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Monitoring progress

Wikipedia (a portal and no source) gives an overview of the Dutch general elections of March 15 2017. For the interpretation of the vote, there is this paper: “The performance of four possible rules for selecting the Prime Minister after the Dutch Parliamentary elections of March 2017“.

The abstract of the paper is:

“Economic policy depends not only on national elections but also on coalition bargaining strategies. In coalition government, minority parties bargain on policy and form a majority coalition, and select a Prime Minister from their mids. In Holland the latter is done conventionally with Plurality, so that the largest party provides the chair of the cabinet. Alternative methods are Condorcet, Borda or Borda Fixed Point. Since the role of the Prime Minister is to be above all parties, to represent the nation and to be there for all citizens, it would enhance democracy and likely be optimal if the potential Prime Minister is selected from all parties and at the start of the bargaining process. The performance of the four selection rules is evaluated using the results of the 2017 Dutch Parliamentary elections. Plurality gives VVD. VVD is almost a Condorcet winner except for a tie with 50Plus. Borda and BordaFP give CU as the prime minister. The impossibility theorem by Kenneth Arrow (Nobel memorial prize in economics 1972) finds a crucially different interpretation.” (Paper)

The paper uses the estimate of March 16, and the official allocation of seats presented on March 21 was the same. Here is a letter (in Dutch) to the Speaker of the House with these results and a summary statement.

Relevance for the world

In addition to that paper, let me mention some other points.

  • The Dutch system of proportional representation (PR) with a threshold of 1 seat is most democratic, and is much better than district representation (DR) or the use of high thresholds. (See this other paper.) The low threshold allows the flexible entry and exit of contestants. For example, in Germany, economics professor Bernd Lucke started the originally decent AfD, didn’t get their 5% threshold, and was ousted by extremist members in his party. For the upcoming elections, France and Germany best adopt the Dutch election model, but likely they will not have time to do so.
  • Within the Dutch system, there still is room for even more democracy. Coalitions can be inclusive or exclusive. Politicians tend to think that a minimal majority is most stable, but in all likelihood voters are better served by a larger majority.
  • The news media of the world tended to focus on the Dutch outcome that Geert Wilders didn’t succeed in getting most seats. Incumbent prime minister Mark Rutte got 33 seats and Wilders only 20. This was interpreted as that the threat of populism in Europe might have a turning point. However, Rutte dropped from 41 to 33 and Wilders rose from 15 to 20 seats, so the gap of 26 seats was halved in favour for Wilders. There is also the new right wing lunatic FvD with 2 seats, and the move to the right by other parties feeling the hot breath by Wilders. Overall, the picture is more mixed than the world news media seem to have reported. A bit more background w.r.t. the Dutch reputation of tolerance is in this earlier weblog text.
Some additional findings on turnout

The official results of March 21 2017 allow an additional statement on turnout. The key data are in the following table.

The Dutch House of Commons has 150 seats. With the turnout of 81.9% actually only 120 seats were fully taken. 27 Seats were lost to no-shows, 2 seats were lost to the dispersion of small parties and 1 seat was lost on blank or invalid votes. One might argue that 30 seats should remain unused, so that the parties that were elected in the House would find it tougher to create a coalition of 76 seats or 50%+1. Alternatively, when the 30 seats are still allocated to the elected parties, then one might raise the majority criterion to 94 seats. Instead, however, the elected parties take the 30 seats anyway and still apply the 76 seats majority rule. See this paper for a discussion w.r.t. an earlier election.

A Dutch – Turkish clash

The vote took place while there was a clash between Holland and Turkey – see the scene on Haberturk TV reported on by Euronews. Much has been said about this elsewhere, but here we continue testing the quality of Google Translate: “They protested the Netherlands by squeezing oranges”.

The Turks should however beware that the House of Orange claims Russia, and you wouldn’t want an orange bear on your doorsteps.

Euronews relaying Haberturk TV. “Hollanda’yı portakal sıkarak protesto ettiler…”

Some Dutch had been prepared for this

In the months before, visionary artist Inez Lenders had already created the artistic reply to maltreatment of oranges. In the match on creativity, the score is 1 – 1.

Art and Photography by Inez Lenders, Nijmegen 2017

The Dutch Official News with a false suggestion

The site Joop.nl calculated that the elections generated 5 MP’s with Turkish roots and 8 MP’s with Moroccan roots, and 0 with roots in Suriname. We may include one Turkish-Kurdish MP, so a total of 14 or 9.3% of relatively new immigrants. There are 4 German names, 2 French and 1 Jewish. Thus a total of 21 MP’s or 14% immigrant names.

Notwithstanding such a composition in the new House of Commons, president Tayyip Erdogan fulminated about descendents of nazi’s, though he is right that the Dutch record in World War II is not so good.

When Angela Merkel and other Europeans supported Dutch premier Mark Rutte, then Erdogan presented a statement for which it is important to provide the right translation. Reuters seems to be okay:

“Erdogan warns Europeans ‘will not walk safely’ if attitude persists” (March 22 2017)

This is a fairly decent warning. The age of European imperialism till 1945 is over. In the world population the European share is dwindling. If the world wants to maintain the idea of safe international travel then we need rules and regulations and consistent implementation.

  • Reuters gives a fair representation that Erdogan warns about the effect of arrogance.
  • Dutch national television turned this into a report that Erdogan threatened Europeans. On this NOS website, the official heading and weblink contain the phrase “Erdogan warns” but the picture on that page has the phrase “Erdogan threatens” (Dutch “bedreigt”) (wayback machine).

I have informed NPO Ombudsman Margo Smit about the difference between warning and threatening, but they haven’t changed it yet.

Official Dutch television NOS falsely states that president Erdogan issues a threat that no European in any part of the world can safely walk on the street. In truth he only warns.

The Dutch government wants to determine the national research agenda to 2025. Not only the minister of education and science but also the minister of economic affairs expressed an interest in this. These ministers set up a “knowledge coalition” consisting of some research institutes and users of science like an organisation of employers. This “coalition” formed a “steering group”, under the joint chair of Alexander Rinnooy Kan (ARK) (1949) and Beatrice de Graaf (BdG) (1976).

ARK & BdG thought it a good idea to allow all Dutch people to send in their research questions. This caused 11700 questions. Also using text recognition software by Piek Vossen of Vrije Universiteit (VU), these were reduced to 252 umbrella questions, except for some 2000 that were not reduced. It is not guaranteed that this “wisdom of the crowd” will generate anything useful. Hence there is a “phase of dialogue” till the end of October, in which the mandarins of the “knowledge coalition” discuss what they really want to do. Perhaps the 11700 questions make for interesting wallpaper but it is not unlikely that the final report will give some evaluation of the entire exercise.

My own 14  questions are here, and I am wondering whether I am in an open society or in a maze.

My first contribution to the dialogue was a debunking of some questions on religion studies, see this PDF in Dutch, or see below. My second contribution to the dialogue are the following comments.

Linking up and down

A compliment for the people at the research agenda project is that they have linked the umbrella questions to the underlying separate questions, and vice versa. This is handy.

It increases the feeling that you are in a maze but it at least you can see where you are in there. Now we don’t need to discuss a question but only whether it has been allocated to the right umbrella.

This linking might actually also be done with internet pages of individual scientists. They normally state their research interests, and these might be processed in similar manner. The advantage of this particular ARK & BdG project is the common format: title, 200 words, keywords, use of Dutch. There is a “complaint” that some scientists have been “abusing” the “crowd sourcing” to advocate their own research, but I would rather have that input.

One modest question arises too: I am wondering what would happen when my 14 questions were taken as umbrella questions: would the total increase to 252 + 14 or would it reduce to say 250, with less than 2000 left-overs ? These would be marginal changes in terms of software results, but the advantage would be that the discussion could also focus on those 14 questions, instead of hiding and dispersing them all-over. Perhaps other people feel the same about their submissions. Results of course depend upon the software rules.

K.P. Hart on mathematics

Klaas Pieter Hart of TU Delft apparently was struck by the occurrence of lay questions on mathematics, and started a weblog on “math questions that have been answered already”. He frequently refers to wikipedia pages, and one indeed wonders why the questioners did not look there first. My impression is that Hart makes too much of the matter. We can also regard it as very kind of him to take more time to explain that such questions have already been answered.

A less kind interpretation is that mathematical arrogance is at play again. Hart’s weblog has the attitude that lay people do not understand mathematics, and that more explanation should close the gap. This is a strange attitude. People have been getting education in mathematics for ages 6-18. This would not be enough to settle the basic questions that Hart discusses ? This education is not enough to clarify to people that they should first study the question e.g. on wikipedia before submitting it to the national research agenda ? My diagnosis is that something is wrong with math education. It is strange that Hart doesn’t arrive at the same diagnosis. He puts the error with people, I put the error with him and his fellow mathematicians.

There is more to it. Let us look at some issues.

(1) There is my question on the training of teachers of mathematics. Hart hasn’t written on this yet. Perhaps it is safe to conclude that this is not “answered already”. But we must wait till Hart stops his weblog to be sure. This makes for a difficult dialogue. It would be more efficient if he could state ahead what he will be writing about.

My question has also been moved under the umbrella question on future education, with a total of 10 sub-questions. I wonder whether that is a useful allocation. Mathematics education is such a core issue that I feel that it deserves umbrella status by itself. For the diagnosis of the other 252 umbrella questions it is important to grow aware that many (social) problems are being caused by bad education in mathematics.

(2) On Pi, Hart misses the opportunity to point to Archi = 2 Pi (check the short movie).

Imagine shoe shops selling only single shoes instead of pairs of shoes. Or builders selling only half houses instead of whole houses. Mathematicians however don’t mind making life difficult for you. It is your problem that you don’t get it, and they will be kind enough to explain it again. Well, perhaps it isn’t kindness: what’s in it for them is that they can feel superior in understanding. This psychological reward system works against the student.

(3) On the sine function, Hart writes that sine and cosine might also be identified by the co-ordinates of the endpoint of the arc on the unit circle. [Dutch: “Eigenlijk hadden we ook kunnen zeggen: cos(t) en sin(t) zijn respectievelijk de x- en y-coördinaat van het eindpunt van het boogje.”]

This is precisely my suggestion: to use functions xur and yur, see my paper Trig rerigged (2008), seven years ago, and books Elegance with Substance (2009, 2015) and Conquest of the Plane (2011). (Best link to the 2nd edition EWS 2015.) Thus, there exists a didactically much better presentation for sine and cosine than mathematicians have been forcing down the throats of students for ages. Hart mentions it in passing, but it is a core issue, and an important piece of evidence for my question on the training of math teachers.

Note also that wikipedia today still has no article on xur and yur. Neither on my proposal to take the plane itself as the unit of account for angles, even though Hart refers to that wikipedia page in his text on “90 graden“. The mathematics pages on wikipedia tend to be run by students from MIT who tend to copy what is in their textbooks, and who lack training on keeping an open mind. See here how wikipedia has been disinforming the world for some years now.

In that weblog article Hart confirms that sine and cosine can be defined by some criteria on the derivatives. This is the approach followed by Conquest of the Plane (2011). It is nice to see agreement that this is the elegant approach indeed. I think that it is advisable that Hart reads COTP and writes a report on it, so that he can also check that the slanderous “review” by his TU Delft colleague Jeroen Spandaw is slanderous indeed – see here.

(4) On numerical succession – a.k.a. mathematical induction but see my discussionHart holds that this does not exist for the real numbers. This is essentially the question whether there is a bijection between the natural numbers N and the real numbers R. Please observe:

  • Since 2011-2012 I present the notion that there is a “bijection by abstraction” between N and R. See my book FMNAI (2015).
  • In his research, Hart has a vested interest in that there is no such bijection.
  • Hart has been partly neglecting the new alternative argument, partly sabotaging its dissemination, partly disinforming his readership about the existence of this new approach. This is a breach in scientific integrity. See my documentation of Hart’s malpractice.
  • It is okay when Hart wants to say that this issue has been “answered already” in his view, e.g. by traditional mathematics. There is freedom of expression. However, as a scientist, he is under the obligation to give all relevant information. This he doesn’t do.

Overall: Hart’s weblog is biased and unscientific.

Religion studies

One of my questions for the research agenda is how to arrive at a deconstruction of Christianity. I also observed that the Dutch national research school on religion studies and theology NOSTER had submitted four questions. I looked at those questions and their 200 word summaries, and found them scientifically inadequate. See my discussion of this (in Dutch). I informed the research agenda secretariat of my finding, in an email of June 10. To my surprise, one of these inadequate questions from NOSTER has been selected as an umbrella question S14, and my own question that debunks it has become a sub-question for it !

The software for doing this has been developed at originally religious Vrije Universiteit (VU), but I presume that this heritage has nothing to do with this.

Censorship at CPB

My question on the censorship of economic science since 1990 by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) has not been allocated to an umbrella question yet. I suppose that this doesn’t disqualify the question.

Economic Supreme Court

My question on the Economic Supreme Court (ESC) has been allocated to umbrella question S06, that looks at maximizing national sovereignty in an international legal order. Beware though, since the phrasing of S06 might also be read as a ploy by international lawyers to get more attention for international law. The umbrella contains 29 sub-questions, many of which indeed deal with globalisation.

Admittedly, when each nation has its own ESC then international co-operation will be enhanced, since the ESCs will exchange information in scientific manner. This is part of my analysis e.g. on money.

However, the ESC is also very relevant for national issues, e.g. in umbrella question G7 on social-economic institutions. Such institutions could differ with or without an ESC. Findings from this realm would provide evidence in support of an ESC, and thus be relevant for parliament that must decide on amending the constitution to create an ESC.

These matters of CPB and ESC affect one’s view on the social order. This would warrant umbrella status for them.

Democracy and voting theory

I would hold that it is important to have a clear view on democracy and voting theory. My question for the research agenda on this was how one could convince the editors of kennislink.nl that their website contains a misleading article. I have been trying for years to get this corrected but they will simply refuse to look into this. This question has been moved to umbrella S31 on issues of privacy and database monopolies. I don’t think that it belongs there. Indoctrinating school students with mathematically proven false information is not the same as privacy and database monopolies. This doesn’t mean that the question should be removed to the 2000 unassigned ones, and further forgotten because there are too many of those.

Other questions

I have some comments on the other questions but a weblog should not be too long.

Conclusion: An appeal to ARK and BdG

Rinnooy Kan has a background in mathematics and De Graaf was in the news with her personal background in Christianity.  Jointly they would be able to recognise the points raised here. My appeal to them is to take my 14 questions as umbrella issues, and work from there.

The breach of scientific integrity by K.P. Hart and his misleading weblog must be dealt with separately.

On November 5, Thomas Piketty will inform Dutch Parliament in The Hague and then continue to Amsterdam for the evening. While he is busy in The Hague – and likely will be grilled on the French economy – there will be a small symposium on inequality at the University of Amsterdam so that the students are prepared for the evening. Then in the evening Piketty will be interviewed by Joris Luyendijk (Dutch, The Guardian), who we can see already praising Tomas Sedlacek and his book on the economics of good and evil in this video from Belgium.

For some curious reason – probably to exploit the library budgets – there will also be a Dutch translation of Piketty’s book on October 30, even though it is a scientific book and English is the language of science. But, rationality and consistency are hard to maintain in an international hype. Also, for Dutch translators it is easier to translate from English to Dutch than to translate from Dutch to English. Translators paradoxically are a major cause for maintaining the Dutch language sinkhole.

My objection is that Piketty’s bookcase doesn’t have copies of my books DRGTPE and CSBH.

Thomas Piketty in Amsterdam 2014-11-05, Announcement (Source: Screenshot Paradiso)

Thomas Piketty in Amsterdam 2014-11-05, Announcement (Source: Screenshot Paradiso)

Overall, I seem to be one of the few economists who hasn’t read Piketty’s book yet. I intend to keep it so, not for lack of interest but because of lack of logical necessity. Piketty’s summary does not indicate that it is essential reading unless you are involved in economic statistics.

There are two papers w.r.t. Piketty’s work that I can recommend:

  • James K. Galbraith, Unpacking the first fundamental law, RWER 69download pdf
  • David Colander,  Piketty’s policy proposals: How to effectively redistribute incomeRWER 69, download pdf

I am happy to observe that inequality was large before 1900 and that labour unions, mass education and the welfare state contributed to a much more equal society. The economic analyses of Keynes (1883-1946) and Tinbergen (1903-1994) provided a framework such that natural human desires for democracy and social care could be combined with sensible economic policy. The problem is that this fortunate combination broke down since 1970. The explanation is provided in these sources:

Unfortunately, Holland appears to be a rather sick country that doesn’t mind censorship of economic science.

In that symposium at the University of Amsterdam there is econometrician David Hollanders, who in 2004 wrote a curiously convoluted analysis on the ‘death of politics because of the technocracy by said CPB’, but it may be that he also asserted the opposite because his analysis is rather inconsistent. Hollanders rejected to look into the censorship at the CPB. The magazine De Groene that published his convoluted article did not print my protest against his gibberish, see this 2004 protest here, and see also my 2012 protest against the Dutch “young Turks” who are so-called critical but who are intellectually lazy (and, indeed, try to find a translator for these Dutch texts). Fact-checking De Groene, we find that they put Thomas Piketty on their cover twice. Apparently they will use anything that sells, hypes included.

That symposium is also organised by AMCIS, and one click away is AIAS where we find professor Paul de Beer, who we discussed before on the basic income issue. Holland remains a small country.

My own work that relates to inequality, apart from full employment:

Thomas Piketty twice on the cover of De Groene (Source: website screenshot)

Thomas Piketty twice on the cover of De Groene (Source: website screenshot)

 

In 2009 I wrote Elegance with Substance (EWS), discussing both better education in mathematics and the political economy of the mathematics industry. See the available PDF. Check also Steven Krantz Through a Glass Darkly at arXiv 2008.

The dismal state of mathematics education is generally acknowledged, essentially since Sputnik 1957. People have tried all kinds of solutions. Why do those solutions not work ?

The answer: because of barking up the wrong tree. The finding in EWS is:

  1. Mathematicians are trained to think abstractly.
  2. Education is an empirical issue.
  3. The courses for becoming a math teacher don’t undo what has gone wrong before.
  4. When abstract thinking math teachers meet real life students, those math teachers solve their cognitive dissonance by sticking to tradition: “School Mathematics” (SM).
  5. School mathematics isn’t clear but collects the confusions and wreckages of math history.
  6. Thus we need to re-engineer math education and reorganise the mathematics industry. One idea is that education would use the form of the Medical School: both practice and research.

EWS contains various examples where traditional math is crooked instead of clear. One example is that “two and a half” means addition and should be denoted as 2 + 1/2, but is denoted as multiplication or “two times a half” or 2½.

2009 + 5 = 2014

Now five years later in 2014, this explanation can be enhanced by including:

  1. There is a collective failure w.r.t. the integrity of science, in that Research Mathematicians step outside of their field of expertise (RM) and make all kinds of unwarranted claims about Education in Mathematics and its research (EM). This aggravates the observation above that the conventional EM is lopsided to SM.
  2. It is also a breach of research integrity that the warning in EWS is not responded to. When it is shown that the brakes of some kind of car don’t work properly, it should be recalled – and the same for EM.
  3. This especially holds in Holland. In Holland there is even explicit fraud in EM
  4. For the UK there is some worry, see my 2014 paper Pierre van Hiele and David Tall: Getting the facts right.
  5. For the USA there is now the worry concerning professor Edward Frenkel.

Pierre van Hiele (1909-2010) was the greatest analyst on mathematics education of the last century, with his main thesis in 1957, coincidentally with Sputnik. However, his analysis was maltreated by Hans Freudenthal (1905-1990), who stole Van Hiele’s ideas but also corrupted those – partly claiming his “own” version but without proper reference. Van Hiele looked at the angle of abstract versus concrete, while Freudenthal turned this into model versus reality, which is didactically rather absurd, but which apparently appealed to policy makers after Sputnik 1957. Holland now has a 95% dominant “Freudenthal Institute” that rather should be called the “Freudenthal Head in the Clouds “Realistic Mathematics” Institute”. Apparently, the Dutch RM and EM community is unable to resolve the issue. Internationally, IMU / ICMI (see my letter) has a “Freudenthal Medal” honoring the fraudster.

A leading analyst in the UK is David Tall (b. 1941) who rediscovered the importance of the Van Hiele analysis, but erroneously thinks that Van Hiele was not aware of what he was doing, so that Tall claims the discovery for himself. Part of Tall’s misunderstanding of the situation is the consequence of Freudenthal’s abuse of Van Hiele. Professor Tall should however quickly bring out a revised 2nd edition of his 2013 book to set the record straight.

From Russia with math and confusion

I have discussed some of Frenkel’s ideas. As he hasn’t studied math education empirically, he is not qualified to judge, but he follows the RM arrogance to think that he is. Well, hasn’t he passed through the educational system himself ? Isn’t he teaching math majors now ? These are hard fallacies to crack.

Numberphile has a 9-minute interview with Frenkel, asking him: Why do people hate mathematics?”  I leave it as an exercise to the viewer to identify the amazing number of delusions and fallacies that Frenkel mentions in this short time. Perhaps shortness invites imprecision. However, check this weblog’s texts of the last week, and see that these delusions and fallacies are systematic. Just to be sure: debunking those delusions and fallacies may not be easy. If it were easy, the state of math education would not be as dismal as it is now.

To help you getting on the way, check some of these delusons or fallacies:

  • The beauty of art is abused again. Math education would teach you painting fences but not the appreciation of the great results of mathematics. To some extent one can agree. Math history and some encyclopedia of math are very useful to have. But art education is not intended to get people to make masterpieces. Mathematics education is intended to help students develop their understanding and competence. These are different settings.
  • Frenkel claims that everything is based upon the language of mathematics. “In a way one can survive without art. No one can survive without mathematics.” Since abstraction means leaving out aspects, it should not surprise that if you start with the world and then abstract from it, then your results may indeed be relevant for “everything”. But you cannot infer from such an abstract position that people should love their math education.
  • He again is in denial of the role of mathematics in causing the economic crisis.
  • The problem is often stated in the terms of “people hate mathematics” in a manner that is not linked to mathematics education. As if there are two kinds of  people, mathematicians and other – the elite versus the peasants. But the true problem is mathematics education. Math teachers have their students for some 12 years as their captive audience, and manage to turn human innate interest into said hate. By stating the problem in terms of some vague “general audience” it becomes easier to run away from the responsibility staring you in the face, and the destruction of human lives going on in the classrooms around the world.

Taking a blame without any consequence

There is no doubt that Frenkel respects education – though it is from personal experience and without empirical research of a national curriculum:

“Now that I’ve had students of my own, I appreciate even more what (… my teachers …. have …) done for me. It’s hard work being a teacher! I guess in many ways it’s like having children. You have to sacrifice a lot, not asking for anything in return. Of course, the rewards can also be tremendous. But how do you decide in which direction to point students, when to give them a helping hand and when to throw them in deep waters and let them learn to swim on their own? This is art. No one can teach you how to do this.” (“Love & Math p129)

The major point is this: Asked who is to blame for the dismal appreciation for mathematics (minute five) he offers himself as the scape-goat:

“If I really were to assign the blame, … I would assign the blame to myself. And my colleagues, professional mathematicians. We don’t do nearly enough, in exposing these ideas to the public.”

Okay, so, Frenkel takes the blame. But there is no consequence. No reduction in salary. No prison term – with use of the library to start studying mathematics education. Just the burden to go out into the public and become a media star by comparing mathematics to Van Gogh, Picasso, and what other artist that can be abused and intimidated into an admiration for mathematics that they don’t understand but generally hate.

In minute six he says that the math teachers are not to blame. “They are overworked and underpaid” and “products of the same flawed system”. Thus, the idea that grown-ups should take responsibility for what they are doing, and that professional educators have an ethic to live up to, is flushed down the drain. Jesus absolves the sins of those who believe in him. The topic of discussion is reduced to “beauty”. This will generally concern topics that require an advanced university degree to understand – and that conventionally are presented in a confused manner to the general public (see yesterday).

About the improvement of education, Numberphile properly aks (minute seven-and-a-half): “Why has that not happened ? It seems so obvious. What you said is not like a huge conceptual link. Why isn’t it not already happened ?”

Since he has no clue about empirical science, the world turns into a conspiracy:

“Sometimes I am wondering myself why it hasn’t already happened. It is almost like a conspiracy. I mean, honestly. It is almost like there is this system of mirrors that has been created which distorts reality, that does not allow people to see what is out there.”

His closing statement turns failure on scientific integrity, fraud and dismal negligence into “irony”:

“This is the coolest stuff in the world. And yet everyone hates it. Isn’t it ironic ?”

Left: Dali's "Crucifixion" on a hypercube. Right: Edward Frenkel teaching (Source: wikipedia commons, Dali, Eget værk, Søren Fuglede Jørgensen)

Left: “Crucifixion” on a hypercube, Salvador Dali. Right: Edward Frenkel teaching (Source: wikipedia commons, Dali, Eget værk, Søren Fuglede Jørgensen)

PM. The link of Jesus to a scape-goat is no coincidence. December 25 falls in the sign of Capricorn and Jesus was sacrificed as the Lamb of God. See The simple mathematics of Jesus for a discussion that the Bible is an astrological book – and, if you didn’t know, that astrology isn’t science.

I am sorry to report that Holland also fails on the integrity of science in the research on the didactics & education of mathematics. This is my letter (in Dutch) to the Scientific Integrity body LOWI of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences KNAW.

Earlier, in my book Elegance with Substance (2009), I made the empirical observation that mathematicians are trained for abstraction while education is an empirical issue. The training of mathematicians to become teachers of mathematics apparently can often not undo what has been trained for before. This basically means that many have lost the ability to observe. Math teachers tend to solve their cognitive dissonance by adhering to “mathematical tradition” that however is not very didactic, and that in fact collects the didactic debris of past centuries.

A key example here in Holland is the difference between Hans Freudenthal as the abstract topologist and Pierre van Hiele who as a mathematician and actual teacher however kept his ability to observe. We need only look at the debris in math textbooks to observe that the majority of math teachers aren’t like Van Hiele. See Elegance with Substance if you cannot identify the debris yourself.

An international example on statistics is the difference between Fisher and Gosset on “statistical significance”. Mathematicians tend to consider mathematical statistics only, and are little aware of empirical significance. Math educators who nowadays use statistics might fall victim to ‘garbage in, garbage out’ but nevertheless be praised as ’empirical’.

Now in 2014 that empirical observation comes with a sting. When abstract thinking mathematicians make statements about the empirical reality of didactics & education, they actually make statements out of their province, about something they haven’t studied: which is a breach of research integrity. This especially holds when they have been warned for this, say by my 2009 book (listed in the AMS Book List, Notices Vol 58, No 11, p1474), or perhaps even directly by me.

In Holland there now is the case of internationally known Jan Karel Lenstra, who did work in operations research, (linear) programming, scheduling and the traveling sales person, who was selected in 2009-2010 by theoretical physicist and KNAW President Robbert Dijkgraaf to chair a KNAW “Committee on Mathematics in Primary Education”. The Dutch complaint is that children don’t learn arithmetic so well anymore, e.g. aren’t trained on long division as a sure method. It often happens that a committee is chaired by a person who doesn’t know much about the subject beforehand, but then that person tends to be aware of this, and is willing to learn. In the case of Lenstra, he apparently thought that he knew enough about “Mathematics in Primary Education” so that he also understood the didactics & education itself.

Hans Freudenthal had a huge impact on arithmetic in Dutch primary education. Lenstra observes about the Freudenthal madness:

“The core is that we must get more evidence-based research [education ?]. The ‘realistic arithmetic’ has been adopted without the empirical evidence to make it obvious. And also the PABO [training of elementary school teachers] has been constituted on the base of beliefs instead of scientific research.” (my translation, comments in brackets)(Akademie Nieuws July 2011 p5) 

But Freudenthal and his followers did claim that ‘realistic mathematics’ was scientifically warranted and based upon evidence. Thus professor in mathematics Lenstra observes a fraud with respect to empirical research, but doesn’t do anything about it. He doesn’t call for a repeal and annulment of earlier “research” that claimed empirical relevance but without such base. He is quite happy that his fellow abstract thinking mathematician Freudenthal invented a theory and let others suffer the consequences. Lenstra is another abstract thinking mathematician who now thinks that he has solved a problem and then lets others suffer the consequence – like the international community that still considers Freudenthal’s work “research”.

Lenstra’s solution to the arithmetic problem in Dutch primary education is not to retrain the 150,000 elementary school teachers, but shift the problem to the 4,000 math teachers in secondary education. The formula is that “arithmetic skills must be maintained” in the highschool curriculum. Lenstra suggests that it must be tested, but doesn’t quite specify how. The Dutch state secretary on education, Sander Dekker, wants mandatory arithmetic tests for highschool graduation. If you cannot calculate with pen and paper then you can’t get your highschool diploma. Lenstra thinks that this is too strict (see here) but doesn’t provide a practical alternative how to test whether arithmetic skills have been “maintained”. The state secretary apparently is quite happy that he doesn’t have to retrain the 150,000 elementary school teachers, many of whom are likely to fail too, and that it suffices to increase the burden for the 4,000 secondary school teachers, and of course the burden for the kids who turn 16 or 18 and discover that the educational system has given them a raw deal. (It is a bit too easy to blame them that they should have worked harder.)

One might say that Lenstra’s 2009 KNAW Report and recent June 30 2014 KNAW conference presentation (my report in Dutch) aren’t quite research themselves but rather evaluations on educational policy. It may well be that Lenstra’s texts here don’t register under scientific integrity in a strict legal sense, even though Parliament regards it as scientifically warranted. In another respect, Lenstra’s case is just an example, and it is a collective problem that abstract thinking mathematicians expound about empirical issues that they haven’t studied. Hence, my letter to KNAW-LOWI suggests a general exploration into the issue, so that the scientific community grows aware of the issue. Hopefully the specific issues on Freudenthal and his Institute are taken along, as explained here.

PM 1.

Above mentioning of Abstraction vs Empirics might cause the idea that those would be opposite, but these are rather separate axes. We might score the different professional groups on the study hours in each category, with mean and dispersion. I mention two example individuals for lack of an accepted term like “empirical mathematical statistics”. Since teachers teach they aren’t in research like other professions.

Abstraction vs Empirics

Example scores in the Abstraction vs Empirics space (might be tested)

PM 2.

This weblog concentrates on failure on integrity within Dutch economic science, with the case at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) concerning economic co-ordination and the example of unemployment. That censored analysis is relevant for the current crisis in the European Union, and for economic recovery in the United States, and for economic policy in the “emerging markets” too. My advice is to boycott Holland till the censorship of economic science here is resolved. KNAW-LOWI cannot officially tackle the case since its mandate concerns universities while the CPB falls directly under the national government.

But now there is a breach in integrity in research in math education as well. I have two academic degrees, one in econometrics and one in teaching mathematics, and it is disappointing to observe that my degrees open up to vista’s of non-integrity. It might soon become a personal thing. But, as Art Buchwald would advise us: while there is a whole country to blame we might as well take a look at the facts. And boycott that country till they get their act together.

The world chooses to use English rather than Dutch or Latin, and hence we fall in the Dutch language sink again. As my letter is in Dutch, we might need to look to whom in Belgium, South Africa or Suriname still understands the gibberish. I presume that the people in New York (“New Amsterdam”, if they only knew) would need a certified translator. There might be some expats living in Holland who have learned some Dutch but I am afraid that some issues are getting complex, and then even many Dutch people would not be able to follow things. Foreigners would have even more difficulty in understanding local conditions. Hence I am quite hesitant to translate that letter.

For comparison on KNAW-LOWI, we may look at the US bureau for research in education, IES, and the office of research integrity ORI of public health, and then also the ethical codes of AMS and MAA.  There are a lot of ethics to look into.

But let us not forget about education itself, and thus let me also alert you to this issue of CF with Forty Years of Radical Constructivism in Educational Research and hope that they put students before method.

Cross my heart: Before a few hours ago I hadn’t heard about the website WhoIsBigger.comIt appears to be a project by Steven Skiena of SUNY Stony Brook. He and his team rank topics and not just internet pages. I have been an admirer of Steven’s work since his combinatorica package for Mathematica that I use a lot, especially in my book Voting Theory for Democracy (VTFD)(2001, 2011). My admiration for Steven however isn’t total so I lost out on his other activities. I now can advise the short movie with him on that website.

Independently, as a teacher of mathematics I looked at archeology, astronomy, astrology and the origins of Christianity to widen the classroom scope from numbers, functions and geometry with their application to gravity etc. to new topics that some students might find more appealing. This resulted in the book The simple mathematics of Jesus (SMOJ)(2012).

Punchline: Jesus turns up as number 1 in Steven’s list of “Top people in History”. Call it coincidence or a good intuition. Another case of this is that both Lincoln and Washington appear on the cover of Voting Theory for Democracy.

creenshot of the website WhoIsBigger.com

Check Jesus on this screenshot of the website WhoIsBigger.com

I am a bit amazed though that Jesus is listed as a historical figure. There simply is no historical evidence. The evidence that exists suggests that his persona was created as a theologico-literary concept. It appears that historians do not apply proper scientific methods but they act as judges about history. They hide the uncertainty while scientists should emphasize the uncertainty.

This weblog already has various entries on this: see for example the sieve of realism, the review of the book by Maurice Casey and the question what the probability is that a preacher has the name Jesus and is crucified.

I may admit that I felt a bit awkward at times for spending so much attention to Jesus on this weblog. Seeing Jesus appearing as no 1 on Steven’s list however gives some comfort.  This namely gives some indication that it really is an important question for many people whether Jesus has existed or not.

The author presents some scientific innovations that meet with unwarranted opposition or neglect by fellow scientists. Local conditions in Holland are relevant since those affect direct communication. Discussion of this case might inspire an overall improvement in politeness and competence. A key insight for readers: it is advisable to ask questions first.

See this 16 page PDF with the full discussion:

After 45 years of unemployment: If Holland had been just a bit nicer and more competent

Consider the problem first in abstract manner and then concretely.

(1) Abstractly: In the advancement of science it happens that researcher A has a new idea and tells researcher B about it. Since B did not launch the idea, and need not quite know what it entails, it is B’s role to ask questions first. Asking questions is not only polite and nice but basically part of scientific competence. The answers to those questions might cause A to retract the idea or B to accept it. It might be that B has been working on the same issue and feels that it isn’t necessary to ask questions. Still, it is useful to verify common grounds. The proper attitude in science thus is to first ask questions, in particular when you do not understand something. When B quickly rejects a new idea as silly, then science gets stuck in the situation that A has developed a new idea and B has developed a vested interest in calling it silly. The situation would be worse when there wouldn’t be a level playing field when A is a junior researcher and B a senior researcher. The idea gets blocked if the fast rejection by B is the standard attitude, or when other person C refers to B as the main source, with possible misrepresentation as to what the idea actually is.

(2) Concretely: The author reports about his experience in doing science in Holland. Holland has the reputation of being tolerant and open-minded but it is better to look at some facts about the country. In the author’s experience researchers in Holland may forget to ask questions and instead jump to rejection when findings contradict some strong convention or deeply held conviction. The maltreatment and scientific incompetence within the Dutch research community means that scientific results get blocked. If Holland had been just a bit nicer and more competent, then those results could have spread easier and the world could have been different.

A key issue is the censorship of economic science since 1990 at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB). The author advises the world to boycott Holland till the censorship of his scientific work at the CPB is lifted.