives. It can alter the course of history; it can affect millions of people.

I think we mathematicians are a little bit behind the curve. We are not fully aware of the Frankenstein that we may have already created or could create. I think that’s another aspect of this responsibility of mathematicians to take a more public role—to educate the public by giving them access to the beauty and power of mathematics.” (Frenkel in Slate)

The latter, education, is precisely the answer of Elegance with Substance too. However, Frenkel is not aware of the conundrum: education is an empirical issue, and mathematicians are trained to think abstractly, and thus mathematicians should not the ones to “educate the public”.

Thus professor Edward Frenkel is another deluded and abstract thinking mathematician, who is in denial of the true guilt of mathematics: (a) for the economic crisis, (b) for the sorry state of the education of mathematics, (c) for the sorry state of the education of Edward Frenkel himself.

Obviously, our deluded professor wants the mathematics industry to lift itself from the current morass, as Baron von Münchhausen so famously did. Alas, mathematicians will not be able to do so. They hold society at ransom, just to pursue their own delusions. My advice is that each nation lets its parliament investigate the issue.

Baron von Muenchhausen, by Oskar Herrfurth (Source: wikimedia commons)

Baron von Muenchhausen, by Oskar Herrfurth (Source: wikimedia commons)


Comments are closed.