Abuse of John Allen Paulos

Listening to Hatzidakis, Oi geitonies to fengariou chronion o pothos

Mathematician John Allen Paulos is a floorcloth, that is, mathematician Kees Hoogland must think so. Paulos can be abused at will, shaped into desired topological form, and passed on as true, and mop up the dirt and bloodstains that you have caused.

  • Paulos (1988) Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences perhaps even created the colloquial term “numeracy” as shorthand for quantitative competence, in parallel to literacy, the ability to read and write. The term may be a meme, for there now is the scholarly journal Numeracy, launced in 2008, and the term is (ab-) used in the 21st century skills hype. Observe that Paulos also studied English, and that his popular books are not mathematical books but literary exercises to bridge the gap between alpha and beta worlds (C.P. Snow “The two cultures”). Paulos agrees that numbers are only part of it, and that a better umbrella is reasoning (but logos is calculation too).
  • Hoogland abuses Paulos’s books to defend the failed and fraudulent “realistic mathematics education” (RME) by Hans Freudenthal (1905-1990). RME denounces traditional methods of mathematics education as “cyphering” or drilling devoid of understanding. The cyphers are the digits 0,1, 2, …, 9 that are used to denote the numbers. Teaching English and understanding Shakespeare would be denounced as “lettering”. Denouncing traditional didactics in this manner, would leave only RME for proper teaching of mathematics, which would generate numeracy. Obviously, Paulos has presented his books for a general readership, and they were not intended as scholarly research within evidence based education, and to look into issues of RME or traditional didactics. Obviously, Hoogland misrepresents the purpose and scope of Paulos’s books. Obviously, he abuses those to fit his own purposes.

Hoogland’s abuse of John Allen Paulos can be found in Euclides 91 no 5, March 2016, pag 19. (Yes, this journal exists for 91 years.) For the title of his column he employs a Dutch neologism “gecijferdheid” rather than “genummerdheid” to translate “numeracy”. This is a crooked use of terms. The use of cyphers to denounce criticism of RME apparently overloads the one-track mind so that also the fine objective of quantitative competence is phrased in terms of cyphers. Check out his RME website with the same label.

RME’s abuse of traditional mathematics education by denouncing it as “cyphering” can also be found in other RME discussions. See this discussion (in Dutch) of a report by Compagnie & Keijzer 2015 about “arithmetic co-ordinators” for elementary schools.

A dirty math war with stonewalling criticism

I have informed Hoogland about my criticism in the past, he doesn’t reply and just continues preaching the RME gospel while neglecting the failure and fraud of RME.

In the article in Euclides, March 2016, Hoogland neglects the discussion of the last 15 years, and states with big blue innocent eyes, recruting Paulos for the cause of RME:

“What has happened in the last fifteen years with our education in arithmetic and mathematics? When has such a functional and inspiring view deteriorated into the call for sums on fractions, long division, and arithmetic tests without calculator? My plea is: read that new book by Paulos (…)”

(Dutch: “Wat is er toch de afgelopen vijftien jaar gebeurd in ons reken- en wiskundeonderwijs? Wanneer is zo’n functionele en inspirerende kijk op rekenen en wiskunde afgegleden naar de roep om breukensommetjes, staartdelingen en verplichte rekentoetsen zonder rekenmachine? Mijn pleidooi is: lezen dat nieuwe boek van Paulos (…)”)

Dutch is a language sink

Paulos’s books are translated from English into Dutch: which Dutch translators find easy to do, while it is easy money for publishers to piggy-back on an international bestseller. Conversely, Dutch texts are hardly translated into English: which translators find hard to do. Dutch is a language sink. How would John Allen Paulos ever discover that his work is abused here in Holland, if I were to discuss this in Dutch ?

Grawe on Paulos

Paul Grawe (2015) Mathematics and Humor: John Allen Paulos and the Numeracy Crusade, Numeracy 8 no 2 article 11, is advised reading.

  • It is an eye-opener that Shakespeare is nicknamed “gentle”.
  • Mathematicians better work on their sense of humour.
  • Teachers will enjoy the suggestions for teaching (final pages).
The Bush, Gore and Nader election in 2000

Paulos may be the first mathematician who offered apologies, see Salon November 29 2015, for his role in the Presidential Elections of 2000 between Bush, Gore and Nader (and many others).

Paulos reduces his position to that of the butterfly in Chaos Theory, but he is still a sentient butterfly, and is aware of the causal chain. He also sees the consequences: while Bush started the Iraq war on false pretense and created the conditions for current terrorism, Gore would have improved the environment and tried to avert Climate Change.

Apparently, Paulos doesn’t quite understand voting theory yet, and hence doesn’t see yet the overall guilt and incompetence of mathematicians for the disinformation that they generate on voting theory. When Paulos really feels guilty, then I advise him to study my book Voting Theory for Democracy (VTFD) and help repair the damage.

Dutch readers can look here. A synopsis is that all my papers since 1990 have been hit by censorship by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB). Had the 1990 paper on voting been published normally, the USA might have heard about it and revised the Presidential elections, or at least Nader might have retracted sooner, or there might have been a deal between Gore and Nader on electoral reform (like Cameron and Clegg did in the UK, but Clegg bodged up), and so on. Dutch voting theorist Harrie de Swart was in error in 2001, 2008 and 2016 again. In the USA, voting theorist Donald Saari is president of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) in 2014-2016, but it would have been better in 2001 when he had specified his thoughts about VTFD. How will Saari treat my comments on the US Common Core State Standards on Mathematics (CCCSS-M) ? The mathematical mindset is a problem all-over, not only in Holland.



Comments are closed.